Lactate Threshold Training and the Dreadmill

This morning I ran 6 miles on the treadmill and did not try to kill myself. This is a record for me. I am renowned for my intense dislike of both the treadmill and the W&OD. Not actually sure which I hate more. Both suck the life out of me and the enjoyment out of my running.

I have a treadmill because it’s a necessary evil. This morning school was delayed by 2 hours and I had to get in my scheduled 6 miler before my 9:30am massage apppointment. (I know, you no longer have any sympathy for me now that you read that “m” word!) So down to the basement I went.

I am rewatching the Jason Bourne series because 1) Matt Damon is in it and Matt Damon can make me run on the treadmill longer than any other actor… Oh and 2) I like watching fast-paced stuff when I’m on the ‘mill. Armaggeddon also works well. I once watched the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy on the treadmill (not in one sitting) although the pace of that is not quite fast enough.

So the treadmill run went well, which was good. It was a recovery run so the pace was slow, because I learned last week that I’m not spending enough time in proper recovery mode. How did I learn this? From a little thing called a lactate threshold (LT) test.

What is lactate threshold (LT)? Darned if I know. My sister’s the one with the PhD in microbiology. I was too busy blowing stuff up in chemistry and failing every biology lab to actually learn anything, so don’t ask me science questions. Fortunately, I learned to use the Internet and, according to, LT is “the maximum steady state effort that can be maintained without lactate continually increasing.” Once your lactate increases, you are forced to slow down and, eventually, stop. So the idea is to find the point (effort level) at which lactate will remain constant (once your lactate reaches 4 mmol/l that is considered threshold) and then train appropriately to raise your LT. What’s more, “the lactate threshold (or anaerobic threshold) is the best predictor of athletic endurance performance.” Two other factors – VO2 max and economy of movement – are highly correlated with performance in endurance sports, but apparently the LT is the most trainable of the three.

The test was done on the bike, and went like this: My coach took a blood sample from my finger before I began biking, to see my at rest
LT. Then I hopped on the bike and kept my cadence at 85rpm while he increased the power (watts) and took a heart-rate reading and blood sample every 3 minutes. It got harder and harder to maintain the cadence because the power was increasing. Then, just when I thought I couldn’t ride any more my coach told me to go as hard as I could for 3 minutes. Serious toughness was called for in those last 3 mins. He then took another heart-rate reading and blood sample. Seven minutes after stopping he took my heart-rate and one final blood sample. I am apparently “a bleeder” because there were no problems getting those samples. Or maybe I was just gripping the handlebars too tight.

For those who like pictures (I do) here are my results:

Lactate Curve


Okay. What does all this mean? Yeah, that was my question. Right after I asked if I failed. Basically, my take-aways from my LT test are:

1) I wasn’t fully recovered from my easy run the day before, given that my initial reading before I even started pedaling was 2.3. Therefore, I need to do recovery runs/rides at an easier pace/lower heart-rate.

2) I reached lactate threshold at a heart-rate of 152 and relatively early in the test. After that, I accumulated lactate at a rapid rate, topping out at 9.7 mmol/l and a heart-rate of 171. In order to increase my LT, I need to do my hard intervals above LT, which is above a 152 heart-rate. Doing those workouts below that, in the 130s and 140s where I’ve probably been doing them, is ineffective for improving my performance.

3) After reaching LT I continued to accumulate lactate and was at 10.1 mmol/l seven minutes after finishing the ride. This means I am crap and need to train harder. OK, that’s not what the coach said but basically my recovery sucks. I believe that making sure my recovery intervals are at a really low heart-rate will help with this.

I would highly recommend that all athletes (not just triathletes, runners too) get an LT test. I did the test on the bike because that’s where I’m looking to improve my performance the most, but the zones can be manipulated for running as well. It’s a relatively easy and inexpensive test, and gives you data you can actually use right away to change your training and improve your performance.

My LT test was performed by Coach Brian Crow of Team Tri Performance Racing at Bicycle Outfitters in Brambleton, VA.

Have you had your LT tested?

Would you consider getting your LT tested?

Are you “a bleeder”? 

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  1. This post was a really interesting read for me. I always thought this kind of testing was for super elite athletes and I’m a slowpoke. I would definitely consider getting the testing done if it wasn’t super expensive because it would allow me to really know what running at my LT feels like so I could use that to guide my future runs. (Right now I base everything off of heart rate formulas from books.)
    Beth @ Running with the Sunrise recently posted..Really Great DayMy Profile

    • Racingtales says:

      Hey Beth, great to hear from you again! I am definitely not super (or even sub)-elite and I think it is a good test for everyone. It was $89 – less than I thought it would be. I should have mentioned that. I will tell you that basing everything off my heart-rate formulas would have had me 10bpm off. Now I feel like I can really get dialed-in and make some improvements on the bike.

  2. I have a higher tolerance than most for the treadmill, but like you, I need to be watching something. I go through my DVR and netflix streaming. Best move ever for a long run that I have watched is Warrior. It is quite a bit testosterone-laden, but I was so fired up, and of course also crying so I was all sweaty and teary-eyed. Highly recommend it.

    If you are interested, I blogged about the movie for a long run here:
    Mark Matthews recently posted..The Race is Long, And In The End, It’s Only Against Your Brother – Darryl V. MerleMy Profile

    • Racingtales says:

      Thanks, Mark! I actually like testosterone-laden movies. Chick-flicks and tear-jerkers don’t work for the treadmill! FYI, I got the Kindle back from the kid and am making good headway on the book!

  3. I would love to have one. I am most confident that I reach my LT very early on. My question is, are easy recovery runs the way to increase your LT? Is there something you can do to increase it other than this? I’m a slow learner. 😉
    Lisa McClellan recently posted..Book Review: Think Like ZuckMy Profile

    • Racingtales says:

      From what I understand, I need to do my harder intervals above threshold and easy stuff way below it. That will increase it. It’s spending time right at or just below the threshold that doesn’t yield improvement. Brian does a much better job of explaining it than I do!

  4. Yes to all of your questions!i ran according to HR for the first time EVER yesterday to keep my tempo in the range it should be. I’ve been running every. Single. Thing. Too fast.
    Marcia recently posted..What Makes You Cranky?My Profile

    • Racingtales says:

      I am kinda worried I’ll have to run really really slowly. I don’t like that because everything takes so long!

  5. Couldn’t agree more- I had this test done last May and the results have really guided my training. I never do my LT runs by pace anymore– just by HR. I totally agree that the treadmill is a lifesucker, but Kudos for toughing it out mentally and getting it done.
    Elizabeth recently posted..The Never Ending Story Comes To An EndMy Profile

  6. Getting your LT tested is really NEAT! I’d sure love to see what my levels are like. I still don’t really understand the complexities of it all, but there is always Google to the rescue, like you mentioned, hehe! 😉

    And you make a good point about watching faster paced movies on the dreadmill. I never really thought of that before, but I don’t really watch fast paced stuff when I’m on mine…I watch the morning news, and every 15-20 min, I’m seeing the same stories OVER AND OVER and I get SO ANNOYED!! lol
    Debra at Miles to Run recently posted..What’s the Deal?My Profile


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