Run Faster By Improving Your Lactate Clearance Rate

Photo: Scott Draper/Competitor

Lactate Clearance Workouts

Of course, traditional tempo runs, tempo intervals, and cruise intervals help increase your body’s ability to clear or reconvert lactate. However, you can implement special lactate clearance workouts into your training to more specifically target this niche of your training. Two of my favorite lactate clearance workouts are the alternating tempo run and, for lack of a better name, what I call the lactate clearance tempo run.

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Alternating Tempo Runs

I first learned about alternating tempo runs from my college coach, John Gregorek. We used alternating tempos in the early phase of our cross country training when we were developing our endurance and establishing a base for the long season ahead. I find them particularly effective for half marathon and marathon training, although you can scale them down to 10K or 5K training as well. It’s a good way to mix in some speed while also doing threshold training.

The goal for the workout is to run a specific distance (even numbers work best) and alternate the pace between marathon pace and either 10K or half marathon pace, depending on the distance of your run and your fitness level. The shorter your tempo run, the closer you can get to 10K pace during the “fast” portion, while during  longer alternating tempo runs these “fast” portions are better done near half-marathon pace.

The goal is to spike lactic acid production with the faster mile and then train your body to efficiently process the lactate while still running at a more reasonable pace (marathon pace). This will help make you more efficient at reconverting lactate into energy on race day.

For a 3:30 marathon runner, the workout might look something like this to start:

* 1-3 mile warmup, 6 miles continuous at 8:00, 7:25, 8:00, 7:25, 8:00, 7:25, 1-2 mile cool down.

Notes:

  • As you get more fit, you can increase the distance of the run to 8-12 miles, depending on your normal workout volume.
  • This workout is also a good way to hone your pacing skills. Changing paces so often is difficult, but it can happen in races.
  • Remember, the “slow” mile is designed to teach your body how to become efficient at processing lactate. Running faster just because you can reduces the effectiveness. Remember: Faster is not always better.
  • Start with the slow mile if you’re new to the workout and start with the fast mile first once you’ve become more seasoned.

Lactate Clearance Tempo Run

The purpose of the lactate clearance tempo run is the same as the alternating tempo — to flood the muscles with lactate and then teach your body how to reconvert that lactate back into energy efficiently while running fast.

The lactate clearance workout is a great tempo effort for runners training for 5K or 10K. It allows you to run at or near goal pace for part of the workout and still get the benefit of a threshold run. Likewise, marathoners and half marathoners can use it to add a little speed to a training plan that might be full of marathon-paced miles.

The objective is to run the first mile or two of a tempo run at about 10K pace and then back off the last mile or two miles to half marathon or marathon pace. Here’s how the workout might look for a 3:30 marathoner:

* 2-mile warmup, 2 x 3 miles (first 2 miles at 7:20, last mile at 7:50 pace) w/3 min rest between reps, 1-mile cooldown

If you’re a beginner, you can slow the “recovery” pace down to marathon pace or do one fast mile with two “slow” miles. To increase the total length of the workout, you can break the tempo into two or three 3 to 4 mile sessions. This will allow you to keep your volume high without going overboard with the workout.

Notes:

  • This workout serves as good practice for those runners who can’t control their pace early in a race. This will help you “recover” if you go out too fast.
  • Doing more than 4 miles in one “set” is difficult. Keep the sets to 3 or 4 miles.
  • Again, don’t run the entire 3-4 miles at 10K pace even though you might be able to do so. That is not the point of the workout.

With your new understanding of how lactate works, try implementing these workouts into your schedule to spice things up and improve your lactate clearance rate.

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