Threshold Running Explained

By definition, threshold running is supposed to be a comfortably hard effort that helps improve your fitness.  If threshold running was a race distance, it would probably be somewhere in the 15k – faster than your half marathon, but slower than your 5k and 10k paces.  It’s a tough pace but not so tough that you couldn’t do it – and run it well – for 20 or even 30 minutes.

If you haven’t added it into your running routine, now is certainly the time.  In this post, I’ll give you why you should be running threshold runs, sample workouts, and suggested paces based on your race results!

Marc uses threshold and tempo runs to improve his running
The complete guide to running threshold

Threshold Running Basics:

Threshold workouts can be done in a variety of ways so that the workouts never feel boring or the same.  To really master threshold running, you’ll want to keep the rests relatively short.  That means that for every 5 minutes of running at threshold pace, you should be taking roughly 1 minute of rest.  So, if you run repeats that last 2:30, you’ll want to rest (jog) for only 30 seconds.  If you need more time to recover from the repeat, chances are, you’ve run it too fast.  That’s the thing about threshold running: it’s challenging, but you really don’t need a ton of time to recover. You should be able to catch your breath quickly and head off for another repeat.

To start, if you’ve never run threshold repeats before, I’d start with a shorter distance – like repeat 400s.  As you get stronger and fitter, you’ll be able to increase your running distance but to start, choose a distance that is manageable and attainable.  Remember, pick a repeat distance that you feel you can run without losing form, slowing down, or having to work harder than what threshold should feel like.  When you finish the repeat, you should be under control and almost ready to do another one right away.

Think of it this way:  if your running form falters, your pace slows or your effort becomes strained, then you are running repeats too fast or too far for your current fitness level.  The focal point of a threshold workout should be the entire volume of work done at your threshold pace rather than the run distance of each repeat.

Why you Should Run Threshold:

Running threshold runs – repeats and tempos – throughout your training is really key to train your body to clear the blood lactate accumulation that happens when you run hard.  When you run hard or when you race, you create a byproduct called lactate.  The faster you run, the more lactate is produced.  If you have too much in your system, you’ll tire and slow down.  When you do threshold training, you are teaching your body to clear that lactate from your system at a more efficient rate.  The better you are at finding that tipping point between creating lactate and clearing it, the longer it will be before you have to slow down. 

Types of Threshold Workouts:

You can run threshold repeats or their close cousin tempo runs.  Both are considered comfortably hard, the difference between the two is this: threshold repeats consist of short breaks while a tempo there isn’t a break.  Because there isn’t a break with tempo runs, the pace is roughly 3-5 seconds slower per mile.  Both runs aim to create and remove lactate accumulation at the same rate and because the intensity level is only moderate, you can do a fairly high amount of work at threshold pace.

I told you I’d fill you in on some sample threshold workouts.  So here goes…Threshold repeats can range anywhere from 400s to 5k.  This means that you’d run repeats of that distance. As I said above, the newer you are to threshold workouts, the shorter the rep should be, however, just because you have lots of experience doesn’t mean you can’t run shorter reps.  Again, remember the 5 minutes of work to 1 minute of rest ratio.  

Favorite Threshold Workouts:

  • 6 x 1 mile
  • 10 x 1 kilometer
  • 3 x 2 miles
  • 8 x 2 minutes
  • 6 x 3:30
  • 12 x 400 meters

As you can see, the sky is the limit.  You can do reps based on distance or by time.  The key is to find the correct zone and keep the rests short.

Tempo runs are very similar, as I said above, with the main difference being no rest.  As a coach, however, I do give tempo runs with rests – the rests are short – just so my runners can regroup and focus again on nailing their pace.

Threshold and tempo runs are key to running improvement
Threshold repeats should be done with short rests

Tempo Run Examples:

  • 20 minutes
  • 4 miles
  • 3 x 10 minutes w/ 2 min jog after each

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Suggested Paces:

Now that you know what some sample workouts are, you’ll next need to know how fast to run them.  Each runner is different and has different needs, so I can’t say “go run x pace for y minutes” because everyone has a different threshold pace, weekly mileage, and tolerance for this kind of running effort.

That being said, I strongly suggest you look at these places for resources to find your threshold pace:

Or, if you don’t have access to either of those and you are NOT training based off of your heart rate, I would suggest you have a race or time trial to help you predict your training paces.  Threshold pace is the pace you’d run for a 1-hour race, so for some runners, this might be 10k race pace and for others, it might be closer to a half marathon for their threshold pace.  

Threshold & Tempo Paces Based on Current 5k Times:

  • 30 minute 5k → 10:00 threshold pace  → 10:30 tempo pace
  • 24 minute 5k → 8:15 threshold pace    → 8:45 tempo pace
  • 20 minute 5k → 6:50 threshold pace    →  7:15 tempo pace
  • 18 minute 5k →  6:15 threshold pace    → 6:40 tempo pace
  • 15 minute 5k → 5:15 threshold pace    → 5:30 tempo pace

Recap:

Threshold and tempo runs (as explained by Jack Daniels) are staples for distance runners because these types of runs help you delay your fatigue.  Threshold pace goes by many names depending on who you talk to, but the pace of both is considered “comfortably hard”. Threshold repeats have short breaks – remember that 5 minutes of work to 1 minute of rest ratio, while tempo runs are usually one continuous effort.  Regardless of what you call this pace and what distances you run, remember that you should warm up and cool down properly and follow each threshold workout with at least one easy day.


Searching for a running coach? TrainwithMarc has flexible schedules, dynamic plans, and access to a coach who’s worked with every type of runner.

TrainwithMarc will design a training plan based on your needs, running history, and your goals.

Gear I Love

Garmin is my go-to brand of running watches

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Coach Marc does strides after easy runs to prime his legs

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