A Practical Guide

From theory to workouts

Written by Marius Bakken March 2000
“Using our technical advantages to copy their training principles”

In the fall of 1998 I started using the Lactate Pro lactic acid meter when I took part in a “training intensity” project organized by the Norwegian Olympic committee (Olympiatoppen).

The purpose of this project was to teach young, promising middle and long distance athletes how to train at the right intensity level. Earlier studies done by Frank Evertsen and the renowned physiologist Saltin showed that the dominating Kenyans did much of their training right below their Lactate Threshold (LT – right when you start to accumulate lactic acid) as compared with Scandinavians who trained either too easy or too hard with little “feel” for how hard they were running.

Central in teaching us training the Kenyan way was the technology of lactate acid meters, (Aekray, Japan) the only way to tell you for sure how hard you are actually training. If you have access to one of these meters here is a practical guide on how to use such a meter to train like the Kenyans

Contact a physiology lab where you can get an accurate lactate threshold test (illustration 1) The value you should focus on is the value you get when you start accumulating lactic acid. This will be the baseline for your training. If a lab is unavailable to you, the lactate threshold ranges from 3.0 mmol/l to 4.5 mmol/l on the Aekray meter. If you are a typical long-distance runner, you will be close to 3.0 (from 4.0 to 3.0) and as a middle-distance type usually closer to 4.5.

A lactate threshold session should last from minimum 36 minutes to around 60 minutes at the most. A typical session could be 4-5×10 minutes/7×6 minutes. My experience with the Kenyans is that they start their sessions fairly easily, but they run them faster as they go along, where approx. 45-50 minutes is at their LT. They do this several times a week, and this is the base of their training. This also goes for the Maroccons.  A lecture in England by the Maroccon Kada, the coach of El Guerrouj and Salah Hissou confirmed this kind of training, that they call “footing”.

They run at the LT on most of their long-distance runs (45-60 minutes see illustration 2), but have a natural feeling for the speed – that most non-Africans have to be taught. So start doing long LT sessions where, in the beginning, you draw blood and use a lactic acid meter after each run/interval. You/your athlete should be approx. 0.3-0.5 below the LT on these sessions. In the beginning, this pace will seem slow, but as you go along you will see the benefit of it.

You simply teach your body not to accumulate lactic acid and your ability, just like the Kenyans, to run fast in races without fading will improve dramatically (see research part by Evertsen) The athletes feeling throughout the session should be “comfortably hard”, and he/she should be able to do another two or three intervals after each run.

There has been studies that too much training RIGHT AT the LT can cause overtraining. Therefore it is EXTREMELY important to be disciplined and run 0.3 to 0.5 below the LT in most of the session (and maybe at the LT at the last interval). The Kenyans are specialists at this. In altitude, you get a much better feel for what is right below your LT and what is right on/over. Remember: No pain, no gain does not work when it comes to LT training. Discipline is the key.

So what about track sessions?

On track sessions, the lactic acid on the meter should be between 4 and 8 mmol on regular hard sessions (from 6-10 km), and only in the racing season above 10. This is right where the Kenyans run, something Evertsen has found out through his research. They don’t force their body, but run with it. Feeling comfortable/hard etc. is simply not good enough, if you want to be really good. You need to KNOW! On track sessions, you will see that your lactic acid increases for every interval (illustration 3 track session). The importance here is the curve of accumulating. You will bring with you lactic acid from the previous run into the next one.

So what is the most important here is to have a nice, stable increase. That means that your body absorbs the training, and you are not “dying”. I have honestly not seen one single Kenyan “forcing” himself to drop dead tired on the track. They work hard, extremely hard – but they are still able to one or two more run after they are done.

When some athletes/coaches get a lactate meter, they draw blood on every single workout and every single interval. This is ok to do in the beginning, but remember that the lactate meter should be used to TEACH you how to run at the right intensity. After using it, the athlete will get better and better at hitting it right. Sometimes only after 5 or 6 sessions, he knows right where his LT is.

After drilling the LT into the training of the athlete, it can be beneficial to divide the type of sessions into 4 or 5 categories, where (for a long distance runner ) zone 1 is lactate under 1.5, zone two is 1.5 to 2.0, zone three is LT zone from 2.0 to 3.0, zone four is regular track sessions, where you have from 3.0 to 8, and zone five is pure lactic acid work (tempo work). In that way the athlete can relate to different kinds of training, based on his lactic acid level. The lactic acid meter makes the athlete relate to the training, by actually seeing for himself how hard he is running. There no longer has to be a disagreement between athlete and coach on how hard he is working. You can actually measure it on the meter and see it!

What makes a lactic acid meter better to use than heart rate?

The heart rate at your LT varies from day to day, time a day, sleep, energy etc.etc., but the level of lactic acid at your LT is normally the same day after day – and year after year. In that way, if your athlete feels tired one day, you let him run according to the lactic meter, and you won’t overwork him that day.

Some people will argue that Kenyans based in Australia in the spring/with European agents in the summer do little or no LT work. This is true, but remember that they are only based there in the racing season. The rest of the year they are home in Eldoret or other places in Kenya. Much of the training there, that they like to call “fartlek” or just simply “long-run” is right below the LT. You go down there and try. It starts innocently, but when they start to move, they are right below their LT for the rest of their run!

Another question is: why use something like a lactate meter, when the Kenyans don’t – and they are running so fast!!? The answer to this is: they are born in altitude, with a natural feeling for running at their LT. Most of us non-Africans aren’t. They are more in touch with their body than we are in our western society. WE have to use our technological benefits to the best – to do their training not only like them but even better.

Illustration 1:
Speed at 1.7 % incline Lactic Acid Heart Rate Vo2
13 km/hr 1.7 137 47,8
14,5 km/hr 1.8 149 52,1
16 km/hr 2.8 161 59,4
17,5 km/hr 5.2 170 66,1
For this athlete, a 3.46 1500 meter runner, his lactic treshold would be approx. 2.4 mmol/l lactic acid and a speed of 16.8 km/hr. That is where this athlete starts to accumulate lactic acid. On LT training sessions he would run right around 1.8/2.0 lactic acid that means 3.0 on the lactic acid meter – using the conversion table in illustration 2.
Illustration 2:
Taken from Abdelkader Kadas (coach of EL Guerrouj/Hissou) lecture in England the spring of 99.
Second preparation cycle:
Day 1 AE Strength
Day 2 Rest Race Pace
Day 3 AE AE
Day 4 AE Power
Day 5 AE Race Pace
Day 6 AE Rest
Day 7 AE Power
Day 8 AE Race Pace
Day 9 AE AE
Day 10 AE Power
Day 11 AE AE
Day 12 AE AE
According to Kada, El Guerrouj does these AE session at a pace of 2.50 – 3.10/km, where he starts a bit slower and picks it up. This pace is kept for 30-45 minutes. For him, that means right under his lactic treshold, thus LT work. The Maroccon system is based on the British one, developed by Peter Coe.

In his books and practical training Coe emphasizes this kind of LT work. This was one of the things that made Seb Coe such an exceptional middle distance runner, with a range from the 800 up to 5km road races. So as you can see, there is a red line in much of the training here.

Both the dominating Kenyans and Maroccons use LT work as a GREAT part of their training. And so did the British runners when they were great back in the 80s. (For the information of the illustration : “Power” means “10×300 m. hill/200-300 multi-jumps” and “Race pace” is “Fartlek 6/5/4/3/2/1” or “track session “1600/1200/800/600/400 with rec. starting at 1 min reducing to 30 sec.”)

Illustration 3 “Tracksessions”:
5×10 minutes, 2 min rec., lactic acid 2.4 on the first one, 2.8 on the last one.
10 mile run, where the middle 8 miles LT running.
Track session : 1200-800-1200-800-1200-800. 2 min rest. Lactate 5.8 – 7.3 – 7.8 – 8.9 – 9.3. Nice steady increase in lactic acid. (because you will bring with you the lactic acid from the previous runs on the next one)
12×1000 meters. Lactic acid right under your LT. If you run shorter, like 1000s, it is ok to be only 0.2 under your LT.