Progress calibration run (threshold/tempo run)

During the hill (dynamic strength) and anaerobic phases onwards your fastest continuous run shifts from the “out and back” workout to “progress calibration runs”. These runs take you closer to your maximal steady state (and just beyond) and help you transition into faster test races and time trials in the later phases of training where your subscribed pace moves ever closer to actual race pace.

Sometimes referred to as “tempos” this term can be confusing as many understand it to be simply a continuous effort at paces fast enough to incur oxygen debt which will often lead runners to perform this workout too fast. Running at around your lactate threshold pace or a few seconds faster will provide you the best adaptations and avoid an untimely stop to the workout from fatigue. Save the faster running for intervals.

“The out-and-back is not a time trial to see how fast you can run but rather a very good discipline to control the even but strong effort throughout the workout.  A variation of this workout used in later phases is what we termed the “Progress Calibration Run”.  This is another signature Lydiard workout.  Using the same course, or the same duration, and running at a pre-set heart-rate or effort the runner can run faster (or further) as he/she gets fitter.  This runs assists in calibrating pace and gauging progress.  In the final phases of training the equivalent workout is a time trial, particularly useful for track.” – Nobby Hashizume, Lydiard Foundation Blog

Instruction: 

  • Steady state run at preset heart rate or intensity
  • Choose an out-and-back or loop course for your distance that you will enjoy running and can do so uninterrupted. For road runners a course that has similar terrain features to the goal race is ideal. A track works well for shorter distances such as 3k or 5k. This course will become your yardstick for progress.
  • Ideally warm-up and cooldown for 10-15 minutes (if short on time, ease into this workout).
  • Run steady and evenly at race pace but do not sprint at the end as you would in a race. This is harder than your out-and-back run. If you are not confident on even pacing then use a heart rate monitor and check your heart rate at regular intervals to measure your progress as well as making sure you are not over-exerting yourself.
  • Never run more than 40-45 minutes at a pace and/or intensity equal to your 1 hour pace (15km race pace for competitive club runners)

What it tells you:

  • Going out slower than coming home/heart rate similar: it is perfectly okay if you come home up to 10% faster than outward bound. If you come home more than 10% faster you started out too slowly.
  • Going out faster than coming home/heart rate similar: you started out too fast OR the workout may be a bit too stressful for you at this point and you may need to do adjust your training down.
  • Heart-rate at finish exceeds heart-rate at turnaround by more than 5 bpm: most likely that you kicked it home when you come to the final stretch. This is neither recommended nor desirable at this stage OR you started out a little too fast or picked up the pace too quickly during the run.
  • Heart-rate exceeds target pulse-rate at turnaround and your return run was slower: if you could not maintain your pace on the return journey you are working ahead of yourself. Adjust your training down. Be sure to check your Recovery Indicators (link).

Important points:

This is a good time to use a heart rate monitor. You will find that as your condition improves, you will be able to run faster at the same heart rate as previous weeks.

You should still feel, at the end, you could have run faster and further if you wanted to. At this point, you are introducing various workouts that will sharpen you naturally (i.e.: hill training and then intervals); so you can expect your times to come down.

During last 6 weeks of the marathon programme this workout constitutes a very vital part of preparation. You will be running nearly 80~110 minutes at close to current predicted marathon pace and, as you cut back the duration of this workout, you pick up the pace to sharpen yourself more and more.

Rate of perceived effort:

5-8

It is extremely important to keep in the lower end (no longer than 20 minutes) if you run at the higher intensities of the PCR range. Run them too hard and too long regularly and your glycogen stores will run low and you will find yourself perennially fatigued.

Experienced competitors/elites: 

The value of this workout increases for experienced competitors and elites. The ability to increase VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake) decreases over time whereas the lactate threshold remains very trainable and will allow experienced athletes to run at increasingly higher percentages of their VO2 max for longer periods of time.

Adaptation:

  • Steady state aerobic up to and slightly beyond the lactate threshold depending on the phase

Skill:

  • Feedback on progress
  • Gauging pace
  • Confidence

Biggest mistakes:

  • Focusing on time rather than appropriate effort and pushing too hard.
  • Going beyond your target heart rate; and/or RPE to prove to yourself that you are faster than last week. This is primarily a feedback run that gives you a steady training effort. Your effort and heart rate should be constant from week to week so that your feedback from the run is an accurate comparison. Allow the progression of “pace” to come naturally.
  • Putting too much at stake in developmental races: running them all-out and then being “spent” for your main event. Keep your eye on your final goal.
  • Continually checking your watch on your run: some people tend to check their watch too frequently – meaning they compare themselves with the previous time at various landmarks. This is not desirable because invariably you’ll strive to do better each time and you are in danger of your competitiveness sabotaging your progress. Ideally, you should check your watch just at the turn-around point and at the finish. If you tend to follow this pattern, arrange to have several different venues so you can use different out-and-back courses every time you do this progress test run.
  • Running more than 40-45 minutes at the best pace you can hold for 1 hour (this equates to your lactate threshold pace). Doing this will make the workout a race and too hard to recover properly from, especially on a regular basis

Variations

All variations for the “out and back” workout are valid here, simply increase the intensity and pace to match the level of effort subscribed for this PCR  workout rather than that used for “out and back”. This should put you right at your lactate threshold pace or just beyond it. Since PCRs are essentially shorter and faster versions of the “out and back”, you can simply make the fast segments of progression runs or cruise-intervals shorter and faster.

Substitution (test) races: during the coordination and taper phases, PCR workouts can be substituted for a developmental race of a similar distance.

Treat these races as training and a chance to do dress rehearsal for pre-race meals, warm-up, clothing and racing shoes, tactics, pacing etc. Half-marathon and marathon runners, should favour continuous running over any type of repetition/interval variation as it mirrors the requirements of their target distance more closely.

Set distance: rather than using the suggested time for the PCR workouts, choose a course that you believe you will complete in roughly the time suggested. If your programme calls for forty minutes and your experience and pace suggest you will run about 8km, you can choose an 8km course and use this for your PCR. Be careful when doing this over set distances as the temptation will be strong to see just how fast you can go over 5km, 10km and so on.

Terrain: even courses will provide you the most reliable splits but you do not have to restrict yourself to this. In preparation for mountain races, some of our runners have employed a course with gentle uphill on the way out and gentle downhill on the way back, mirroring to an extent the up and down mountain races of these athletes. This does not have to be a problem for the workout:

” If it’s windy or there’s a slight elevation change between the start/finish and the halfway point, try to arrange it so that the more difficult direction is negotiated first. This will reinforce negative splits and you’ll walk away from the workout in a more positive frame of mind.” – Lorraine Moller, Running Times, Nov 2010

Parts of the workout descriptions are adapted from BreakThrough Running with permission.
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