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Why Every Runner Needs to Do Threshold Intervals

Love these science backed articles, very helpful. Learn about threshold intervals, a new type of interval training that enables you to run faster but still focus on long-term development.When designing running workouts, a coach can manipulate three elements of the training plan to elicit certain physiological adaptations.

These three elements are:

  • The time or distance of the interval
  • The speed or pace at which you need to run the workout
  • The amount of rest you can take between efforts.

While many people are familiar with the ability of a coach to change the distance and pace of an interval – and how this can affect fitness – the rest portion of a workout is often an afterthought or the forgotten element in the training equation, especially for those writing their own schedules.

Actually, manipulating the rest of a track workout is something I find to be particularly effective and one of the best ways to gain fitness.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts regarding the importance of aerobic development, improving your aerobic threshold is one of the most effective ways to gain fitness and race faster. By varying the rest during interval workouts in a unique and innovate way, you can get the benefits from both a tempo run and a speed workout.

If you do find yourself to be one of the runners who feels like there is an element of training missing, we have a free marathon training schedule and guide that shows you all the steps you need to follow to prepare for your upcoming marathon, regardless of whether you have a coach or not.

What are Threshold Intervals?

Typically, tempo runs or threshold runs are assigned at somewhere between your 10 mile and half marathon race pace.

These paces will typically take you right to the edge of your lactate threshold (which we explain in further detail in another article), but prevent you from going over the edge and flooding your system with lactic acid.


If you want to work on running faster (mechanics, speed, form, and efficiency), but not deviate from the long-term goal of progressing aerobic fitness, then you can implement faster paced intervals at 8k to 10k paces with a short amount of rest, which is an often overlooked element of training.

Here’s the deal:

These threshold intervals allow you to run much faster than a tempo run (usually 6-7 percent faster), but because of the short rest, you can maintain a threshold effort.

During these threshold intervals, you’ll often barely catch your breath before starting the next interval, but that means the workout will also go by quickly.

Bonus Benefit of Threshold Intervals

The added bonus of performing these intervals are the pacing practice and strategies you can develop.

If you start out too fast during the first interval or two, the short rest will come back to bite you during the middle and latter part of the workout.

You may feel good going faster for the first three or four intervals, but the big hairy gorilla will jump on your back during the second half and make the rest of the workout a struggle and a test of wills.

Not fun. Trust us on this one!

What’s the bottom line?

When performing threshold intervals, it is important to pay attention to the paces and the rest.

If you begin to feel tired during the workout and your paces start to slow, make sure you continue to maintain the timing of the rest.

You can slow down if you need to, but keep the rest the same.

If you want to read more about Threshold Intervals, we talked about it more in our article about understanding the three types of tempo runs, and how to target them in your training.


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9 Responses on “Why Every Runner Needs to Do Threshold Intervals

  1. Jeff,
    I get all the tangible benefits but I think the last one you mentioned here is the one I struggle with the most.  As a new runner,  I find it very difficult to hold a steady pace.  The interval work has been huge for me as I’m one of those that goes out way to hard on the first few intervals.  This wasn’t a big deal until you jammed 12 or them in a row with 30 sec rest.  When you get to the 5th interval and you can’t keep up the speed it hits you that you better learn what the right pace “feels” like so you don’t have to keep looking down at your watch!  Or looking down at your lungs after you cough them up following the 8th interval…

    • Hi Marty,

      That’s a great point, the workouts can be a great way of “forcing” you to run the right pace. As you’ve now experienced, going out too hard means getting your butt kicked.

      I think one thing that most people forget is that racing is a skill, just like shooting a basketball or kicking a soccer ball. Pacing is one of the most important parts of a race, so if you can’t do it, you’re going to struggle more than necessary. However, like shooting a three-pointer, it takes a lot of practice and some time before you can get really good at it. However, once you do, you’ll be the Lebron James of the Baltimore running circuit :)

  2. Do you think the following work out is a theshold tempo: 1 mile at 5k pace followed by 1 mile at 10k pace followed by 1 mile 1/2 marathon pace, no rest inbetween and repeat. This was given to me 20 years ago from a runner at Tampa U and I have never seen it before in any workouts, and it lowered all my times. I did this off a solid 25 miles per week and no other speed work. I keeped my long run to 8 to 10. i did this for 6 weeks then 2 weeks later pr 5k and then 10 k then less than 2 months 1/2 marathon.

    • Thats great Rick! Sounds like you found what works for you! That would probably not be considered a threshold tempo, as threshold tempos are usually between 10 mile and half marathon pace, and you were significantly under that for most the workout, but sounds like it helped you to some great PRs, especially with low mileage. Great job! Are you still using that workout today?

  3. I havent did this w\o in 10 yrs. 3 summers ago i did vo2 w\o twice a week an easy run and one long run and lowered all my master times in mile, 5k and 10k. 3 hot months with a friend.

    • That is great you are continuing to improve Rick! Keep up the good work, and keep up those vo2 workouts if they are working for you! Maybe it is time to try the threshold intervals again to see if they can help too.

  4. Thanks for these articles, they are very interesting and correspond closely to my personal experience with short reps vs threshold and tempo runs. I find I run best when doing sessions like 20 mins at 10k pace or 40 at half pace once a week, and some focussed sessions like 10k at 10 mile pace before a 10 mile race. I will do 10x400m + 200m float (95/60) as well, but find focussing on the threshold runs works better for me than 400’s . I would like to add some variety to keep it interesting, and was wondering what sort of 1k interval session this would translate to for a matathon target race? 10k is currently 40.37 and marathon is 3:42.

    • Hi Paul, thanks for reaching out. Sounds like you have some great workouts that you have been using. As for intervals around 1k, we have 6 workout suggestions for 10k runners here which may be helpful to your training. Keep up the good work, you are doing awesome! We would love to have you as a part of our team if you are interested in the future, many of our athletes are right where you are, and have taken huge jumps. Let me know if I can help answer any other questions.

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