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Blood lactate test for running

By April 15, 2015April 14th, 202215 Comments

A few days ago I had my second Blood Lactate Test with Gareth Thomas at TRIO sports science testing facility in Los Angeles. On Monday April 20, 2015 I’ll be running the Boston Marathon so to prepare for this I’ve been running a lot of miles these past few months.

The reason I took this Blood Lactate test was to get a scientific reading of my blood lactate levels at different Heart Rates. Lactate is constantly produced by the body. In rest and with light exercise, you only produce a small amount of lactate. During a blood lactate test for running, blood lactate samples are taken at gradually increasing intensities while running on a treadmill. As exercise intensity increases, your lactate production increases and reaches levels that are reflective of a loss of aerobic efficiency. In general, low levels of lactate are the sign of an efficient aerobic system.

Here are my test results from my test on 4/10/2015:

 Zone Heart-rate Speed (mph)
AERO (Aerobic) 139 – 150 bpm < 8.4 mph
LT (Lactate Threshold) 151 – 156 bpm 8.5 – 8.9 mph
AC (Advanced Conditioning) 157 – 162 bpm 9.0 – 9.6 mph
SST (Steady State Threshold) 163 – 165 bpm 9.7 – 9.8 mph
VO2 max development 166 bpm+ 9.9 mph +

* Soon after 9.8 mph (6.07 min mile) I start to lose aerobic efficiency shown by lactate rising more rapidly and going above 4 mmol.

Here are my test results from my test on 11/26/2013:

  Zone Heart-rate Speed (mph)
AERO (Aerobic) 135 – 149 bpm < 8.0 mph
LT (Lactate Threshold) 150 – 158 bpm 8.1 – 8.5 mph
AC (Advanced Conditioning) 159 – 168 bpm 8.6 – 9.2 mph
SST (Steady State Threshold) 169 – 172 bpm 9.3 – 9.5 mph
VO2 max development 173 bpm+ 9.6 mph +

* Soon after 9.3 mph (6.25 min mile) I start to lose aerobic efficiency, with lactate rising more rapidly and going above 4 mmol.

Blood Lactate Test for Running

The data from my MAF tests and from my 1 LT test show some big differences:

  • On my LT test on 4/10/15 I hit 148 HR at a 8.3 mile / hour = 7.13 min / mile pace.
  • On my MAF test on 4/3/15 on a track, at 148HR I ran 6:12 min / mile average for 5 miles.

I noticed that during the LT test my Heart Rate would elevate much faster at slower pace than running outside on a track. A few possible reasons, I never run on a treadmill so it’s harder to get into a flow than running outside. My MAF test was at 53 fahrenheit early in the morning, vs 68 fahrenheit inside at 11am during the LT test. Also, my GPS watch might be slightly off on distance which might show faster pace than the treadmill pace.

For the Boston marathon I’ll be wearing my Garmin Heart Rate monitor. In training runs I’ve noticed that once my HR goes over 162 for a while (from Advanced Conditioning to Steady State Threshold), my breathing switches from 1 breath every 4 steps to 1 breath every 2 steps. Once this switch happens, I’m using a lot more energy and this is something I want to avoid until the last stages of the race.

I think a Blood lactate test is a great way to track your progress and to develop your own training plan from there with the input from the testing / training facility. If you’re located in Southern California, I can highly recommend Gareth at Trio or you can try to find a sports science laboratory near you.


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  • David V says:

    That is awesome stuff and shows that you are doing the right type of workouts at the right time.
    Did he talk to you about getting the Bla below 1 in the initial blood samples?

  • David Mobley says:

    Cool stats/data – fascinating.

    A couple more thoughts on the difference between your MAF test and your LT test:
    – Temperature makes a BIG difference. I saw some data somewhere (I don’t have the link right now) on the impact of temperature on marathon performance; I seem to recall that (roughly) every 10 degrees could make a difference of a couple percent in pace. For myself, I do most of my running when it is quite cool (very early morning; let’s say it is 55ish normally) and notice that if I run when it is ~75 degrees instead my HR will be perhaps 10-15 bpm higher than it normally would at a normal “easy” pace. I’m probably an extreme example since I’m not adjust to the “heat” at all yet.
    – The temperature difference is probably exacerbated when you are on a treadmill since you don’t have airflow when you run – i.e. while the indoor temperature may be 68F, the effective temperature near your body after you get going (unless you’re running with a fan) will be substantially higher, whereas on the track the faster you go the more airflow you get
    – Also, I wonder if (though I have no data on this) the relative effort on a treadmill at a given pace is higher because of surface flex. Particularly, you’re normally running on hard to very hard surfaces (asphalt mostly) and your body is probably most efficient at that, whereas every treadmill I’ve run on has a lot more give to it. I could see this damping out some to a lot of your body’s natural elastic recovery – i.e. you just don’t “bounce” into the next stride as efficiently. Probably someone has studied this (impact of surface softness/give on running efficiency), but I haven’t looked.

  • John says:

    “I noticed that during the LT test my Heart Rate would elevate much faster at slower pace than running outside on a track. A few possible reasons, I never run on a treadmill so it’s harder to get into a flow than running outside. My MAF test was at 53 fahrenheit early in the morning, vs 68 fahrenheit inside at 11am during the LT test. Also, my GPS watch might be slightly off on distance which might show faster pace than the treadmill pace.”

    If this is true, then what is the point? Doesn’t that mean that you can’t use the treadmill test results for your training and races (outside)?

    Seriously curious, not sure if this is worth $195.

  • floris says:

    Hi John, I totally had the same thought at the beginning, but there is a really good reason. I see the LT test as a great way to determine what Heart Rate zones work best for me to sustain during a race.

    For example, this test showed that HR 157-162 = Advanced Conditioning, this HR I can maintain for the duration of a marathon.

    HR 163 – 165 = Steady State Threshold, this HR I can maintain for shorter periods of times, for example to get up a hill, however not sustainable for me for an entire marathon.

    HR166+ = VO2 max development, I should not get into this zone for my marathon, unless it’s towards the end, since I’ll be losing a lot of energy here and it’s not sustainable for long.

    I understand there is a difference when you compare running pace on a treadmill vs outside. I don’t look at pace that much for my individual LT tests, I use my MAF tests to measure monthly pace progress. However after you’ve done more than 1 LT test, you can compare your pace at different Heart Rates and see your improvements that way as well.

    For me knowing that I should be able to maintain 157-162 for the duration of a marathon, gave me easy of mind and a nice strategy to approach my race. Much more detail about this can be found in my Boston Marathon Race Report (http://www.flotography.com/boston-marathon-preparation-and-race-report/) Hope that helps, if you have any other questions, just let me know! Cheers

  • floris says:

    Thanks David, that place is rad and a great way to measure training progress. Yes he mentioned getting the Blood Lactate below 1 mmol with more training, however this isn’t possible for all athletes. Had something to do with fast and slow twitch muscle fiber types. Runners with fast twitch have a harder time to get this below 1 mmol.

    Stoked to hit up Mt Whitney with you soon, let’s get Mt Baldy and a few other runs in beforehand! Cheers

  • floris says:

    Thanks David and you bring up several good points! Yes, temperature makes a huge difference! Here is a link that shows the impact of heat on marathon performance, times definitely slow down with higher temperatures: http://fellrnr.com/wiki/Impact_of_Heat_on_Marathon_Performance

    The good thing is that they have a fan during the LT test, so you still have some airflow. The surface can also make an impact. When I run around the Back Bay I sometimes switch between the bike path and the trail next to it, probably slows me down by about 10 – 15 seconds a mile since I have more grip and less damping out on the road. It would be cool to do an LT test on a track to see the difference. Cheers!

  • Virgil says:

    Floris –

    Can you help me understand how your training zones would correlate to the typical ‘zones’ on a fitness app like Wahoo?

    On Wahoo, there is:
    – Resting HR
    – Zone 1
    – Zone 2
    – Zone 3
    – Zone 4
    – Max HR

    Would this line up with yours, i.e. Zone 1 = AERO (Aerobic), Zone 2 = LT, Zone 3 = AC, Zone 4 = SST, Max HR = V02 Max?

    Or is it different?


  • Good article! I was part of a test group for a “prick-less” lactate threshold test. It’s a sleeve you wear on your calf. The testing wasn’t fun though because they had to place two sleeves on each of my calves and then they pricked every 2 minutes. They were doing a benchmark test on blood work vs their device. To make a long story short, you can now have instant LT metrics just by wearing the device. I am in no way affiliated with the company, I was just a test subject. It’s the BSX Insight http://www.bsxinsight.com

  • floris says:

    Hi Miguel, thanks for the heads up about this, sounds like a pretty cool device. The only thing is, in my LT tests and long training runs, I get a good idea of which HR zone I can sustain for a marathon. For example for me I can maintain 157 – 165 bpm for about 3 hours. The LT sensor from Bsx insight is pretty next level, I’m very curious how accurate it is, would love to try it. Is the sleeve painful to wear or was that the blood work sample you’re referring to? Thanks for the heads up and cheers!

  • floris says:

    Hi Virgil,

    Thanks for your good questions, I’ll have to dive into this and get back to you! More info about this coming soon.


  • WEBMARKA says:

    People have been getting fitness results without measuring lactate, so what’s the point? It’s a common position to stay stuck in the past when denying modern advancements. It’s true great champions were developed without lactate testing. Now great champions are developed with lactate testing, with less wasted training time.

  • Alberto Torres says:

    Many thanks for publishing this accurate information.
    I also start following this training approuch and do a lactate test every 8-10 weeks and so far it’s showing progress, However I did the last test this week and to my surprise the values were a little worse than the last one but still better than the previos one, I also notice that I start with a rest value of 1,1 mml but in the last one I start from 0,7. After the second interval measure the value went to 1,06 mml then it got slowly up until 2 mml, I do noy know yet if the weather and food could be th reason,
    So the question is how you mapp the values of of lactate test to the MAF values.
    Before I did this I use to do all my trining in a range below 2 mml and I saw the progress and all the 10-20% above 5 mml,
    I have always done good warm ups and cool down as well as core and strengh exercise. Still while preparing for a marathon I was really tired after 6 months of work outs 4 days a week. So I was hoping to keep doign the training with the 180 formula but still want to be able to measure progress in the lab.
    Just so you kno I start running at the end of 2012 and in my latest two races 10k 42:51 and 5K 20:03 and the last weeks I did the training with the formula,
    Next and my 3th haft marathon this weekend and looking for a new PR of course,
    Many thanks in advanced,

  • floris says:

    You’re correct, you don’t need it. However I do like to know since it helped confirm the HR I should be able to maintain over the duration of a marathon. I could have guessed it, however this gave me a bit more insight.

  • Tim Lee says:

    For me the names of the zones are completely different to what I have read. Correct me if I am wrong but looking at your graph I think you will find that the 2 mmol crossover point is your Aerobic Threshold at 153 bpm. The heart rate there should now be your new MAF training heart rate, so why are you still using 148 bpm?
    Also your Lactate Threshold is the 4 mmol crossover point which would be approximately 163 bpm, which corresponds with the change in breathing that you are experiencing.

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