Mar 282016

85 percent effort is important

85 Percent Effort Is Important

What does 85 percent effort mean and what’s the significance of that number?

If you have read running magazines, books on running, or any of the hundreds of websites offering running or training advice, you may have come across the following terms:

  • Tempo Runs
  • Anaerobic Threshold (A/T) Workouts
  • Threshold Pace
  • Lactate Threshold Pace
  • Sub-maximal effort
  • Cruise Intervals
  • vVO2Max Runs
  • Steady State Runs

In some of these more intense workouts you may see 85% as the suggested effort level. For the most part – without getting into minuscule technicalities – most of these terms represent essentially the same workout.  Over the last 40-50 years of research on long-distance running, most scientists have drawn fairly similar conclusions.  At this MAGIC pace (at either side of 85% of maximal effort) a lot of very special things happen to the human body.

For the beginner/novice level runner: 85 percent is the effort that “feels like you’re doing something.”  You know the “no pain/no gain” mentality?  Welcome to the threshold where you will soon be in pain if you don’t back off!  When you are just getting into it – you may find yourself skyrocketing to 85% in no time at all.  This is why WALK BREAKS are so important in gauging your pace to keep you more in the 65-75% range for most of your training.  The 85 percent effort level is something to play with very occasionally.  Until you establish a true foundation of aerobic endurance (the 65-75% range), the 85% level will be pretty hard on you.

For the recreational runner: 85% is the effort or pace that’s just slightly faster (I mean slightly – about 6-8 seconds a mile – just a step or two quicker!) than your half-marathon pace.  Doing some running at this pace a few times a week will help you gradually get more comfortable at a slightly quicker pace in your half-marathons.  As you may have figured out already, an improvement of just 6-10 seconds a mile is a BIG improvement in your overall time.

For the advanced runner: 85% is the effort that you begin to feel strong.  Somehow when you hit this pace, you get the feeling as though you could “run all day long.”  The truth is, if you are truly at your Anaerobic Threshold, you can probably hold this pace for 50-60 minutes (a little short of that “all day” feeling).  Since none of us will be running any 50-60 minute half-marathons any time soon – the world record is currently just under 59 minutes – it is important to train sparingly at 85%.  The “minutes” workouts, “tempo” workouts, and “cruise interval” workouts you will see on your intensity day will allow you to play in the 85% playground for short periods of time.

For the competitor runner: 85% is the effort that helps you control an opposing runner.  If you know where 85 percent effort is for you and you learn to stay “just this side of it” – holding on to your extra gears for later in the race – while the person you are running against is “just the other side of it” and beginning to struggle or fade, guess what happens?  Shift gears and good-bye.  The “minutes” workouts, “tempo” workouts, and “cruise interval” workouts you will see on your intensity day will allow you to determine exactly where your personal gears are and help teach you how to conserve, accelerate, recover, and GO when you need to!

We follow this philosophy in our Team GFR Training Plans. Take a look at our training plans and join us.

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  One Response to “Why 85 percent Effort Is Important”

  1. Hey, this is an awesome description of the 85% threshold. Congratulations on presenting so clearly what so many runners, coaches, and writers struggle to convey. This was very informative and helpful. I love your analysis under ‘For the competitor runner’ as it puts the threshold pace in a practical context further illuminating the importance of that pace.

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