Q&A with athlete Diana Wikblom: How a lactate analyzer can improve running intensity

Q&A with athlete Diana Wikblom: How a lactate analyzer can improve running intensity

Lactate analyzers provide real-time feedback on an athlete’s lactate levels during exercise. Lactate, or lactic acid, is produced during high-intensity exercise and can accumulate in the muscles, leading to fatigue and decreased performance.

By monitoring lactate levels, endurance runners can adjust their training intensity and pacing to optimize performance and avoid exhaustion. They also help to prevent overtraining and injury, making lactate measurement a crucial tool for anybody looking to improve their performance and achieve their goals.

Since the summer of 2021, Diana Wikblom, a Finnish long-distance runner and Aonach athlete, has been using a lactate analyzer after the technology first came to her attention through Norway’s Ingebrigtsen Brothers on their YouTube channel.

We sat down with her to learn more about lactate sensors and measurements.

Why did you start using a lactate sensor?

I used to train too hard in intervals, and that’s a common mistake. When you’re doing an interval, you think that you must be exhausted at the end. However, you can’t train very often when you train like that because you need longer to recover before doing another hard session, or you’ll get injured.

Before an interval session, I always had a certain pace in mind, but the lactate measurement was too high. I needed to slow my pace and find the right intensity for my workout. I started to train easier in intervals but could do them more often. If you can run a quality session more often, you get much more volume in your training, which improves your running intensity.

What is your process for taking the lactate measurement?

I keep the lactate analyzer in my base station, which could be in my car or beside me on the treadmill. When I stop, I clean my finger - it took me a while to learn that your finger must be clean, which can be tricky if you sweat a lot. I use a lancet to collect a blood sample from my fingertip and put the test strip into the machine. It takes about 15 seconds for the result to appear. The whole process takes about a minute from start to finish.

Initially, it felt like the wrong decision. I thought, ‘I can’t do this when running and tired, and my fingers are shaking,’ but after a few times, the process became faster and natural. The device automatically stores all the figures, but I always write them in my training log.

The cost of the test strips can add up since they cost over one euro each. I used more test strips when I started, but now use 5-8 test strips weekly - it depends on the training. The more quality training you do, the more critical it becomes that your lactate doesn’t go too high. It might go well for two weeks, and then you suddenly feel too tired for everything and need a break.

When do you stop to test your lactate level?

If I do a quality session and want to be sure that I don’t train too intensely, I test out in the field. For example, I do one kilometer, rest for 30 seconds, another kilometer, and then take the lactate measurement to see what it is after two kilometers. It would be best if you constantly tested like this, but I don’t use the lactate measurements in all my quality runs.

How difficult is it to understand the lactate measurements?

It’s simple because you know that Zone 4 is most people’s anaerobic threshold, so when it goes above that, your oxygen levels aren’t enough, and you’ll become increasingly fatigued. At first, the number won’t rise very high, but at one point, as you run faster and faster, it immediately rises.

However, it is also challenging because many things can affect your lactate levels. If you have eaten too little and have little glycogen in your muscles, you will have a lower number than usual. Your sleep and fluid balance also affects your lactate.

What are your lactate readings during a session?

During long intervals, such as 5x3K or 8x2K, or a 5,4,3,3,2,2K session, my lactate goal is between 1.8 and 2.1. Volume is key to this training, so you don’t become too fatigued and require too much rest before the next interval day.

Intervals with 10x1K might have a higher intensity, which people talk about as a normal threshold. Usually, I aim for a maximum lactate reading of 3.5 and then 4.0 by the end.

Doing two sessions a day requires more regimented training. The morning intervals should stay level at 2.0 until the end to ensure a good afternoon workout. The afternoon lactate numbers depend upon the type of workout and what I’ve been doing in the days before. If it is short intervals with short rests then the figures are around 3.5 to 3.8, but it can also be around 3.0.

Here is a quick breakdown:
Long intervals, plenty of volume: 1.7—2.1
Intervals with about 10-13K total: 2.0—3.0
Short intervals with little rest: 3.0—4.0
Short hill, about 30 sec. intervals: 7.0 or higher (no limit)

Are everybody’s lactate figures the same regardless of fitness level?

No, you must find your own lactate numbers to find out how intense you can train and then recover fast enough to do the next interval training as fast as possible. The fitter you are, the lower the number for your real threshold. An elite runner might have a threshold of 2.8 or even lower, which I can’t emulate yet.

It’s all about intensity control, so learning how much good interval running is possible each week and being able to recover between sessions.

To find your threshold, visit a test center where they measure everything and you get it all on paper. You can also invest in a lactate analyzer to track your most important interval sessions.

Are lactate measurements suitable for all amateur athletes?

This lactate measurement route is for elite runners and those keenly interested in running performance. It’s a helpful tool if you run or train a lot. However, if you’re an ultrarunner training for ultra-long-distance competitions, I’d advise buying the glucose sensor instead.

It is an excellent investment if you want to learn about your body and push the limits in training. If you are somebody who runs a lot, does many intervals, and is interested in optimizing your training, go for it!

To start your lactate-monitoring journey, visit our EKF page.

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