Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a hardcore marathoner, a lifelong runner or a rookie still developing your routine, you probably have some strong feelings about running surfaces. I know I do, and I definitely trend toward the weekend warrior/rookie end of the scale. Despite our wide gap in ability and experience, it turns out Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, CEO and run coach at iRunTons does, too. I’m happy to say we agree on one thing: Track running is the best.
Here are five reasons why:
1. THERE’S NOWHERE TO HIDE
As Gallagher-Mohler puts it: “The track is the truth.” Why’s that? Most tracks are flat, so elevation won’t skew your time. If the track’s indoors, the wind won’t be a factor, either. Unlike a treadmill, there’s no propulsion, which can produce a faster time than you’ve actually achieved. “People spend winter on the treadmill and come out sucking wind,” Gallagher-Mohler says.
To put all that another way, track running is the best way to learn about yourself as a runner. Think of it as a lab where you can control all the variables. You can work on distance. You can work on pace. You can do short, high-intensity bursts or stretch things out. You can learn the truth.
2. IT’S JUST MORE COMFORTABLE
For those of us who came to running later in life and don’t want to risk our knees by running city streets or on a treadmill, this is huge. To be clear, trail running is technically the easiest on the body in terms of force. “But roots and limbs are factors,” Gallagher-Mohler points out. “You need to have good stabilizers or you’re at risk of falling.” Also, for those of us in the city, getting to the nearest trail can be, well, a hike. Gallagher-Mohler often guides recently injured clients to the track, and reduced impact is a big reason why.
If at all possible, seek out a Mondotrack. That’s the surface used at the Olympics, and is the softest and therefore easiest on your body.
3. YOUR MIND CAN WANDER …
There’s a certain monotony built into lap running, which allows you to space out a bit. I use this mental space to work on challenges in work and life. Sometimes, I get inspired or solve a problem by seeing something from a new perspective. It doesn’t have to be anything grandiose — sometimes it’s just an idea for a run mix, and I’ve even concocted fantasy baseball trades while running.
You can also just zone out completely, with or without the aid of music, and be surprised where your mind ends up. It’s not meditating, but it’s not not meditating, either.
4. … BUT NOT TOO FAR
I get why people use treadmill time to catch up on the news or a great book. But if you’re doing that, then you might not be listening to what your body is telling you. If I haven’t been eating right, I feel it on the track. If I haven’t been sleeping well, I feel it on the track. If I’ve been overdoing it or if my knee is barking, I feel it on the track. If I’m watching Maddow or immersed in a Don Winslow novel, then you can bet I’m ignoring all of the above. Which kind of defeats the purpose.
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5. YOU CAN EXPLORE
“It’s the best way I know to see a city,” says Gallagher-Mohler, citing a client who traversed Budapest by looking for places to run. I certainly wouldn’t have learned about Camp Mabry — the 125-year-old, Austin-based HQ for the Texas Army National Guard, and home to a recently renovated, mile-long track — if I hadn’t been a runner. It’s also, for me, a way to be around the right amount of people. It’s not as crowded as the gym or the streets and not as isolated as many trails. Gallagher-Mohler’s favorite track is The Armory in NYC. “It’s magic,” she says. “It’s just a magical place to be. The history. The people who have run there.”
But, even if you can’t make it there, it’s hard to deny the appeal of a track — which, in many ways, combines the best parts of the alternatives, without the bad parts. (At least in my view.) And hey, whose running routine wouldn’t benefit from a little magic?
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN