Your first few times running on a track can be intimidating as you remember to run counter-clockwise and let faster runners — ones running at 100% effort no matter the speed — take the inside lanes. Once you get the etiquette of the oval down, the track can be a great place to switch up your routine and focus on form — and speed.
WHY YOU SHOULD DO TRACK WORKOUTS
“Track workouts offer opportunities to create new brain-body connections while enhancing your neuromuscular, musculoskeletal systems and respiratory systems,” says Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, a coach and trainer at the Under Armour Performance Center. “In other words, track-style workouts can make you faster, stronger and less injury-prone when done properly and as a part of a comprehensive training plan.”
Gallagher-Mohler explains they aren’t just for elite runners or those trying to win races, and she adds that thinking specific things in the sport are limited for only the elites can limit opportunity for process.
Average runners can accomplish a lot on the track, including keeping running fun. Time away from the treadmill or your usual neighborhood route is a way to keep the sport fun and exciting. At the same time, you’ll get some added physiological benefits, too.
“Track work will stimulate and recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers,” says James Dodds, a coach at Rogue Running. “Depending on your age, experience and volume in training it may not make you much faster, but it will keep you from getting slower. While I believe in the Lydiard-based long slow mileage approach, I’ll admit that slow jogging makes you a slow jogger. So, track work keeps speed in your legs while building out your aerobic foundation.”
BASICS OF TRAINING AT THE TRACK
When running at the track you don’t have to think of every session as a speed workout or all-out effort.
“Going to the track or doing a track workout simply means: Work out out at the track,” says Ryan Knapp, founder and head coach at Miles To Go Endurance. “You can run at varying intensities and paces. Start simple and start slow. recovery. Then you can start to play with different variables, such as the number of reps, the the intensity and the distance.”
Most coaches agree that one or two track workouts per week — no more — are appropriate.
When starting track workouts, knowing the basics is key to having a successful session. The first step, of course, is knowing the track’s distance.
“A standard outdoor track is 400 meters around, meaning that one time around the track is just about one quarter of a mile,” says Gallagher-Mohler. “If you’re using a GPS watch to measure distance you may be confused after four laps when it doesn’t quite match up with the one mile you thought you just ran. This is because technically one mile is 1,609.34 meters, just a bit longer than the four laps.”
Workouts at the track are typically interval workouts — which is what you will often see them listed as in training plans and programs. Though these workouts can be intense, Knapp is quick to note that you can vary the pace, intensity and duration based on your experience, so it’s easily accessible for all.
WHAT YOU’LL GET FROM THE TRACK
Though most runners don’t race on the track, there is still a lot that you can take from your time running around the oval to a road or trail race.
“The track is where your body faces stressors that create training adaptations, while the race is where these adaptations reveal themselves,” explains Gallagher-Mohler. “To get the feeling of your race day pace, track intervals — or repeats as they are often referred — of varying distance performed at race pace can help your body to know what to expect on race day.”
Knapp agrees and shares that you can also work on a strong finishing kick at the end of a hard interval workout, so you’ll know how it feels on race day. The track is key when it comes to learning pacing, especially for half- or full marathons.
TRY THIS TRACK WORKOUT
Dodds has provided a track interval workout below that works not only for beginners but has modifications for advanced runners, as well.
“There are different levers you can pull to take a workout from beginner to advanced,” he says. “You can lengthen the time spent running, you can increase the speed/rate of running, or you can shorten the recovery time in between reps.”
TYPICAL BEGINNER (COUCH TO 5K WORKOUT)
Distance: 1 mile
Do four laps on a track. Run the straights (100m) at 70–80% max effort. Walk the curves (100m).
As You Progress, Step It Up
Increase the total volume but keep the intensity the same. Do 6–8 laps on a track. Run the straights (100m) at 70–80% max effort. Walk the curves (100m).
Or, keep the volume the same and extend speed portion. Do 4 laps on a track. Run the first straight, first curve, and next straight at 70–80% max effort. Walk the last curve. Start the next rep immediately.
ADVANCED 5K WORKOUT
6 x 800m (2 laps) at 5K race pace with 2–3 minute stand-still recoveries.
ADVANCED 10K WORKOUT
8 x 1200m (3 laps) at 10K race pace with 2–3 minute stand-still recoveries.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN