Staff Blog: The Track Never Lies

You don't have to be an elite world-class athlete to enjoy—or reap the benefits of—running on the track.

Welcome to our new staff blog, which will be updated four times weekly by editor-in-chief Brian Metzler, Competitor.com senior producer Mario Fraioli, associate editor Cielestia Calbay and copy editor Linzay Logan. Our aim is to inform, inspire and entertain, while also sharing our own experiences as runners in an effort to open up a discussion about a variety of topics that we can all relate to on a daily basis. Enjoy!

Although I have always loved and appreciated long-distance running and endurance training, my initial connection to running was as a sprinter.

As a young kid, I remember racing around the backyard with my brother. In first grade, a girl named Lori Habegger beat me in the 50-yard dash on field day. I started running cross country in middle school, but my favorite memories were winning the 200m and helping my school set a new 4x200m relay record at our conference championships. I loved running the 800m and 1,600m in high school, but there was nothing like anchoring the 4x400m relay to end the meet.

There’s something very pure and unavoidably honest about running on the track. No matter what kind of runner you are, the track inspires speed. How can it not? Speed is power. Speed is fun. Speed kills. Running on a firm, flat surface around a precisely measured loop instinctively makes you want to see how fast you can go, or at gauge how fast you can go in any given workout. Feeling that burn in your legs and the wind in your face is pretty cool, too.

Even now as an aging, slowing and oft-injured runner in my early 40s, I still try to get to track once a week. Sometimes it’s just for strides and drills after a long run, other times it’s for a standard workout like 6 x 800m or mile repeats. Recently, my brother, 9-year-old daughter and 16-year-old nephew all ran in a community track meet, and it was, by far, some of the most fun I’ve had running in a while.

The bottom line is that it’s fun to rev the engine and get the wheels rolling, even if speed is relative (and not nearly as fast as it used to be) or you don’t fancy yourself as a fast runner.

The thing about the track is that it never lies. You might be able to shuffle through a painstakingly slow long run or lose yourself on a trail run and call it good. But the track always tells you exactly what kind of shape you’re in. Like it or not, the track has a memory and it has a way or reminding what you did last time. It’s also the best judge of your running form, too. If you don’t have a smooth gait and consistent running mechanics, the track will be the first to tell you. (Fixing those imbalances can help you avoid minor injuries and irritants while also improving your running economy.)

Every time I run a lap in 65 or 75 or 85 seconds as part of a workout, I can’t help remind myself that I used to be able to sprint through a 400 in 49 seconds. And if I struggle to run 800 repeats slightly under 3 minutes, it reminds me that I’ve done that I’m not as fit as when I’ve done the same workout at 2:40 pace. We can’t hold on to our speed forever, but the track can certainly help keep us moving at a good clip.

Even though I’m slower than I was, I’ve never lost my penchant for speed. For 26 straight years, I logged at least one 400m under 60 seconds — a streak that’s irrelevant and completely meaningless, except that it always served as a personal inspiration to my running. (A ruptured Achilles tendon — not related to running on the track — and subsequent surgery ended that streak, but I’ve been slowly progressing my way back and hope to break 60 before the close of 2012.)

Anyway, if you watched any of last week’s U.S. Olympic Trials or if you’ll be watching the Summer Olympics, at the very least, you should be impressed with the form and rhythm of almost every athlete, no matter if they’re running the 100m or 10,000m.

What does that mean to recreational runners like the rest of us? Anytime you wind up in a training slump or you feel like your form is falling apart on a long run, go to the track and liven things up a bit. Do some strides. Do an up-tempo track workout. Do a mile time trial. Heck, run 100m all-out. Better yet, show up at a community all-comers track meet, pick a race and go for broke. Who cares if you’re running against faster, slower, older or younger runners. Just get out there and let it rip.

No matter the outcome, you’re bound to feel the buzz of speed pulsing through your body. And, if you’re like me, you might leave feeling younger, faster and more energized that you did when you arrived.

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About The Author:

Editor-in-Chief Brian Metzler has raced every distance from 50 yards to 100 miles and run in more than 700 pairs of running shoes in the past 25 years.

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