Running 101: Speed Training For Beginners

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published May. 14, 2013
  • Updated Jun. 17, 2013 at 1:08 PM UTC

Track Workouts

When most new runners think of speed work they immediately think of gut-wrenching laps around a track. This misrepresentation of the truth behind track workouts often prevents a lot of runners from deviating from the safety of their regular routine.

Regardless of your ability level, this shouldn’t be the case. Track work in the form of interval training is one of the most precise ways to keep your speedometer in check on race day. Similar to fartlek training in that bouts of faster running are separated by recovery intervals, track training will better allow you to keep a close eye on your pace and give you an accurate idea of what you’ll be capable of in a race.

Introduce track workouts into your training schedule only after strides have become part of your regular routine and you’ve had some fun with a few fartlek workouts. When setting out to do a track workout, warm up with a mile or two of easy jogging and then perform a set of four to six strides in order to get your fast-twitch muscle fibers ready to do some work.  As for the workout itself, aim for two to three miles’ worth of intervals ranging from 200 meters (1/2 a lap of the track) to one mile (four laps) and run them at your goal 5K race pace or even a few seconds per mile faster. For recovery, jog or walk for half the duration of the faster interval before starting the next one.

So, for example, if your goal race pace for 5K is 8:00 per mile, a sample track workout would be to run one mile at your goal pace of 8:00 and follow that that with 4:00 of slow jogging or walking for recovery. Then run 2 x 800 meters at 3:55, or 10 seconds per mile faster than your goal race pace, and follow each of those intervals with about 2:00 of walking or jogging. Finish fast with 2 x 400 meters in 1:55 with about a minute recovery in between and cool down with a mile or two of jogging afterward. You should finish the workout feeling pleasantly tired and not absolutely annihilated.

Track workouts are very demanding on the body, so be sure to treat them with the respect they deserve – performing them once a week or even every other week is plenty, especially if you’re racing regularly. And as with any other type of hard session, recovery is key, so be sure to run easy or rest in the days following a track workout.


For more training tips for beginner runners, click here.

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Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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