Hit the Track Sensibly
Take your time
As with any new training element, track workouts must be introduced slowly into the training schedule. Getting on the track for one workout a week is a good starting point and even after you gain experience no more than twice a week is needed. Due to the repetitive nature of running around an oval on a flat surface, too many workouts can prove detrimental, most commonly through strained calf or hamstring muscles. Always precede a track workout with a good warm-up followed by dynamic drills and always cool down and add static stretching when you’re finished.
There is a tendency when running on the track to run fast. Many runners assume all track workouts include only really fast running, but that’s not the case. The keys to effective track workouts include controlled efforts, smart pacing and paying close attention to how you feel. Relative speed is important, but it should not be the sole focus of all track sessions. Avoid all-out sprinting or even dramatically picking up the pace to finish a rep in a specific time.
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Shorter intervals should be sprinkled into your training program, but perhaps not as often as you might think. Speed work with intervals under 600 meters (1.5 laps of a 400-meter track) are really only needed about once every two weeks in most instances. Here are a few workouts that can be plugged in once every two weeks or so. (Note: Having the guidance of a coach is the best way to implement track sessions.)
6 x 400 meters at your current 10K race fitness with a 200-meter easy jog between reps
This workout helps you develop a sense of pace and race rhythm. If you’re a 40-minute 10K runner, it means you’ll be doing each lap in 1:37 (roughly 6:28 mile pace). For a 50-minute 10K runner, the pace is 2:01 per lap (8:04 per mile).
4 x 1-mile at half-marathon race pace with a one lap easy jog recovery between reps
This workout is aimed at improving your aerobic endurance and helps you improve your sense of pace. If you’re in 1:30 half-marathon shape, you’ll be aiming for 6:52 miles, or 1 minute, 43 seconds per lap. If you’re a 1:45 half-marathoner, that means you’ll be shooting for 8:01 miles, or 2 minutes per lap.
3 x 600 meters, 400 meters, 200 meters with a one-lap easy jog in between reps
This workout gets progressively faster with each set and helps you work on running faster when your legs are fatigued. Each of the reps should be run at the same effort, but each 600-400-200 set should get progressively faster with each set. Start at your 10K race pace for the first set and finish at your 5K race pace. If you’re a 40-minute 10K runner/19-minute 5K runner, that means you’ll run the first set in 2:23 (600), 1:37 (400) and 48 seconds (200) and progress to 2:17, 1:32 and 0:45 by the last set. For a 50-minute 10K runner/23-minute 5K runner, the times would start at 3:02, 2:01, 1:00 and progress to 2:48, 1:52, 0:56 by the last set.
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Tempo runs between 3 and 6 miles
After warming up for 2 miles, run a specific distance at half-marathon or marathon race pace. The track is a great place to practice controlled efforts and learn how properly pace a 10K, half-marathon or even marathon. When I was preparing for a marathon, I would often include a 5- or 6-mile tempo run on the track every several weeks to practice race pace for the marathon.
The other component to an effective track workout is the recovery period between intervals. The track is a great resource for not only monitoring effort but also teaching your body how to recover during a workout. For intervals longer than 800 meters, follow with a 400-meter easy jog; for shorter intervals, a 200-meter jog is a good standard. As a rule, recovery between intervals should be jogging to help keep the legs moving and flush out lactic acid buildup.