Don’t get stuck in a road racing rut—hit the track and expand your horizon.
The sport of track & field, or “athletics” as it is known to most of the world, has roots that go back to 776 BC—the first year of the Ancient Olympic Games. There is something incredibly pure and primal about competing on the track. So why do many distance runners run away from the track instead of to it? Perhaps it is because the track does not lie—it’s a purely objective environment with nowhere to hide, and the results are as clear as black and white. While racing on roads or trails can offer a multitude of good excuses such as hilly terrain or poorly measured distances, when one does not achieve their goal time in a race, the track provides none.
There are several articles floating around the web that suggest rational reasoning against training on the track—mostly due to risk of developing an overuse injury—and for the most part, I would agree. That being said, if your local track is dirt or grass, you are in luck! These surfaces are more forgiving, so as long as you switch directions to minimize muscle imbalances, these tracks can be a great resource for shorter repeats.
This article is not about training on the track, however, but rather about the benefits of racing on an indoor or outdoor oval. A common misconception is that you must train on the track to race on the track. Rest assured, if you can run straight for 100 meters, turn left, then repeat, you will be fine.
Next time you start a new training phase and begin selecting goal races, consider lacing up for a local all-comer’s track meet. A good place to start is by checking in with your local specialty running store or running club.
Below are a few of the reasons why breaking out of your road racing rut and competing on the track can do you good. And remember: run fast, turn left!
1. Set A New Personal Best
Who doesn’t want to run a personal record? If you are looking for a fast course, there are none faster than a 400-meter oval. A quick look at the world records on and off the track should be convincing evidence that you will more often than not, run faster on the track. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
Men’s 10,000m world record on the track: 26:17, Kenenisa Bekele
Men’s 10K world record on the road: 26:44, Leonard Patrick Komon
Women’s 10,000m world record on the track: 29:31, Junxia Wang
Women’s 10K world record on the road: 30:21, Paula Radcliffe
2. Get Out Of A One-Gear Rut
If you are addicted to longer road races such as the half marathon and marathon and enjoy locking into a steady pace, listen up. Racing shorter distances and incorporating a bit of speed work will do wonders for your marathon preparation. If you're hoping to improve your personal best, it's not advisable train for the marathon year-round for several years. A brief track-racing season will help improve your speed and efficiency by forcing you out of your aerobic comfort zone. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
3. Gain An Appreciation For Shorter Distances
Racing anywhere from 800m to 5000m on the track will help you gain an appreciation for the kind of effort it takes for elite runners to run mind-boggling times. Next time you meet someone that "only races 5Ks,” you will have a greater respect and appreciation for the intensity of his or her short-distance discipline. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
4. Get Better Feedback
If you are running a 10K race on the roads, you might be lucky enough to get splits every mile, which often can be all over the place because of terrain, turns, weather, etc. It can be difficult to assess and evaluate how the effort of one mile compared to another. When racing on the track, however, you (or someone in the stands) can record your splits every 200 or 400 meters, which will provide more insight and better feedback into how you reached each split on the watch. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
5. Avoid The Elements, Race Indoors
If you live in a place that has a cold-weather winter climate, there are several indoor tracks (most are a 160m to 300m oval) at your disposal, many of which offer all-comers meets for open athletes to compete in. Despite tighter turns and more laps per mile, these tracks can provide an opportunity to run in perfect conditions. Not only do you not have hills to contend with, you can be certain that there will not be a head wind, rain or frigid temperatures. It's as close to a controlled environment as you'll ever get! Photo: www.shutterstock.com
About The Author:
Brandon Laan is a runner, coach and entrepreneur. He is the co-owner of RunnersFeed.com and Race Director for Rock The Road 10K. He is a Level II Certified USATF coach and holds personal bests of 1:06 and 2:21 in the half marathon and marathon, respectively. He also enjoys running to eat, not eating to run…and always will.