The Art of the Track Workout

Marathon training is not easy. The discipline, the time, and the effort involved in all facets of the sport requires a tough mental exterior, with the inhibition to conquer. You’ve probably gone through the effort of building a training program that has you preparing for that grueling day on July 31, 2011.

Man Running

Tempo workouts, easy runs, long runs, you name it – it’s probably in your training schedule in some aspect, and you do each probably at least once a week. However, one overlooked workout, that many runners seem to pay very little attention to, is the infamous ‘track workout’.  I can’t tell you how often I hear of runners avoiding this workout. And most of the time I’m not entirely sure why runners do. Yes, it’s fast, and most marathon runners are used to the slower pace runs, where they divide their speed up over a longer course, even during practice runs. But track workouts are the absolute BEST option for improving your speed as a runner. Whether you are doing a 5K, 10K, Half, Full or even longer – track workouts will make you faster. I promise you that.

Why a Track?
Well, a track has a numerous benefits to a runner’s ability to improve, first being the actual environment. There are no cars to contend with, many tracks are lighted, the synthetic surface helps cushion your joints, and the measured distance makes it easy to monitor your pace.

Common Track Etiquette

In Which Direction Do I Run?

Tracks usually run counterclockwise, while some tracks alternate directions daily. Check for posted rules or follow the lead of other runners.

Which Lanes Do I Use?

Most runners should utilize the two outermost lanes, while the three inside lanes are reserved for faster runners and those who are doing speed workouts. Walkers should use the far outside lane.

How Long Is One Lap?

The standard distance of the innermost lane is 400 meters. The outermost lane can be up to 50 meters longer.

Starting a Track Workout:

Speed is a scary thought for a lot of runners, but don’t fret, there is an easy way to break into it. When you get to the point where you can integrate track workouts into your regiment, you should have the basics of running underneath you. This means you’ve run for 6 – 12 months, at least 5 – 10 miles a week; this is not a standard, just a healthy barometer that proves your body is prepared, from a stamina and strength standpoint.

The Workout

A track is normally measured in meters, one lap around the track is 400 meters, 2x around is a ½ mile, 4x around is a mile, and so on. Now that you have distance figured out, it’s time to figure out what your workout will consist of.

Work on building in different types of track workouts and try to include them weekly in your training regimen. Layering in this type of workout will help you increase your speed and overall stamina in time. Try and stay on point to include a track workout every week in your regimen, and you will notice a very recognizable difference in your overall performance.

Now that you are ready to get started, you found a track, you’ve brushed off that nervous feeling you get when you see others running 10x faster than you, let’s do this.

To keep it simple, let’s just focus on a beginner’s workout. Understand that there are numerous distances, speeds, and variables you can include in a track workout. I rather just keep this focused on something basic, as many of you maybe already know of this, but for many others, this is your first step into track workouts, and it’s important to take it easy.

I. (10 minutes) Warm-Up: Getting your body in motion and ‘warmed-up’ is a key to any workout. And more importantly with a track workout, because you will be moving very fast, and without proper warm-up and stretching, you risk pulling, or straining muscles, and in some cases, worse injury.

a. Run 1 mile (easy –jog pace) around the top of a stadium track, or around the track if you don’t have the other option.

i. This warms your body up and gets your legs and heart moving, this is important for a number of reasons, as it will open up your oxygen storages more efficiently when you increase speed in the track workout.

II. (5 minutes) Stretching: After your jog, take to the grass on the inside of the track and begin a series of stretching exercises. You can follow a series of stretches here.

III. (5 minutes) Drills/Strides: Almost there, right before we get started, we need to stretch the legs for a few minutes. Head to one side of the track and stick to the far lane. Follow this series of Strides, which involve quick movements for 100 meters, back and forth, which will help you prepare for the speed work which is next.

IV. (estimated time varies) Track Workout: Keeping this portion simple, a good beginner workout is as followed:

a. 4 x 800 Meters at Threshold with 45 seconds rest in between each interval

i. Translates to  4 intervals running 2 times around the track (800 meters) at Threshold (10K pace/possibly a little faster)

V. Cool Down: After pushing your body that fast, you can’t just stop and figure it’s over. Your body needs to cool down, best thing you can do is lose the shoes on the grass portion of the track and run on the exterior of the grass. Run around it barefoot, 3 – 6 times; this will help your body recover faster by easing into a sedentary state. (1 – 1.5 miles)

And, you’re done. Get a drink, preferably a protein / carbohydrate recovery drink to help reduce soreness and fuel what energy you just lost from that workout.

Good luck, and stay on point, only 7 weeks left!

Nick Cifuentes is a local here in San Francisco. He ran his first marathon in 2001 at the SF Marathon, and since then he’s competed over 40 road races. He’s currently training to add an ultramarathon to his resume. Nick says that “running is like a religion” to him, without it he’s unbalanced, “Running allows me to conquer goals & challenges, that I continually raise race-to-race. I don’t care, rain, snow, sleet, sun, my body enjoys every bit of the freedom that running allows me to experience.” To him, running is “Worth the sacrifice.”

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