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Whether you’re training for a fast 5K, aiming to finish your first marathon or just want to run on a safe and predictable surface, running on a track can be a valuable addition to your weekly routine.

Here’s a quick refresher on the merits of track running including when, how, why and what to do in order to master running on the oval.

RELATED: The what, when and why of any hard effort (i.e. workout)

What?

A standard outdoor track is 400m long–measured from lane one–which makes it ideal for running repeats, intervals and even tempos that are a distance divisible by 400m. Many indoor tracks–perfect for escaping cruel winter conditions–are approximately 200m and many come with detailed markings to show various interval distances.

Running repeats of 200m (one-half lap), 400m (one full lap), 800m (two laps), one mile (1609m; approximately 4 laps), 2K (5 laps) and even two miles (about 8 laps) are all examples of intervals that are well suited for running on a track, but really, you could run for any distance or time.

The following are but a few examples of workouts particularly well suited for the track:

4 sets of 5 x 200m at 5K pace with 200m between intervals and 400m between sets.

10-12 x 400m at 5K pace with 400m easy running between.

5-6 x 800m at 10K pace with 400m easy running between.

4-5 x 1M at half marathon pace with 800m easy running between.

3 x 2 miles at marathon pace with 800m easy running between.

A ladder workout is a variation of more traditional track workouts in which you run intervals of varying distance but keep the recovery the same:

E.g. 400m-800m-1200m-1600m-1200m-800m-400m at 10K pace with 400m easy running between.

Why?

Running on a track takes the guess work out of running intervals. Rather, you’ll know exactly how far you’ve gone and also how much further you have to go. The start and finish of every interval are also always within sight. It is also the ideal place to practice proper pacing since you should always aim to run each lap in the same time as well as plan to run the last interval as fast (if not faster) than the first. If you go out too fast, you will likely fade and feel terrible at the end which is why you should try to run each lap/interval in roughly the same time/at the same pace.

The track is obviously a great place for interval workouts but also for longer tempo efforts where you want to run a consistent pace.

How?

There are some basic rules and etiquette to consider when running on a track. Firstly, always run in a counter-clockwise direction. Only if the track is relatively empty and you stick to the outer lanes could you consider running your warm-up and cool-down in a clockwise direction in order to give your legs–especially the knee joint–a break.

The inside lanes are generally reserved for faster runners so again, keep all easy running including your rest/recovery breaks between hard efforts to the outer lanes. If you need or want to pass someone, yelling “track” loud enough for them to hear should result in them moving over to let you pass on the inside. Likewise, if you hear someone yell “track”, kindly move to your right, allowing others to pass. If running in a large group, try not to take up the entire track. Always run in single file or else keep it to two-abreast.

When?

Track running is well suited for all seasons including for building speed in the spring and summer to escaping less than ideal conditions in the late fall and throughout winter.

Most runners can safely aim to run at least one track workout a week, perhaps more if you’re a seasoned or injury-proof runner. Be sure to warm-up with some easy running, strides and drills before beginning a track workout and finish it off with some additional easy running to cool-down after. You should also aim to spend a few days before and after any track workout to run easy in order to rest and recovery for and from a harder session. Training specifically for a shorter race like a 5 or 10K often involves speed training that is ideally done on a track. If running a harder effort in the summer, be sure to time your run to take place at a cooler, more comfortable time of day. In the winter, indoor tracks are also a nice way to avoid the seemingly endless-darkness.

Training specifically for a shorter race like a 5 or 10K often involves speed training that is ideally done on a track. If running a harder effort in the summer, be sure to time your run to take place at a cooler, more comfortable time of day. In the winter, indoor tracks are also a nice way to avoid the seemingly endless-darkness and cold temperatures.


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