Whether you’re training for a fast 5K or aiming to finish your first marathon, track running can and should be a valuable addition to your weekly running routine.
Here’s a quick crash course on the merits of track running including what, why, how and when to take your training to the track.
A standard track is 400m run which makes it ideal for running repeats, intervals and even a tempo that is of a distance easily divisible by 400m.
200s (one half lap), 400s (one full lap), 800s (two laps), miles (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.
E.g. 4 sets of 5 x 200m at 5K pace with 200m between intervals and 400m between sets.
12 x 400m at 5K pace with 400m easy running between.
6 x 800m at 10K pace with 400m easy running between.
4 x 2K at half 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:
E.g. 400m-800m-1200m-1600m-1200m-800m-400m at 10K pace with 400m easy running between.
Most tracks are well marked so that odd distances (300m, 600m, 1K, 1,500m) can be run as well.
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. It is also the ideal place to practice pacing since you should always 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 the ideal place for speed training and workouts given it’s flat (and often softer) surface, plus predictable (or at least fair) conditions.
There are some basic rules and etiquette to consider when running on a track. Firstly, always run in a counter-clockwise direction. If you have to run the other direction for any reason stick to the outermost lanes. The inside lanes are generally reserved for faster runners so again, keep your easy running 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 “track”, kindly move to your right, allowing others to pass on the inside.
You can safely aim to run at least one track workout a week, maybe more if you’re a seasoned or injury-proof runner. You should always aim to spend a few days before and a few days after running 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, be sure to time your run to take place at a cooler, more comfortable time of day.
Most training plans periodize different phases of training such as a base-building, strength, endurance and speed phase. While you can safely and effectively incorporate track workouts anytime of the year, dedicating a few weeks or months to specific speed training on the track should improve your fitness more effectively than just doing random workouts.
Whether your goal is to getting fitter, faster or just stay in shape, all runners can benefit from running on the track.