There are many different ways to get in speedwork for running— tempo, hill repeats, fartlek— all have their place in your routine. Each has a different role depending on what you are training for and what your goals are. I have clients incorporate them all at varying points in their training cycles.
For pure speed enhancement, however, I think there’s nothing better than the track. Nothing else can get your legs turning over as quickly and nothing else can teach you what different paces feel like as well as the track. It is also a great place to get in short, hard bursts of speed and learn how to process the build up of lactic acid. The end result? A faster runner.
Given all that, how do you go about getting the most out of your time on the track? The first thing to learn is track etiquette— most tracks can be busy places and it’s likely that you’ll have to share the space.
When you’re on the track, you’ll probably want the inner lane; most people do. It’s fine, and desirable to use it, but be aware of others on the track. If you’re running faster than the people you’re approaching, let them know by yelling “track.” Most people know this means to move out a lane or two. Conversely, if someone is coming up from behind you at a faster pace, be courteous and move out for him or her.
Also keep in mind that track is generally reserved for the race season, when you already have a good base in your legs. I wouldn’t recommend doing it year round. My friends and I typically begin track workouts around the beginning of March, for instance, after about a month of hill repeats to condition our bodies for the harder work ahead.
The next thing you need to know is what workout to do on the track. For most people, speedwork shouldn’t total more than about 10 percent to 15 percent of total weekly mileage. So if you run 30 miles per week and the track workout is going to be your one speed workout of the week, it should total about three miles worth of intervals. For the first time or two out, however, I’d recommend keeping the workout to about two miles worth of speed.
What kind of workout to do depends on what you’re training for. If it’s a marathon, for instance, your session might focus more on mile repeats at marathon pace, or 1,000-meter repeats (two and a half laps) done at slightly faster than marathon pace.
If you’re training for something between a 5k and a 10-miler, you want to focus on faster-paced, shorter intervals. There are some great pace calculators out there that can help you determine exactly what paces you should make your goal.
Don’t forget to intersperse your intervals with proper recovery jogging. With mile repeats, for instance, you’d typically take a one-lap recovery. For quarter mile repeats, and sometimes 800-meter repeats, however, cut the recovery down to 200 meters.
Try a different workout each week with the track, gradually building up the amount of mileage you do, although for most people, four miles worth of intervals is about tops. And if it’s a race week, it’s ok to go to the track, but keep the total mileage down to about 50 percent of what you would normally do and make sure you do the workout several days prior to your race.
The track is a great tool for honing speed and I highly recommend it to all competitive runners, and even to those who just want to shake things up a bit or burn a few extra calories. Don’t be intimidated by it— get out there and show the track who’s boss!
Amanda Loudin is a freelance writer, running coach, and the voice behind the MissZippy blog, a site for runners seeking experienced advice, the latest running news, and a fun exchange of all things running related. You can find her blog at www.misszippy1.com, follow her on twitter at @misszippy1, and like her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/MissZippy1/226548400688842.