Back on [the] Track: Tips on How to Love the Track so the Track Can Love You Back
I am finally back on the training wagon and slowly building back up and yesterday I did my first track workout in 4 months. The track can be an intimating place, probably because laps are a form of punishment in basically every high school sport, but it is also the place where runners can see the most growth. If you learn to love the track, the track can love you back. Here are some tips and tricks I have learned over the years to make track workouts not only effective but enjoyable too. First Things First: Why Go to The Track in the First Place
- Pacing: In the olden days, before GPS watches, the track was the only reliable place to learn pacing. Nowadays, you can get a sense for what 6:30 minute miles feel like anywhere because you have access to your pace on your wrist at all times. However, it is still important to get a feel for pacing and the controlled environment of the track means you won't get stuck at traffic lights and you always know how much further it is until your interval is done. So I am still a big advocate for the track.
- Speed: Many people think that the track is just for people who run shorter distances and/or road races. However, building speed is a keystone of any training plan from a road 5k to a trail 50k. Tempo runs and other road or trail based speed workouts are important, but the track typically allows for more consistent and faster speed work.
- Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable: Even with the right pace and interval length, track workouts are still tough, they are supposed to be. But getting used to feeling uncomfortable is really important for any type of race. The track is a great place to get a sense of where your tolerance is and how far you can push it.
Tips For Optimizing and Loving Your Track Workout
- Chose the right pace, interval length and number of repeats. This is the most important piece of advice I can give to anyone regarding track workouts. You will hate the track and probably never want to go back if you go at max effort for 1200 meters the first time. Start small and build up. I prefer to start at my target pace with shorter / fewer intervals and build from there. For example: Yesterday I did 400s and 200s because I have been away from the track but I was still (mostly) hitting my target pace from when I was in peak training for Boston. Starting too fast or too long is pretty much guaranteed to land you in Injury town.
- Consistency is the name of the game. This follows closely to number 1, but contrary to what many people think, the point of a track workout is not to see how fast you can go for the first interval and then get slower with each one because you are too tired. The goal is consistency and so choosing the right interval length and pace is an integral part of achieving consistency.The first few should feel easy, the middle few should start to feel like you are working, and the last few should be really hard. A few seconds of disparity between intervals is not a big deal, but if you find yourself drastically falling off pace by the end you may need to reconsider your pace.
- Warm up. Just do it. Seriously. Going into a track workout cold is the fastest ticket to injury. I don't care that your track workout starts at 6 am, get up 15 minutes earlier to warm up.
- Dress the part. This one might seem silly but I find track workouts feel a lot easier if I am wearing my "fast" shoes and clothes. You have to find what works for you but I prefer tight fitting shorts and sports bra with my most minimal shoes.
- Do whatever you need to get through it. Track workouts are hard: They are supposed to be. Use whatever means necessary to get through them so you can reap the most benefits. I find the best way is to do the workout with a group that includes people who are faster than you. If you don't have that available, music can be a good substitute. Some people rely on mantras or visualizing your next race.
- Attitude is everything. You've heard that running is at least 50% mental right? So if you go into a track workout thinking it is going to suck, it is probably going to suck. I am at the point where I get excited for track workouts because they make me feel strong and accomplished. Focus on all the growth you are achieving by getting through a hard workout instead of how much your lungs are burning and you will find you can achieve more than you thought.
These are just my personal tips so I would love to hear what other people do to get the most out of their track workouts.