Track workouts are a regular thing for runners who favor short distances. But if you’re a long-distance runner, you probably are less familiar with the track. This article will help you change that.
In addition to including five specific track workouts for runners training for a half or full marathon, we’ll also discuss why to do speedwork on the track, as well as how and when to get started.
Why are Track Workouts Important for Long Distance Runners?
As someone who is used to hitting the road or the trail for several hours at a time, you might be wondering what benefits the track can provide you. As it turns out, a lot.
Improve Your Running Economy
First, track workouts will help improve your running economy. You’ll push yourself harder and increase the amount of oxygen you need to consume. This makes your cardiovascular system more efficient when you then go on longer runs.
Break the Monotony of Training
When you first start a training program, you are probably really excited to go on the long runs. And oh, those sweet, sweet easy runs during the middle of the week! But then the long runs start to eat up every hours weekend. And it’s another loop around the same streets in the same neighborhood, just like the last seven Wednesdays. The long slow miles can start to get repetitive and boring. But what if you were to go to the local track on Tuesdays? Doing something to change things up is a great way to look forward to running again.
Since you are focusing on longer runs as a long-distance runner, the perfect antidote is focusing on speed. Instead of trying to build your endurance by getting in as many miles as possible, you’ll build endurance and strength through speed.
Make Your Race Pace Feel Easier
Speed workouts on the track are great because you only have to sustain a hard pace for a short period of time. And then you get a break for recovery.
By pushing yourself to do faster paces for short periods of time, your half marathon or marathon pace will seem way easier.
It will also teach your body that you can push at the end. When the finish line is in sight at your next race, you can channel all the speed you used during your track workouts to finish a long race strong.
Help You Run With Better Form
When you are running faster, your form tends to be better because you can’t afford to be sloppy. Faster running nudges you toward better efficiency. Thus, if you’ve found yourself slouching during your long runs or overstriding, speedwork can be a good way to get your running form back up to par.
Additionally, since you’ll be doing intervals, you can remind yourself to check your form every time you start one. Are your shoulders relaxed? Is your head in line with your spine? Are your eyes looking straight ahead? Are your arms at a 90-degree angle?
Help You Track Your Progress
If you have a GPS watch, you can learn a lot about your workouts from the data the watch provides. However, if you don’t, running on a track is great because you know exactly when you have gone certain distances.
Even if you do have a GPS watch, there might be some peace of mind doing intervals on the track. You can visually see ahead to know when you’ll be done with the interval. Knowing that the end is in sight can help you push harder to finish the interval.
Allow You to Practice a Steady Pace
Because a track is perfectly flat, you can really focus on speed. You don’t have to worry about weird dips in the road or trail, or staying on the treadmill and not falling off. Because everything is level, you can focus on maintaining a steady pace.
While you’ve probably gotten better with keeping things steady the more you’ve run, a track will make it even easier. This will be helpful in terms of training for a long-distance race, because aiming for even splits (or better yet, negative splits) will make your race that much better.
What Rules Are Important to Follow?
First, because you’re a long-distance runner, you’ll want to focus on increasing your mileage first within that first month. But to avoid injuries, make sure that you increase by a maximum of 10 percent each week.
You can implement track workouts in the first or second week, but they should be shorter (100-200 meters, or roughly ⅛-¼ mile) and at a one-mile pace. You can increase the distance of intervals slowly week by week. Longer track intervals are usually 400 meters and 800 meters.
While you may want to push hard throughout the whole workout, it’s important to take the time to ensure that you are well-recovered between the intervals. The fitter and faster you get, the shorter the breaks can become.
Finally, you need to take the time to warm up. Sprints are demanding on the body, and you’re more likely to pull a muscle during an intense track workout. You might not even warm up at all for slower and longer runs. But It’s a bad idea to skip warm-up at the track. Ideally, warm up for 1-2 miles with a few little sprints at the end of it to get your blood pumping and your legs ready for speed. Try some dynamic stretching and form drills as well.
What are Some Track Workouts to Try?
Below you’ll find some track workouts that you can incorporate into your training no matter where you are in your plan. Some workouts lend themselves better for early training, while others are good at the end. Pick the ones that work best for you!
Striders are a great track workout to start with. You can incorporate strides in the first 1-3 weeks of your training for a long-distance run. They are 50-100m sprints, which start at a slow pace and gradually increase to 95% max capacity. Repeat 10-20 times.
If you can end a long run near an outdoor track, do some striders when you get there. It’s a great way to add some speed, as well as finish off your long run. Some runners also like to use them as a way to warm up, so you could also do some before your long run as well.
2. 400m Intervals
After you’ve added some striders to your running program, you can add 400m (¼ mile, or one lap of a track) intervals. If you aren’t already in decent shape, wait until about four weeks into your training. Depending on your level, do between 4 and 8 400m repeats at a 5k pace. A little faster is fine if you’re feeling it.
After each interval, recover with a very light 200-400m jog. The important part is to make sure that you’re spending as much time recovering as you did for the fast interval. The distance doesn’t matter. It’s the time. So if you spent 2:00 running 400m, jog for 2:00 to recover.
3. Mile Repeats
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with 400m intervals, you can start to lengthen them to 800m (½ mile, or two laps of the track). Work your way up to mile repeats. You should start doing these 2 to 4 weeks before your race.
A heavy-duty, late-in-your-plan workout might be eight mile repeats at 30-45 seconds slower than your 1-mile race pace. Recover for 2 to 4 minutes. Mile repeats are a great speedwork exercise for long-distance runners because they combine speed and endurance. But be warned: this is a brutal workout, and is as much about mental strength as physical.
4. Speedwork Sandwich
If you like a lot of variety, you should try this workout. Begin by warming up for ½ mile at 80% max capacity, with 400m slow for recovery. Next, do 8 x 200m sprints with 100m slow in between. After the set, jog for 400m to recover.
Then run ½ mile again, trying to beat the time from the first ½ mile. If you didn’t overexert yourself in the 200m intervals, there’s a good chance that you’ll be a lot faster for the second ½ mile, because your legs have had a chance to warm up and get the blood flowing.
5. Pyramid Intervals
Finally, you can’t go wrong with pyramid intervals. These will help you build and push yourself to do a little more each interval before you come back down. Start with 200m, and then increase each interval by 200m with a 200m recovery jog between each one.
Your workout will look like this: 200m, 400m, 600m, 800m, 1000m, 800m, 600m, 400m, and 200m. Your total distance will be 3.1 miles (5k) fast, and a mile at recovery pace. The workout will last 30-45 minutes depending on how fast you run.
While you might not hit the track a lot as a long-distance runner, it can definitely help you in increasing your speed and even your endurance. Plus, it’s always nice to change things up and do something different every once and a while.
Figure out what speedwork your training program is missing, and then find the nearest track once a week to start adding in some interval workouts. You’ll see a big difference come race day!