If you’re a serious runner, chances are you’re always on the lookout for ways to improve your performance.
While road runners need to practice on the road and trail runners need experience on rougher terrain, every type of runner can benefit from including track workouts in their training routine.
Here are our top 7 track workouts for speed and endurance. If there’s a track near you, take advantage! If you do these on a regular basis, you’ll soon notice a boost in your performance.
Track etiquette is a thing. Remember to be aware of those around you and be respectful of everyone who’s on the track at the same time as you are. Also, always run counter-clockwise!
How Can Track Workouts Improve Your Running?
A track is 400 meters or ¼-mile. This is an ideal distance to work with, especially if you train by distance.
You don’t need to guess or map out ¼ mile on random terrain using your GPS. You just run the laps and know exactly how far you’ve gone without needing to do any mathematical work.
If you train by pace or time instead, then working out on a specific distance can help you organize your workouts a bit better. It’s also ideal if you don’t use a smartwatch or fitness tracker (although we recommend that you get one!).
Incorporating track workouts into your routine can help in a variety of ways. Here are some improvements you can expect when you run regularly on the track:
The synthetic surface of a running track is specifically designed for speed. Of course, when you get out onto a different surface in your races, you won’t necessarily have this benefit.
But practicing on this kind of surface is likely to improve your speed during your training, also because the track is flat and without any hazards.
Improved speed is not just a product of a flat, easy surface. The more you do track workouts, the more your general fitness will improve, which helps you move faster for less effort.
Although it can be hard to translate this to races on other surfaces, an improvement in general fitness is likely to improve your times on roads or trails too (although not as much as on the track).
Seeing your speed increase on a regular basis can also give you a great mental boost. But it’s important to realize that the time you’re hitting on a track is not necessarily the best indication of the time you could be doing on other terrain.
Cadence is described as the number of steps you take in a minute when running. Interestingly, most elite runners have a cadence of around 180, while recreational runners tend to be around the 150s.
Cadence is all about rhythm. The higher your cadence, the less time your feet actually spend on the ground. This means you’ll push off faster and more effectively, improving your pace and your performance.
Running on a track is the ideal place to work on your cadence. You’re running on a nice surface with no surprises waiting for you. You don’t need to think about distance.
Use a metronome to tweak your cadence. If you do this for about four weeks, it will become muscle memory and you’ll have improved your cadence and in turn, your performance.
Pacing is the ability to stick to the same (or an extremely similar) pace for an extended period of time. This is important because a consistent pace means you have a better chance of reaching new PRs.
If you slow down halfway, or you’re inconsistent with your pacing, it can be pretty hard to tell what your end time may be. On the other hand, if you can consistently run 1 mile in a particular time and keep that going for 5, 10, or more miles, then it’s not hard at all to figure out what your end time may be.
Because running on the track is the same distance, same scenery every time, you’ll soon get into a rhythm. With a bit of concentration, you’ll be able to improve your pacing ability and use that in races too.
There are no hazards on a track. No potholes, traffic, uneven ground, or stray branches to trip you up like there may be on the road or trail.
This smooth, soft surface allows you to really get your running form right. If you commit to running with excellent form every time you’re on the track, you’ll soon find that your form improves even when you’re on other surfaces and in different environments.
Also, because the track surface has a slight bounce to it, you’ll most likely lift your knees higher when you run. If you get really into track running and invest in spikes, they’ll help you to push forward off from the front of your feet.
Boosted VO2 Max & Lactate Threshold
Your VO2 max is the amount of oxygen your body can take in (and use) per minute when you’re working out. Lactate threshold is when lactic acid starts building up in the blood.
In more general terms, Vo2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen that your muscles and cardiovascular system can make use of when exercising. Lactate threshold is that point where you’re working out hard but not so intensely that you’re reaching the point of nausea.
The more you run, the better these two metrics get. Increasing time and distance is one of the ways to improve, and doing that on the track is ideal.
Running around the same track lap after lap after lap can be tough! Also, on most tracks you can’t wear headphones, as you’ll need to be aware of others around you.
Running the same old lap again and again without motivating music can be difficult. But if you use it as an opportunity to build your willpower and mental strength, you’ll be a step ahead of many other runners out there.
Other Benefits of Track Running
The track has a bit of bounce to it, so your joints won’t get as jarred as they would on a tar road or an uneven trail. This can be a significant benefit to those who may already struggle with joint problems.
There’s no need to lower the volume of your training or cut your runs short because of joint pain. Because the track has a bit of built-in shock absorption, you’ll be getting an extra layer of protection on top of your shoes.
In some cases, running on the track can be a lot safer than running out on the road or on trails. Traffic is one thing you won’t have to deal with on the track, except for other runners.
But there are usually others around on a track, so you’ll be surrounded by others, which significantly increases safety. This is an excellent option if you don’t have a running partner and you tend to run alone most times.
Start With a Warm-up, End With a Cool-Down
Your workout effectiveness and your recovery will both improve if you do a decent warm-up and cool-down before your full run. If you aren’t already doing that, now is the time to start!
Your warm-up doesn’t have to be a full workout on its own. 5 to 10 minutes of warming up should be sufficient.
Do a light walk, jog, or jump rope for 5 minutes or so. Then, do a few dynamic moves like lunges, body weight squats, butt kicks, and high knees. You can also do any stretches that you particularly like or that help for niggly areas you may have.
The cool-down is often forgotten. By the time we’re done with our workout, we’re generally pretty tired and just want to hit the shower. But it can do wonders for helping speed up your recovery time.
A light jog for 5 minutes followed by some deep stretches is a good way to cool down and help your heart rate drop back to resting or just above.
For More Experienced Runners
Try “push the straightaways” for an extended warm-up. Jog lightly for about 5 minutes and then do interval-style workouts using the straight section of the track (straightaway) for your all-out running and the turns for recovery.
It’s a great way to get warm and loose while incorporating some high-intensity drills into your workout.
7 Track Workouts For Speed And Endurance
1. Tempo Runs
Tempo runs fall right in the middle of intense and easy. They’re often ignored or forgotten by runners who are only focused on intense training or slow-paced recovery runs.
Running at this mid-pace, mid-intensity can help your body adjust to running faster for longer. It’s also an excellent way to improve your VO2 max.
If you want to add tempo runs to your training, here’s how to begin. Warm-up for a little longer than you usually might. 10 minutes is a good amount, and up the intensity for the last 3 or 4 minutes of your warm-up. This is called priming!
Aim for 800 to 1600 meters (½ mile to 1 mile) per rep. You should be spending 3 to 6 minutes on your “one rep” distance. Do 5 to 7 reps in total. In other words, if you’re counting 800 meters as 1 rep, you’ll end up doing 4000 to 5000 meters.
You should stick to a pace that’s slightly faster than your 5k pace. After each rep, do a bit of a recovery run at about 60% of the time you take to do a full rep. Then back to your pace for the next rep.
Your workout should be between 0 and 30 minutes overall. This is the sweet spot!
2. Ladder Workout
Ladder workouts are great to try on the track, as you have a specified distance to use for your ladders.
These kinds of workouts are progressively increasing in distance. For every “work” lap, run at your 5k pace. For recovery laps, go at an easy pace.
Here’s how it works:
Work Lap: 400 meters (¼-mile – 1 lap)
Rest Lap: 400 meter (¼ mile)
Work Lap: 800 meters (½-mile – 2 laps)
Rest Lap: 400 meter (¼ mile)
Work Lap: 1200 meters (¾-mile – 3 laps)
Rest Lap: 400 meter (¼ mile)
Work Lap: 1600 meters (1 mile – 4 laps)
Cool Down: 5 minutes easy pace
If you’re new to it, start with one sequence. More advanced runners can go through the sequence once or twice more if they feel the need.
This odd word is Swedish for the phrase “speed play”.
Fartleks are similar to intervals, in which you alternate between fast runs and slower recovery runs. They’re generally less structured and more fun and can be done regardless of your fitness or skill level.
Do a decent warm-up before you get into your fartlek session. On the track, you can run the long straightaway for your fast run.
You should be running at about 90% of your max pace, which is quite intense. Depending on you, this straightaway run should last between 1 and 2 minutes.
On the turn, you can slow down to a more relaxed pace for your recovery period. You don’t have to stick to the straightaways and turns for your intervals here. You can run at a chilled pace for as long as you need before getting back into your fartlek.
You should do 5 to 10 fartleks in your workout session. By the end of your session, you should have spent 10 to 12 minutes at 90% of your max pace.
4. Mile Repeats
This is an easy workout to incorporate into your training. Start with a 2-mile repeat. Basically, this is just running a mile at your 10k or half-marathon pace, taking ½-mile to recover at an easy pace, and then going into another mile at the same pace.
Make sure your heart rate has steadied and your breathing has relaxed before going back into your next mile. If you need to, extend your easy pace to ¾-mile or 1 mile.
Do this for a week. The following week, add another mile. Make sure you can stay just about at your 10k or half-marathon pace for all three miles. If you can stick it out for two but lose it at three, keep working on three until you can get it right.
Once you manage to stay on pace for all three laps, add an extra lap the following week. Intermediate runners can do 4 to 5 repeats in total, and advanced runners can do 6 or 7. If you feel like doing more on a day, that’s okay too.
5. Speed Endurance
This is another intense interval workout. Run at about 95% of your max speed for 200 meters (½ lap).
Take your time recovering between reps. You can walk or jog at an easy pace for 3 to 4 minutes until you feel good enough to do your next ½-lap intense rep.
Do 8 to 12 reps in total.
6. VO2 Max Workout
If you run shorter distances (5k to 10k), you should be doing intervals of 3 to 5 minutes to improve your VO2 max.
Here’s an example of the type of workout that would be effective for you (at your 5k or 10k race pace):
- Work: 800m (½-mile)
- Rest: 3 minute jog
- Repeat: 4 times
You can alter this as you get better at it. You may choose to do 5 intervals of 1200m instead, or 6 intervals of 400m if you’re new to it.
7. Mile Test
One mile on a track equals four laps. Doing a mile test is a good way to test your fitness and find out where you stand so you can set yourself realistic goals.
Run your full four laps at a steady pace that you can maintain across the laps. Don’t drag your feet, but don’t go all out either. It may be worth timing yourself at every lap to make sure you’re pacing yourself correctly.
Once you know your mile pace, you can use it to set yourself workout goals. Repeat this test every 4 to 6 weeks to check your progress.