Whether you’re new to the sport or a seasoned runner who hasn’t run laps since PE class, the oval is a quick, effective – and yes, fun – way to get fitter.
Even after she’d run for years and finished a marathon, Alex Gardner was mystified by the track. Which way do you run? How fast? “I didn’t even know what recovery was,” says Gardner. “Do I lie on the ground for two minutes? What do I do?”
When Gardner finally mustered up the nerve to try track workouts, she instantly saw results. She shaved 22 minutes from her marathon PB, for a 3:54, and finished a 5K in 22:17. “Before, I didn’t really understand how important proper pacing was,” she says. “And the track taught me how to be more mentally tough.”
For seasoned runners like Gardner – and beginners, too – a track can initially seem like a pretty scary place. Even if you’re able to shake haunting memories of PE class, track can resemble a mysterious subculture, with its own language, code of conduct, and definitions of fast and slow. Not to mention the prospect of pain. “People are afraid of it because they worry it hurts to run hard,” says running coach Vincent Sherry.
The fear factor may be real. But it’s actually not that bad. And whether you’re shooting for a PB or just want to enjoy running more, experts agree that track workouts are the most effective way to improve fitness and lower race times.
Below, you’ll find everything you need to get on track. You’ll learn why you need speedwork, how to talk like a trackster, and how to do your first workouts. Like Gardner, you may discover that a little quality time on a 400-metre oval gives you a boost that lasts way longer than a glorious race finish.
“It’s a huge validation,” says Gardner. “Now, I feel like a ‘real’ runner.”
3 Reasons to Love The Oval
The track may have you fearing that dreaded speedwork, but here are three reasons you’ll look forward to running in circles.
1. Proper Pacing
On a treadmill, the belt keeps you on pace, even if your energy fades. “You’re just keeping up with what’s moving underneath you,” says Marius Maianu, a clinical exercise physiologist. By contrast, hitting a certain pace on the track requires more mental effort.
2. Positive Peer Pressure
At a group workout, you’re likely to push harder than you might on your own. You’re also less likely to give up when the going gets tough. Other runners at the workout can spot sloppy form that might be slowing you down.
3. The Fun Factor
Track may be about speed, but at most workouts organised by running clubs, the vibe stays social and supportive. The track is a great place to meet new running buddies – the kind who help you get out the door in epic conditions, or tough out a long run.
Pointers for First-Timers
Kellie Stamm, 47, hit her goal of a 19-minute 5K after adding track sessions to her training. Now she leads weekly workouts for her local club. Here are her tips for track newbies.
1. Plan Ahead
If possible, determine beforehand what the workout will be so you can get mentally prepared for what pace you’ll run, who you’ll run with, how much recovery you’ll take, and how long the workout will be.
2. Warm Up
Trying to run fast without a warm up is a recipe for a pulled muscle or for tiring out early. Be sure to jog at an easy pace for 15 to 20 minutes before the track workout. At the end of the warm up, add some strides to help boost your heart rate and ready your muscles for some quick work.
3. Ease Into It
Start conservatively so you can hold back early and finish strong. As the session goes on and you start to fatigue, it should feel harder to maintain your goal pace. But if you have trouble finishing a fast segment, it’s best to back off your pace instead of adding extra recovery time.
Do you know your intervals from your splits?
Intervals: Technically, intervals refers to the time you spend recovering between speed segments. But the term commonly refers to track workouts in general, or fast bouts of running.
Recovery: Walking or easy jogging between faster-paced segments. Recovery lets your heart rate return to the point where you’re ready to run fast again, and helps you regain the energy you’ll need for the next burst of speed.
Repeats: The fast segments of running that are repeated during a workout, with recovery in between. If you’re training for a marathon, you might run 1000-metre repeats six times. For shorter races, like 5Ks, you might do shorter repeats, of 400 metres or so, at your goal race pace.
Split: The time it takes to complete any defined distance. If you’re running 800 metres, or two laps, you might check your split after the first lap to shoot for an even pace.
Strides: Short bursts of speed that increase he art rate and leg turnover. They get your legs ready to run hard. Strides are run near 90 percent of maximum effort for 20 seconds at a time with easy jogging in between.