Running in circles isn’t complicated, but there are a few unwritten rules that you need to be aware of.
Sure, you can hit the road or the gym for speedwork, but the track is the most accurate way to gauge effort. (Here’s why you need to do speedwork.) Treadmills can be calibrated differently, and GPS watches aren’t always reliable. All outdoor tracks are 400-metre ovals, wherever you are in the world. All give instant feedback on fitness. “There’s no fudge factor,” says Anthony Gallo, a 2008 Olympic Trials qualifier in the 5000 metres. Here’s a quick guide to get you started.
BRAVE THE ELEMENTS
You have to resist wind and weather on a track, so any pace takes more effort than on a treadmill. You’d have to set a treadmill 20 seconds faster, or at a two per cent incline, to make up for it.
Stick with runners of the same fitness level. If you start with faster runners and fall behind, you won’t have enough time to recover before the next repeat.
STOP THE MUSIC
Leave the earphones at home. With a large group of fatigued runners in a confined space trying to hit top speed, you’ll want to be able to tune in to what’s going on around you.
RESPECT PERSONAL SPACE
If you’re running in a group, inevitably an elbow will fly or a heel will get clipped. Be aware of your body and space. It will help you run more efficiently, too.
The outside lane is 40 to 50 metres longer than the inside lane. That’s why some race starts are staggered.
Track work should be tough; it’s not the place for a conversational pace. If you can chat, it’s time to pick up the pace. And remember that others probably don’t want to talk while trying to gut it out.
When you finish fast bouts of work, be sure to walk or jog – don’t stop abruptly or stand around. Gradually elevating and slowing the heart rate is healthier than suddenly hitting the brakes.
The finish line used in most events is before the first turn.
CLEAR LANE ONE
The innermost lane of the track is typically the place for the fastest runners. If you’re on a recovery segment, warming up, cooling down, or running slower, move to an outside lane.
GEAR UP RIGHT
You don’t need track spikes, but it’s a good idea to wear lighter running shoes. Just knowing you’ve got your “fast shoes” on will give you a lift.