The Best Track Workouts For Runners

The Best Track Workouts For Runners

When you first start running, most people just put their shoes on and go. After a while, many athletes decide to diversify their workouts. Terms that were once foreign become common verbiage. Words like fartlek, interval, pace, track workouts are now familiar to you.

Eventually, you may say to yourself, “I should hit the track.” And you should! Speedwork is an important component of getting faster! Besides that, there is nothing quite as therapeutic as circling the oval.

How Should a Beginner Run Track?

Everyone should take track work seriously. Whether you are a novice or if you have spent plenty of time on the track, you need to do some things to avoid injury. Warming up appropriately is key to keeping your muscles injury-free.

If you’re working with a coach, he or she will be tasked with helping you to figure out what constitutes an adequate workout. Next will come what distances you should be running and how to find your ideal pace for these runs.

If you are self-coached, how do you figure out those things?

What is a Good Track Workout?

While this would seem like a straight forward question, it’s really not. If you ask a coach for a good track workout, he or she will probably ask you what you are trying to get out of the workouts. In addition, you need to consider what your goal race distance is.

If you are training for a track, meet where you will be racing the 800-meter run, your trackwork will look a lot different than if you are training to PR a 5K.

Don’t misunderstand: speedwork is never a bad thing. If you’re looking to get faster, working on leg turnover is helpful no matter what form it takes. If you are constantly running at the same pace, your body gets acclimated to that pace and your gains eventually stop.

If, however, you mix things up, you are more likely to see gains. This is why most coaches have you run some medium effort runs, some speedwork, a spattering of hill work, as well as long runs at an easy effort. Changing your pace means you are getting the most out of your time running.

Types of Track Workouts

There are different types of track workouts. They all have different objectives!

1. Pyramid Workout

In a pyramid workout, you start at a shorter distance, pyramid your way up to a longer distance, then work your way back down the other side of the pyramid.

My favorite pyramid workout has a 400-meter walk between each effort. How do you determine how fast to do each effort? That’s where things get complicated. First, the workout.

Coach Berg’s Favorite Pyramid:

  • 800 Warm-Up
  • 400 meters
  • 800 meters
  • 1200 meters
  • 1600 meters
  • 1200 meters
  • 800 meters
  • 400 meters
  • 800 Cool Down

2. Repeats

Another common track workout is to simply do repeats. My favorite? 400 repeats. Why? Because it’s a sprint. You hit the line, run once around as hard as you can. Rest. Repeat.

Many distance runners training for a 5K or higher are a bigger fan of 800 repeats or mile repeats.

Mile repeats are super important if you are honing in on a pace. For example, if you are shooting for 8:00 minute miles for a 10K, if you knock out 3 or 4-mile repeats shooting to be within 20 seconds (7:50-8:10) of that goal pace, you start to know what it feels like. In theory, it gets to where you could do it in your sleep.

3. Negative or Progression Repeats

In these, the runner is doing the same distance at a progressively faster time each effort within a set. If you’re running 800s, for example, you might have nine of them on the schedule. In the first set of four, you might shoot to finish under 4:00, then under 3:45, then under 3:30 then best effort. You will then rest longer than your rest between efforts, then start over again.

Progression runs or negative split efforts help you learn to run fast and hard on tired legs.

4. Whistle Fartleks

Swedish for Speed Play, a fartlek just means you speed up within a run. Some coaches use whistle fartleks. It’s like a surprise interval. You speed up when the coach blows one whistle, then slow down when the whistle goes again. It might be 20 seconds and it might be 90.

The goal is to hold a consistently hard effort when told to do so and to keep moving for the whole run.

How Do You Train for Track and Field?

If you’re thinking about running competitively on a track, you may wish to work with a coach. It’s a different animal. You need to learn how to line up, where you can cut in. There are intricacies of track etiquette that even if you ran in your youth, have long since been forgotten.

Throughout the world, there are master’s level track meets. And not just for elites! They have meets like this for soccer moms and college professors and firemen and people just like you and me!

Photo credit: Pam Berg

If you want to head to a track meet to get your speed on, make sure you spend some time on the oval practicing running the curves. Also, you might wish to invest in a pair of racing flats. They give definite advantages!

If you aren’t really serious about the meet and you just are looking for new experiences, that’s okay too. Just be sure you warm up properly before practicing and racing. You should always be sweating when your toe hits the starting line. Warm-up wearing way more clothing than you would race in.

For racing apparel, you should underdress for the weather as you will warm up. Keep on your essential running gear such as shorts, vest, and good moisture-wicking socks. Be sure you know the rules of the race (if you can cut in, if you need to stay in your lane, etc.). Then just run and have fun!

How Do You Train for Track Without a Track?

Sure, track workouts sound fun. But what if you don’t have a track? Don’t despair. I live near a flat stretch of straight road. I have orange lines painted on the road at quarter-mile intervals. Voila. Track without track.

One of my favorite “line” workouts is to warm up for half a mile.

  • Run hard to the first line (.25), walk back.
  • Run hard to the second line (.50), jog back.
  • Run hard to the third line (.75), jog back.
  • Run hard to the last line (1 mile) jog back.

Track, without a track.

You can also download an app that gives you interval workouts such as Nike Running Club.

Photo credit: Pam Berg

The last option is to set an interval timer on your phone or watch. For example, you can set the intervals for 3:00 / 2:00. Run easy for three minutes, then hard for two minutes. Repeat, repeat, repeat. This can be done on any loop or run.

Should I Add Track?

Of course you should add track work to your workout regime! Track helps build speed. It also will help you to hone in on pace. In addition, you can work out on the track with that friend who is faster or slower than you. The thing about the track is, you can meet up periodically with others of different paces. Or you can warm-up or cool down together.

The friendships and support you will find on the track are like none other. Give it a try!