Expert Martin Rush explains how training on the track is the best way to improve your running speed.
There really is no substitute for the track if you are serious about improving your running speed. It has been argued that it’s not relevant for Ironman-distance triathlons, but if you want to improve your running for anything shorter, it’s a must.
So what do you get from track running that you can’t get from running on the road? Firstly, there’s no hiding place. You know exactly how fast you’re running. That line you’ve just crossed, it’s marked out and it is exactly 200m from the start line. If it’s taken you one second longer than your target, you’d better dig deep and catch up. Lose a second in 200m and you lose three and half minutes in a marathon.
It will also help you correlate perceived effort with pace and, if you add a heart-rate monitor, correlate actual physiological effort and pace. This means accurate training zones are yours for the calculating. Get in a good group and you will also learn to run in a pack, benefit from being dragged along to faster times than you thought possible and take your suffering – in the name of gain – to a whole new level.
On a very practical level, track work enables you to run fast, uninterrupted sessions and it provides a reassuringly smooth surface so you can concentrate on effort and feeling, rather than where your foot is landing. It also provides a comfortable environment to carry out your technical drills. And the final reason for running on the track is pressure – psychological pressure.
Exerted by knowing exactly how fast you are running, but also by an expectation that track training is about serious performance.
- TRACK TRAINING:
You should be looking at one or two track sessions per week from spring onwards, but this comes with a couple of warnings. The first is that like any new form of training you need to break in gently. Wear decent training or racing shoes, don’t do too much volume on your first few outings on the track and take notice of any unusual muscle pain that comes on as a result.
If you have never run on a track before it is a great idea to simply go down and run a few miles at a steady pace to get used to the feel of the surface and line markings.
Finally, before you step on the track it is really useful to have a good estimate of your paces. The key ones are 3k, 5k and 10k paces so if you have run any recent races you should do the maths and estimate what your 400m (one lap) time should be for each of these distances. If you haven’t raced one of these recently, or only one, then search for online calculators to give you the answers
STRUCTURE YOUR OWN TRACK SESSION
Track training sessions should follow a basic template:
1. A warm-up of easy running. Normally this is around 10 minutes, but I think it would benefit from being longer – 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Dynamic exercises to take your joints through a good range of movement and mobilise your muscles. Try five to 10 minutes of leg swings, skipping, zig zag running and postural exercises to set your body up and step-ups for glute recruitment.
3. Running drills to develop co-ordination and teach or reinforce good mechanics. Find running demos on YouTube and aim for a few drills done really well with a reason for doing them.
4. Running strides to rehearse the speed of movement of the main session. These are short progressive sprints eg 4 to 6x60m runs building up to 80% maximum intensity each time.
5. A main session with a clear intention and goals.
6. Warm-down. Depending on the intensity of the session, this should involve easy jogging until you feel in balance and relaxed enough to contemplate leaving the track in relative comfort. This could be 20 to 30 minutes of light jogging with easy strides and maybe some refuelling. You could also do some easy stretching and mobility exercises.
CHOOSE YOUR SESSION
There are many different types of track sessions, giving various benefits. Here’s the low-down on three of the most important for sessions that triathletes may find helpful.
1. Aerobic Speed
If it is increased speed you are looking for, keep the volume of your main session to around 5km and your pace at around your best for 3km. This is a classic, big, fast,
aerobic engine, producing training, teaching the heart to pump and the muscles to use oxygen to burn fuel. These are the sessions that got Alistair Brownlee to 9.5km of the London Olympics with only one competitor in tow but with enough in reserve to kick away and win. It is best to start with short repetitions and build the length of time
you are running at this pace. Here are some examples of how to progress your main sets:
Session 1: 2x(10x200m) with 20secs between reps and 4mins between sets
Session 2: 3x(5x300m) with 45secs between reps and 4mins between sets
Session 3: 2x(6x400m) with 1min between reps and 3mins between sets
Session 4: 1x(2x400m) with 1min rests
2. Aerobic Endurance
If it’s fast aerobic endurance you’re after, the volume stretches to 8km and your pace towards 5km pace. There is a definite advantage in running for over 3 minutes in each repetition as you will have your heart rate higher for longer periods of time. Examples of fast aerobic endurance sessions include:
Session 1: 8x800m with 2mins rests
Session 2: 6x(800m/400m) alternating 2mins rest and 1min rest
Session 3: 8x1km with 2mins jog rests
Session 4: 6×1.2km with 2mins rests
3. Anaerobic workouts
Running shorter and faster than these paces on the track takes us right into the anaerobic zones. Train at these paces and you will be developing your ability to apply quick force to the track, increasing your stride length, and there is good evidence showing an increase in efficiency as well. Volumes for these types of session should be cut down to a maximum of 3km and will often be a lot less. If you have developed a good endurance base over time and do a big fast aerobic session once a week, you will find that it doesn’t take many of these anaerobic sessions to produce a rapid performance improvement. Just six to 10 sessions will move you on significantly, the key is to be fresh and fuelled when you do them.
Session 1: 10x200m with 90secs rest between reps
Session 2: 7x300m with 2mins rest between reps
Session 3: 6x400m with 2mins 30secs between reps
Think of the track as your test-bed for pushing your run performances further to achieve faster times. Keep it interesting and challenging by changing the sessions and combining different elements at different paces. Record your times and build up knowledge about key sessions that let you know when you are really ready to race.
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