Pick Up the Pace With a Track Workout

13 05 2011

Photo by Erik Isakson

By Christine Hinton


Does the idea of a six-lane track circling a football field conjure up feelings of middle school anxiety? Don’t be intimidated. Tracks are not only for spandex-clad superstars and gym class wind sprints.

In fact, incorporating track workouts into your weekly running routine is a great way to improve your speed and freshen up your regimen.

When you mix track work into your training, you’re almost certain to see race times improve at every distance. Track workouts are also a helpful tool to measure your fitness.

If you’re used to trotting along at a steady pace for your daily runs, shorter, quicker intervals can be exhilarating and liberating. We promise it won’t be as excruciating as your seventh-grade memories, but it might just make you feel like a kid again.

Speed Things Up

A standard outdoor track measures 400 meters (roughly a quarter mile) around from the shortest, inside lane. The measured distance can help you learn proper pacing. With no hills to contend with, you’ll be able nail down the feel and perceived effort-level of your race pace by way of shorter segments.

If you’re more interested in fitness than 5K times, hitting the track will improve your cardio and aid in weight-loss. Short, fast bursts of running keep your metabolism fired up far longer post-workout than steady-state exercise. You’ll recruit new muscles as you work on your acceleration, which increases muscle tone and strength.

In addition to physical gains, track workouts help you become mentally tougher. Learning that you’re capable of holding a fast pace and pushing through tough workouts will make you a more confident runner.

Work It Out

Begin each speed session with 10 minutes of light jogging. Finish your warm up with three to four 100-meter accelerations, concentrating on picking up your speed and perfecting your form. During the workout, resist the urge to start out too quickly.

The goal is to be as fast at the end of the workout as you were at the start. Conserving energy early on will ensure that your last few efforts are strong and consistent. When you’ve completed the final interval, cool down with another 10 minutes of easy running.

New Kid on the Track

If you’re unfamiliar with the oval, get your feet wet with these simple, speedy workouts.

In and Outs

Mix up your pace by running the straight sections of the track (called straight-aways) at a fast pace, and recover with slow jogging around the turns. Start with six laps and work up to twelve. If this feels too challenging, walk the turns.


This exercise helps you to nail down your race pace. You’ll be challenged to keep a consistent pace as the distance increases and decreases. Run intervals of 100, 200, 400, 200 and 100 meters all at your 5K race pace.

Recover by walking or jogging the same distance as the interval you just performed. For example, run 100 meters at 5K pace, walk 100 meters, then immediately run 200 meters also at 5K pace.

If you don’t know your goal race time, concentrate on running each interval at a hard, consistent pace.

Timed Mile

Running a mile as fast as you can is an excellent challenge if you’re used to longer distances. Perform a time trial with yourself, running one mile at your top speed. Use this workout as a benchmark. Repeat every four to six weeks during the course of your training and watch your time go down.

Intermediate Trackies

Try these workouts if you’re familiar with intervals, but want to improve your race performance.


This workout will help to produce a fast 5K. Perform four to six 400-meter repeats at your goal 5k pace, jogging 400 meters between efforts. Gradually work up to eight to 10 repeats.

Mile Repeats

This workout is a toughie, but perform it once a week and you’re sure to be in fighting shape. Start with two to three repeats of a one-mile interval run at your 10K or half- marathon pace, recovering with a half-mile jog in between sets.

If your goal is shorter races, stick with three repeats, and try to improve your speed week to week. If you’re training for a half or full marathon, concentrate on maintaining your speed, and work up to four to six reps.

Kick Its

Use this workout to improve your kick at the end of a race. Run four 800-meter repeats at 10K pace, jogging 400 meters in between each interval. Then run four 200-meter repeats at 5K pace, jogging 200 meters between each interval. Challenge yourself by running the final 200 as fast as you can.

Mind Your Manners

  • Before you step onto the oval, review these guidelines for proper etiquette.
  • Run your intervals in a counter-clockwise direction, unless your track posts instructions to run clockwise on certain days of the week.
  • Warm up and cool down using only the outside lanes (six to eight).
  • Lane one, the innermost lane, is reserved for the fastest folks on the track. If you see someone leaving smoke in their wake, move to lane two for your intervals.
  • When you hear “Track!” shouted behind you, it means, “Get outta my way!” You should slide into the next outside lane, so that the faster runner can pass you on the inside.
  • If you pass a slower runner and are not comfortable shouting, simply pass by going around him or her in an outside lane.
  • Unless the track is empty, leave your headphones at home. It’s important to be conscious of your surroundings.

Christine Hinton is a Road Runners Club of America certified coach and fitness expert. A competitive runner herself, she has been coaching beginners through elites for over 10 years.




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