This article is in response to another couple interesting comments I’ve overheard recently. One runner going on vacation wasn’t going to have access to any track facilities another lives somewhat remotely and doesn’t have a neighborhood track (even if he did it would probably be inaccessible… but I digress).
Too often both as coaches and as athletes we are victims of our habits. We come to think that the place we do speed work or any quality paced training is the track. We think that 800 meter repeats are track workouts. We think that sprinting is only on a track straightaway or infield/football field. Unfortunately, this is the farthest thing from the truth and in fact this thinking is no more than an excuse (I’m not sure it’s even listed in the Excuse Book!)
There is no magic in running in a 400 meter circle. In fact for those of us in the USA – heck, it’s not even 4-laps-to-a-mile. It’s just short of a quarter mile (440 yards). We become enamored with 16×400; or ladder workouts 400-800-1200-1600-1200-800-400; or 100s hard straightaways alternating 100s easy curves. It all seems so even and tidy. But let’s explode this mindset.
Some critical understandings:
“Quality” runs are most commonly defined as runs that are paced approximately at just slower than 10K race pace and faster… all the way up to sprinting.
Quality workouts should be maintained in varying amounts, distances and paces year round.
For some runners, doing regular running in circles on a track lead to specific stress injuries from going in one direction on the track.
Research is sometimes carried out on tracks but far more often in laboratory facilities on treadmills (so they can control and do all that measurement stuff). From their data the physiologists and coaches can extrapolate into optimal workouts based in the research. Why do I mention this? Because the actual research often quotes “time” and “pace” efforts but seldom reference “400 meters” or “600 meter repeats”. The research will most often quote something like this: “maintaining vVO2max for 3:00 for a total of 15:00 with equal rest is optimal for eliciting lactate threshold improvement.”
So, where did the mindset for a track occur? In practitioners (coaches) such as myself; out of habit, convenience and control perhaps and certainly comfort zone for those who are detail-oriented minded who want exactness. (3:00? I don’t want to run 765 yards. I want an even 800. Get the idea?)
To the point of this article: you do not in any way need a track to perform your quality work. It is merely an excuse you choose to use because you want to stay in a comfort zone run or just don’t want to do the hard stuff.
Think of any track workout and translate it to the roads, the trails, the canals or just your neighborhood block. My club in Arizona knows that if we are off a track for some reason – we hit a great mile long stretch of canal banks. It does not stop us from doing repeats.
Here are some quality running ideas sans track:
Fartlek (aka speedplay) is specifically designed to be a quality workout. Alternate paces every 30 seconds, 1-3 minutes or whatever. What paces? 5k, 10k, mile, faster than mile, race (i.e. marathon or half-marathon) goal pace, recovery jog.
Timed repeats are easy. Use your countdown timer on your watch for a specific time – just set it and go! Keep the countdown timer repeating and you have an instant coach tell you when to move out and when to jog your recovery. Again, mile to 5k paces are good paces.
Surges are excellent ways to add variety, liven up your legs, and get a great workout. For each mile (or half mile) throw in a surge at your 5k race pace for about 400 meters – oops sorry, we’re not on the track – I mean 1:45 or 2:00.
Fast surges can be integrated for shorter spells but at faster paces yet. These are excellent for leg turnover. Do faster than mile pace for about 45 seconds each mile or so then fall back into your long run pace. This is an excellent training approach for distance folks. Try a 10 or 15 mile run like this! You’ll have “raced” 1-2 miles in the course of your long run.
Marathoners can use surges integrated with your goal paced runs. This is excellent physical and mental conditioning. Let’s say you’re going on a 10 mile marathon goal paced run. With hundreds of variations you can throw in a fast 2:00 or mile or 5:00 or whatever and then return to your goal pace. This forces you to learn how to change paces and find your goal pace under varying conditions and feelings.
You say you’re one of those people who just can’t live with that free-flowing quality work? You say you “gotta” have the security of “knowing the time and distance precisely?” OK, in the middle of one night, go measure and paint small markings on the road. I’ve seen in several neighborhoods, roads and canal banks some markings for distances. Just don’t get caught. It is frowned upon.
And if you don’t have flat roadways or areas to run – all the better! No excuses! As you can see there is no excuse to avoid quality workouts just because a track is not available.