How to Use Track Workouts in Endurance Training

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Some runners love to run on the track. These runners enjoy running fast, and a good 400-meter track is a great place to run fast. Other runners can't stand running on the track. They shrink from the suffering imposed by the high-intensity workouts that one is supposed to do on the track, and possibly also from the monotony of running in endless circles.

Whether you love or hate the track, training on it can improve your running by leaps and bounds, if you know what you're doing. While it is possible to train effectively without ever visiting your local high school or college oval, there is no environment that is better suited to the high-intensity interval workouts that are an indispensible part of every runner's training. A little interval training goes a long way. Just one visit to the track per week during periods of focused training for one or more races will do the trick. So if you don't like track workouts now, perhaps you can learn to like them, and if you can't learn to like them, surely you can still suck it up and suffer through them once a week!

There is a difference between enjoying track workouts and doing them effectively. Even some runners who love running on the track don't do it right. The purpose of this article is to show you how to get the greatest possible benefit from running in circles. First I will explain the structure and benefits of the four basic types of interval sessions: short, middle-distance, long and mixed. Then I will share some guidelines for incorporating track workouts into your training for each of four race distances: 5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon.

Short Intervals

Short intervals are fast-running segments of 100 meters (one-quarter lap, or one full straightaway) to 400 meters. Because they are so short, these intervals can be run at very close to maximum speed. Naturally, you can run 200m intervals at a slightly faster pace than 400m intervals and you can run 100m intervals faster still. The purpose of short interval workouts is to increase raw speed, stride power and running economy. They are beneficial even for marathon runners, whose race pace is substantially slower than the speeds that can be sustained over such short distances. The power and efficiency gains you derive from running short intervals will enable you to sustain your current marathon pace more easily, and thus run faster at the effort level associated with your current marathon pace.

Recovery periods between short intervals should be relatively long—-roughly three times the duration of the intervals themselves. This is necessary to allow you to maintain a consistent level of performance throughout the workout. If you don't recover long enough, you will slow down from one interval to the next and the workout will become a test of fatigue resistance instead of a speed and power builder. Recoveries may be either passive (standing or walking) or active (slow jogging).

Exactly how fast should you run short intervals? Generally, you should run as fast as you can without slowing down before the end of the workout. So your last interval should be as fast as your first, and you should be good and tired by the time you complete it. You will likely need to get one or two short interval workouts in your legs before you master the pacing aspect.

The total amount of fast running you should do in this type of workout depends primarily on your fitness level. Here are some suggested formats:

Beginner Short Interval Workouts

  • 6 x 100 meters
  • 6 x 200 meters
  • 6 x 300 meters
  • 6 x 400 meters

Intermediate Short Interval Workouts

  • 8 x 100 meters
  • 8 x 200 meters
  • 8 x 300 meters
  • 8 x 400 meters

Advanced Short Interval Workouts

  • 10 x 100 meters
  • 10 x 200 meters
  • 10 x 300 meters
  • 10 x 400 meters