7 tips to get comfortable running track
Running on a track for the first time can be intimidating. We’ve all been there. Track is for fast people, right? Not necessarily. One of the best way to get faster is to include a track workout each week. All of our custom training plans include some sort of 200, 400, 800 or mile repeats. And it can be fun and a great way to bring variety to your running routine. So follow these few tips to get comfortable on the track.
1. Understand the lingo
Repeats, sets, fartlek, rest, recovery, or jog rest! Here’s how to make sense of it. First off, you want to make sure you are running counterclockwise, especially if the track is busy. Some athletes have asked me if changing direction would help prevent injuries. I have not found any research on the topic so I would suggest to stick with the normal direction.
Set vs repeats
We refer to workouts as a “set” of “repeats”. “400m repeats” means you will run for 400 meters at a specific pace (usually pretty fast) before taking a bit of rest. Sets are a series of repeats in a row. Sets can be written in different manners: 3×400/200, 3 set of 400 with 200 rest, or 3x400R w/ 200 jog rest. They all mean the same thing: Run 400 meters fast, rest for 200 meters (jog), repeats all of this 3 times.
Some workouts can be more advanced: like “2 sets of 200R w/ 200 rest + 200R w/ 400 rest + 400R w/ 200 rest”. In this case, the set is composed of 3 separate repeats (200R, 200R and 400R) with respective rest.
Speaking of rest, or recovery… It refers to an easy jog to catch your breath before the next repeat. Sometimes, rest is labelled as “standing rest”. This means you stand during recovery, without moving. This helps your body managed lactic acid buildup. One of the key with rest is to make sure your breathing has gone down and you are ready for the next repeat.
Some plans refer to fartlek sessions. Fartlek is nothing more than running at faster effort for short periods of time followed by easy effort to recover. 800 meter sessions are common with fartlek but it can be any distance.
More: Who needs 200m repeats?
2. Understanding distances and markings
Tracks are 400 meters long. Oh this darn metric system. 4 seasons in a year, 4 quarts in a gallon, 4 limbs in a body, and 4 laps in 1 mile, easy to remember. Is your plan calling for 200m repeats? That’s half a lap. 800m repeats are a half mile long, or 2 laps. Sounds confusing? You will get it after a few times. If you are following one of our custom training plan, you will know how long each repeat should be, and what pace to run at.
Most tracks have markings to indicate half laps (200m) and even quarter laps (100m). These are very helpful to help you pace your workouts. If your track does not have markings, make your own (in your head). One of the track I use doesn’t have 100m markings. So I start half way in the straight line and then I mentally divide the track in 4 equal portions, 100m for each.
Let’s go back to our workout of “3 X 400R with 200 jog”. This can be translated to 3 sets of 400 meters at R pace (Repetition pace) with 200 meters of jog rest. If your training plan calls for 2:00 per 400R, then you will run at a pace of 30 seconds for each 100m, complete a full lap, then take it easy with a jog for another lap. Repeat this 4 times and you’re done with your workout!
3. Warm up/cool down on the outline lanes
If you are sharing the track with others, it is customary to keep the inside lanes for workouts, and the outside lanes for warm up and cool down. Keep in mind that only the inside lane (lane #1) is 400m long. The further out you get, the longer each lap is.
4. Run on the inside lane / Rest on the other lanes
If you really care about getting the most out of your workouts, run your workouts on the inside lane. It will help you control your pace and stay on target. During your jog rest, move over a lane or two if you are sharing with others. Also keep in mind that some facilities do not allow runners on the inside lanes. Check the rules before your run.
5. Give way to faster runners
Always be aware of other runners on the track. Some may be faster than you. If you hear someone coming behind you, move over one lane and let them go by. As such, we don’t recommend the use of headphones. If they are doing very short and fast repeats, having to move around you can make things difficult.
6. Forget about your GPS watch
As highlighted in this article, GPS watches are rather inaccurate on the track. This is due to the track shape and the overall GPS accuracy. This means that your distance at the end of the workout may be way off. Don’t trust it and simply use it as a stopwatch. Learn how to use of the LAP functionality, most watches have one. Need to do 400m in 2:00? Start your watch, hit LAP when you cross the start line and look at the elapsed lap time. Once you see 0:30, you should be at the 100m mark, 1:00 at the 200m, 1:30 at the 300m, and finally 2:00 when you finish your lap (and hit the LAP button again).
I remember pacing my brother-in-law for one of his workout last summer. He doesn’t usually run on the track and was using his GPS watch to determine the 500m splits. His watch was automatically lapping approximately 4-5 seconds before we crossed the 500m line (one lap and one quarter). After 8 sets, his watch was beeping right after we crossed the start line because it was so far off. He kept telling me: “This pace feels really fast compared to what I usually do, are you sure this track is correct?”. Unfortunately for him, it was. And until then, he had been short-changing himself by trusting his watch. The difference between 470m and 500m is immense when it comes to this kind of workout.
7. Wear clean and proper shoes
This is a bonus one and should be obvious, but try to wear clean shoes. I’ve seen people bringing muddy shoes and leaving marks on the track. Also, if you’re a trail runner, regular road shoes are more appropriate than trail shoes. If you race often and have racing flat, those are even better.
Do you still feel intimidated? Get out there, find a track and get a great workout. Bring a friend and challenge each other! Or go early or late if you want to avoid the crowds. Your speed will improve and you may even have fun in the process! We hope these tips to get comfortable running track helped.
Have a question? Leave it in the comments section.
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