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Hit The Track With These 3 Speed-Building Workouts

The track and these workouts are an unbeatable fitness-building tool for runners at all levels.

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fast track july 2015

No matter where you live, you likely have a 400-meter track close to home. That’s a good thing, because the track is one of the most useful training tools for runners, from beginners to Olympians.

We hit the track for one main reason: to practice running fast. The smooth, flat and often rubberized surface makes it conducive to sure footing and quick turnover. Also, the track is precisely measured, lending itself to pace-based workouts.

If you aren’t already using this tool, challenge yourself to hop on the oval. Of course it’s not absolutely necessary to do track workouts in order to get faster, but there’s a reason why virtually all elites—from sprinters, to marathoners, to trail runners—make this a central part of their routines.

A typical track session comprises repeated short segments of fast running separated by slow recovery jogs. It is possible to create an infinite variety of workouts. Try these 3 to get started. Be sure to warm up before each of these sessions, and cool down afterward with 5 to 15 minutes of easy jogging.

Salazar 300s

Challenge Level: Beginner to Advanced

Perhaps the single most popular track workout is 400-meter repetitions, as this is the distance of one lap around the track. But Alberto Salazar, the Nike Oregon Project coach, believes in the power of 300 meters instead. It’s a distance that allows runners to crank up the speed while still challenging their fatigue resistance.

This is not a super-challenging workout for most runners, nor is it meant to be. Salazar’s athletes do this session to keep their speed sharp while saving their best efforts for other types of track workouts featuring efforts closer to race intensity.

Get It Done:

  • Run 300m fast (at 90 percent effort)
  • Jog slowly for 300m
  • Complete a total of 7 repetitions

5K Peak Session

Challenge Level: Beginner to Advanced

The last hard track workout you do before a race should offer a challenge that is highly specific to the demands your body will face in the race itself. This is best performed about 10 days out from a 5K race.

Get It Done:

  • Run 1,000m at 5K race pace
  • Jog 200m
  • Repeat this sequence 5 times

Thompson’s New Intervals

Challenge Level: Advanced

The part of track work that typically gets the least attention is the recovery period. Most runners do an easy jog, but veteran English running coach Peter Thompson takes a different approach. With his “new interval training,” as he calls it, Thompson replaces the slow jog with a moderate-intensity “roll-on.” He argues that by making the intervals between fast segments more challenging, runners derive greater benefit from the whole workout. According to Thompson, the pace of these roll-ons should be set by feel, and should be just slow enough to allow you to complete the next fast segment as quickly as the last. It takes practice to get it right, but you can start by running roll-ons at the pace of your normal easy runs away from the track.

Get It Done:

  • Run 500m at 10K race pace
  • Run a 200m roll-on
  • Run 200m at 3K race pace
  • Run a 100m roll-on
  • Jog slowly for 1 minute
  • Repeat sequence 6 to 12 times, depending on your fitness level