There were more runners participating in road races in the U.S. now than ever before (see RunningUSA’s annual report http://www.runningusa.org/statistics/reports) but relatively few of them will ever step onto a track to do a speed workout. That’s a mistake. Elite and experienced runners do weekly track workouts, but that doesn’t mean these workouts are limited to them only. Here’s why runners of all abilities should make a weekly track workout part of their routine also:
Camaraderie. “Track workouts are great for newbies and others because they allow you to challenge yourself in a controlled environment,” says elite masters triathlete Hilary Cairns. “Unlike going on a ‘regular’ run with faster people, you can’t really be ‘dropped.’” Adds Washington .C. race director and D.C. Road Runners Club activist Bob Platt, “I’ve always approached interval workouts with a sense of dread, but running with others make the task more pleasant.”
That’s because no matter what your speed, you’re never more than a few hundred meters away from everyone else at the track. Since everyone starts and finishes about the same time, there’s more time for socializing between runners of all abilities. And if the workout is in the evening, a bit of hard running is all the excuse most people need to go out for a bite and maybe a beer or two afterwards. Loneliness of the long distance runner? Not at the track!
Challenge. “The track is where you really see gains and where you get faster,” says local champion marathoner and ultramarathoner Michael Wardian. “Finding someone to run with makes the workouts that much better.” But while every group track workout involves some friendly competition, the emphasis is on friendly. It’s a common sight to see runners encourage one another, even from the sidelines if they’ve chosen to sit out part of the workout. After all, there are no rankings and awards given at the track; it’s practice, not a race, and everyone is there to get better. It’s exactly that shared goal, and the determination that drives it, that unites everyone of all ability who steps onto the track. Fast or not-so-fast, there’s a shared sense of purpose at a track workout that brings people together and creates something like a community.
Improvement. When all is said and done, people go to the track not just to see their friends and do a bit of running – first on everyone’s list is the desire to get faster. “Track workouts are a necessary evil for maintaining your stride, form and sense of pace,” says Platt. It’s the place where runners gain efficiency, which is the ability to do a greater volume of work with less energy. And that takes work. “It’s tough,” admits Wardian, “but track workouts are the keys to moving to the next level.”
Can’t anyone do their speed workouts alone? Sure, but with all the benefits of running with a pack, why would anyone want to? “I truly do love the track workouts,” says Cairns. “I really enjoy running with other people, particularly people who are slightly faster and who challenge me to push harder, and people who are not as fast who help remind me that running is fun and I’m fortunate to be able to do it.” And so are the rest of us, fast or not-so-fast.
Favorite Track Workouts
Michael Wardian: My favorite workout is 10 x 1000m. It’s wicked hard but so worth it, and you feel great when it is over.”
Hilary Cairns: My favorite workout is 400m, 800m, 1200m, 1600m, 1200m, 800m, 400m. This workout allows you to ease into it and then pick it up on the way back down.