Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I love the track for intervals and tempo runs

I hear a lot of subtle complaints from long distance runners about speed work and tempo runs, particularly when they are done on the track. I'm not sure why this is. I only recently started running on a track again, using it for interval sets and tempo runs, and I really enjoy it.

I like the track for the following reasons:
  1. It's flat - easier to run a steady tempo pace or consistent intervals, successive identical workouts can be compared over time so you can measure your improvement. The flat surface is also stressful on the joints than crowned roads, rough uneven surfaces, or concrete (this can be VERY important for "Master's" like me).
  2. Did I mention it's flat?
Well ok, that's really only one reason, but I think it's a pretty good one. There are other reasons, but they aren't running specific. They usually have some kind of bathroom facility or portapotty (gasp, hold the nose), for example, and often a water fountain. Running the roads and trails, you sometimes don't run across these things right when you need them.

Maybe some people get bored because they are busy counting laps, or maybe the scenery at sunrise on the track isn't quite comparable to sunrise on the trail in the foothills. I don't know. I don't know. When I'm on the track, I'm usually doing a speed workout or tempo run, so I'm not really looking for scenery. It's enough just to be able to breathe!

Also, I don't worry about counting laps. I tend to set up my workouts in my Garmin Forerunner 305 and just let it measure the distance for me. There is some slight error in it's measurements, but the tracks follow the oval shape of the track when I look at them later, and I figure that slight measurement error can't possibly be meaningful in the grand scheme of my training. As long as I'm comparing apples to apples on average when I look at my training splits, that's good enough for me.

The most difficult thing for me about starting workouts on the track was starting. The first time at the track, I was a little self-conscious. I was sure everyone there would be serious runners, on a higher plane than me. It turns out there ARE some serious runners, but there are also people who are beginners, who can barely jog 100-200m at a time. I like to offer them encouragement. It turns out I'm actually one of the more serious runners on the track! Looking back, my initial trepidation seems silly. It speaks more to how much an introvert I am than anything else.

So, my advice to anyone training for, well, pretty much anything, is to give the track a shot when you're ready for speed work. Look into your local junior high or high school track. These days, many schools keep their tracks locked up when not being officially used, to preserve the expensive surfaces they use now. If you are lucky enough to have a University that allows public access to their track, like me, then take advantage of that. It's a great training resource.

There's nothing to be afraid of!  :)

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