March 24, 2008

Welcome back to the track!

For some, this will be your first time ever on a track while for others, you’ll be returning after your long winter’s nap or after a lot of base mileage in preparation for Boston.  Wherever you’re coming from, this session is designed to clear some of the cobwebs and get you used to running on the track again.

Warmup: 10-15′ clockwise at conversational pace
Session: 4 x 400m x 400m at 10K race pace counterclockwise
Cooldown: 10-15′ clockwise

Post-cooldown: 5 x 100m strides, introduction to drills

Track FAQ
Q: How long is a track?

A: Most tracks are 400 meters (slightly more than 4 laps, about 15 feet more, are required to make a mile) although you’ll still find some 440 yard (exactly 4 laps to the mile) and 400 yard tracks (about 4.2 laps to the mile) around (visit Marstons Mills Elementary for an example). The indoor track at Harvard is a 200 yard oval – that’s a little over 8 laps to the mile!

Q: What are tracks made out of?

A: Most tracks are a synthetic rubber similar to the bottoms of your running shoes.  In fact, many tracks are made from the recycled remains of running shoes. The underlayment may be concrete, asphalt, hardpack crushed stone, or dirt. You’ll also find dirt and cinder tracks around (Orleans Middle School, Mattacheese Middle School) as well as asphalt (Cape Cod Tech).  For hard workouts, a softer surface is generally preferred in order to soften some of the impact.  I generally prefer cinder or dirt surfaces since they don’t return as much elastic energy to the runner, they require more power output, and they work the proprioceptive system a bit more than an ordinary flat track.

Q: What shoes should I wear for a track workout?

A: Anything that you’re comfortable in.  Ordinary trainers work fine although for most speedwork sessions, you’ll want something a little lighter on your feet.  When you get faster and more advanced on the track, you’ll want to tailor your shoe choice to the type of surface that you’re running on and the event that you’re participating in.  For short events on a synthetic track, a short track spike is optimal.  For longer events (5000-10000m), a typical road flat works just fine although a short track spike is also acceptable.  On a dirt or cinder surface, you’ll want a slightly longer spike, especially for distances up to 5000m.

Q: What does 4 x 400m x 400m at 10K race pace mean?

A: Track workouts are usually broken into segments or ‘intervals.’  They are a repetition of a work interval followed by a rest interval.  This workout specifies a work interval of 400m at your 10K racing pace followed by a 400m recovery interval.  The lengths of the work and rest intervals and the number of repetitions may be adjusted depending on the specific adaptations that one is looking for.

Q: Does it matter what lane I run in?

A: Only if you’re racing!  Tracks are usually measured to the inner edge of the inside lane (the one closest to the infield) so you’ll just be adding a little distance if you choose one of the other lanes for your workout.  I suggest using the outside lanes for warmup and cooldown and the inside lanes for the meat of the workout session.

Q: What is track protocol if someone else is on the track too?

A: Faster runners to the inside, slower runners to the outside.  Slower runners or walkers should give way to faster runners by moving to the outer lanes as necessary.  Faster runners should alert those in front of them by shouting “Track!” or “Left!” as they come up to pass.  After a few laps, even first-time track newbies will get the idea.

Q: When should I run counterclockwise or clockwise?

A: I recommend running clockwise during warmup and cooldown in order to change the muscle recruitment over the course of the workout.  Running in the same direction for the entire session may overstress some muscles and lead to injury.  It is also advisable that all workout sessions be run in the same direction so that fast runners on inside lanes aren’t colliding as they make their circuits!  During track meets, inside lanes should be reserved for racers running counterclockwise.  Those warming up or cooling down should stay in the outer lanes and run clockwise so as to not interfere with the lap counting or timing of the event.

Q: What are those silly markings on the track?

A: Depending on the length of the track and what it’s typically used for, you’ll see various marks like lines, triangles, dots and numbers.  Writing will usually designate lane numbers and start and finish marks for various distances (200m, 400m, 800m, mile).  You may also see curved start lines which serve to even the lane advantage that lane 1 has over lane 6 for shorter distances.  Other markings may include locations for hurdles, diamonds which designate the relay exchange areas, dots which mark the beginning of the relay ‘fly’ zones (where the receiving runner can start running in order to be ‘flying’ by the time they reach the exchange zone), and cut-in lines (where runners from outer lanes can move in to the inner lane since the advantage of lane 1 has been nullified by that point).  Unless you’re competing or have a very specific workout in mind, you can safely ignore the markings and just use one line or a certain spot on the track to gauge your distance.

Q: What are strides and drills?

A: Strides and drills are specific strengthening, flexibility and mobility exercises which mimic the running form without incurring the pounding and stress that accompany long and hard running.  We’ll be looking at form drills and strides in more detail in a future session.