Track laps help boost race pace

To improve speed, shorter workouts on a track is a viable training option

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By Paul Oppenheim

Running Columnist

Most runners want to be faster, and to be faster you have to run faster. Or in the words of a famous philosopher: Duh.

Many runners do their runs at the same pace which is certainly okay, but doesn't do much to enhance performance. To truly improve, there's a need for speed. You can speed up your training runs, or run with faster people who hopefully pull you along.

However, the tried and true way to improve speed is to do shorter workouts on a track. The classic formula for distance runners is to build a base of longer, slower mileage before taking on increased speeds at shorter distances.

Ideally, you train through the winter and early spring with longer and slower runs, taking rest days when needed.
After building that base, inject some faster-paced runs into your routine. A programmed weekly session of track intervals can result in major improvements.

Recently I've been helping with the Oak Park Runners Club's weekly speed workouts on the Concordia track. I've enjoyed seeing some of the newer runners making dramatic improvements in just a few sessions. Getting used to faster leg turnover for shorter distances pays big dividends at races.

Running with a group on the track also injects an element of peer pressure, pushing you to hang in there a bit longer, or holding that faster pace for just another lap, even if you're winded. On the track I discovered that I could run in extreme discomfort for a lot longer than I previously had imagined. By running in a group, the collective pace pushed me a lot harder than if I was running alone.

There are endless varieties of track workouts featuring combinations of laps or time segments around the track.
A common workout was a "ladder." Starting with a quick 400 meters (one lap), followed by a minute of recovery, then 800 meters (two laps), and so on, up to four laps (a mile). Then back down the ladder, aiming to run the final 400 at the same pace as the first. That amounted to four total miles of speed work, and a good workout.

Another notorious session was "16 quarters," an announcement by the coach that was always met with groans. The grueling workout involves a single hard lap with a short recovery jog repeated 16 times!

Sometimes on a hot summer evening after a long workday, I'd think that I couldn't last for even two laps. But than a strange thing would happen, and before long, the laps accumulated. On the final repetition, it became a matter of pride to run it as fast, or faster, than the first one.

In my peak running years I ran about five miles on my moderate-paced daily runs. I also would put in a longer run on Saturday (maybe 12 miles) and a track workout on Wednesday evenings. That formula served me well for years as I was conditioned for everything from 5Ks to half marathons.

All those hard laps on the track usually paid off on race day.

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Ken from Oak Park  

Posted: June 11th, 2013 3:40 PM

Track workouts are both challenging and fun. I find I do my best work when I have other people out there challenging me.

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