speed training

2 Great Alternatives to the Track


 by Jessica Green

Whether you have access to a track should not determine whether you are able to complete your track workouts during marathon training.  Certain workouts are designated for the track because a track provides precise, quarter-mile distance markers and a flat surface perfect for uninterrupted running and accurate feedback about your pace and times. Unfortunately, it’s not realistic for a lot of people to get to a track once a week for their track workouts. For some, it’s because a track is not nearby, and, for others, it’s because the thought of running around a track is very unappealing (to the latter, I recommend training in a group at the track - it's much more motivating).

Whoever you are, if you can’t get to a track, try these two alternatives to the track to get the most of out of your designated "track workouts." 

(1) Find a flat pedestrian path or trail with quarter-mile markers.  Most track workouts can be broken down into quarter-mile distances such as 400s, 800s, 1200, 1600s, etc.  Many cities have running paths with distance markers.  With the distances all marked out, all you need is a timer to track your workouts.  If your city doesn’t have a path with distances marked out, don’t be afraid to bring some chalk and make your own during your warm up.

(2) Set up your GPS watch to auto lap at .25 miles rather than 1-mile. This works well when you can’t find any distance markers. Plus, it provides you with your quarter-mile splits during longer speed intervals. This is important because it allows you to monitor whether you are running at a consistent pace or starting out slow and finishing fast or vice versa. 

3 Speed Workouts to Get You Ready to Race

Spring is on the horizon which means longer days and races! Get ready for some springtime race action with 3 of our favorite speed workouts. What we love about these is that you can incorporate them into one of your runs - no need to find a track. Good luck in all of your spring races!

Why do you need speed?
Adding 1 day of speed work into your weekly routine will benefit you in a number of ways:

  • it keeps your legs fresh and gets them ready to race,
  • it gets your heart rate up and will help you lose weight,
  • it reminds your neuromuscular system (the brain & nervous system) what it's like to run quickly; this system in turns tells your muscles to respond.

1) Pick Ups:

This is a quick and easy way to boost your fitness and remind your legs what it's like to turnover quickly. This will help you on race day so you aren't asking your legs to go faster than they have in several months. Do this workout once per week.

  • Warm up for 10-15 minutes at an easy pace
  • 10 minutes alternating 20 seconds of quick striding (think 5k pace) with 1 minute at an easy pace
  • Cool down for 10 minutes at an easy pace

2) Strides
We love strides because you can add them into any workout for an extra jolt of energy or use them to get your legs ready for a race or track workout. Do your regularly scheduled run (easy or medium effort run) and then add in 4-6 strides at the end. A stride is a controlled acceleration and deceleration. As you begin your stride, gradually accelerate to about 85 percent of your maximum speed for the first third of the stride, hold that pace for another third, and then gradually decelerate over the final third. Don't time the strides and the exact distance isn't critical. Walk or slowly jog back to your starting position.

3) Stairs
You either just jumped for joy or grimaced. Stairs are usually not a runner's friend. However, running stairs is a great way to improve your foot speed and quickness. Stairs are steeper than most hills so by running stairs, you force your body to use more oxygen and convert it to energy faster. Do this once per week.

  • Warm up for 10-15 minutes at an easy pace
  • Run fast up a set of stairs for at least 20-30 seconds. Walk or jog slowly back down. Repeat for 10 minutes
  • Cool down for 10 minutes at an easy pace

Tip of the Week: Make the Road Your Track

Speed training (or interval training) is high-intensity training sessions that improve your running efficiency and will help shave minutes off your race times. There are so many benefits to speed training. And you don't need a track to do speed training. Simply pick minute intervals or mark off .25 miles or .5 miles on a road or sidewalk. Some of our favorite workouts are: 1 min, 2 min, 3 min, 3 min, 2 min, 1 min (with same recovery time), 8x400 meters (.25 mile) and 5x800 meters (.5 mile). Make any road your track!

How do speed workouts improve your running?

 1. Build Strength - Speed work gets fast-twitch muscle fibers firing, and recruits more muscles than slow runs do.

2. Faster Feet - When you run at a fast pace, your feet turn over at a more rapid rate. With enough practice, this quicker cadence becomes more natural, which means you'll need less effort to move faster on any run.

3. Improve Stamina - Speed sessions help maximize your aerobic capacity. When you hit a fast pace, you force the heart to pump oxygen through the body at a quicker rate. Over time, that makes your heart stronger, so it can deliver more oxygen to the muscles, and helps your muscles use oxygen more efficiently.

4. Run Stronger and Longer - By sustaining a comfortably hard effort, you condition your body to hold a faster pace for longer before lactic acid—the waste produced when the body burns glucose—starts accumulating. That helps stave off the burning sensation that's so often linked with running hard.

5. Make the Joy of Running Last - Even if you don't care about getting fast, you'll enjoy the post track euphoria and the fitness gains that go along with speed work. When you're fitter, you can cover the same miles with less effort and bust through plateaus.

Base Training - Changing up the Pace

Preparing for fall race season isn't just about building up strength and mileage. It's about quality mileage. At least once a week, start reintroducing faster paced runs into your routine with interval training and tempo runs at half marathon effort.  Why? By easing structured speed back into your routine before official training begins, you prepare the mind and body for the harder, faster, higher intensity speed and stamina workouts in the months ahead.  As a result, you'll be ready to dive head first into training rather than spending the first half re-conditioning your body, reawakening the fast twitch muscles and building up your stamina to handle tempo runs at your target pace.

We're not talking about intense track sessions during base training. Instead, try these three key workouts:

Tempo Runs: After a mile warm up, pick up the pace to a comfortably hard effort for 15-20 minutes. What's a comfortably hard effort? We like to think of it as one that's difficult to carry on a conversation, but not impossible to respond to questions with one word answers. Implement these once a week or every other week.

Intervals: After a mile warm up, alternate between 1 to 3 minutes of faster paced runnning and an equal amount of slow, recovery time.  Continue your intervals for 15 minutes total in the beginning and build up to 30-40 minutes of intervals (total time includes both your speed and recovery intervals). If you know your half marathon pace, then aim for this pace during your faster intervals. If not, then aim for a similar pace to the tempo runs.  Implement these every 2 or 3 weeks.

Fartleks:  After at least a mile warm up, incorporate spontaneous bursts of faster paced running into a regular run - either up hills or on the flats. The duration and pace of your faster bursts can be random and undefined. The purpose is to reintroduce faster feet and start recruiting the fast-twitch muscle fibers with bouts of faster paced running without having too much structure in your running. Avoid all out sprints, aim for fun and use what's around you (mailboxes, lamp posts). Incorporate these runs every 2-3 weeks.