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Planning Your Track Sessions
Posted date: 20-Nov-2015

How do you get the best out of a short, track-based workout?

 

 

 

WHY DO TRACK?

 

*Love it or hate it. Speed sessions make up one of the key workouts any serious runner should consider, if not for a faster timing, at least for a less painful racing experience.

 

When one thinks of track workouts, an image of the sleeveless vested & short shorts wearing lean runner wielding spiked shoes tearing across the red rubberized track may come to mind. And you might even be tempted to ask if you should ever run the track, being a long distance runner, the scenic routes overlooking the lush Macritchie reservoir should be your realm, where fast paced workouts can even be done on rolling, hilly Tarmac roads to simulate racing conditions.

 
In a country where stadiums and public 400 meters tracks abound, the average athlete living in Singapore can be considered more fortunate than most. One could regularly measure their 400metre or 1,600m timings in a given set of a workout so that. 1. A race pace prediction can be calculated, and more importantly 2. Specified workouts can be done for specified race distances. And of course, the greatest advantage of all is that your water bottle and the washroom for the emergencies is all within reach, not to mention not having to hail for a cab should one give up a workout from exhaustion.

 
This is not to say that track workouts are an all or nothing necessity. There have been instances where fast distance runners emerged without doing a single track workout. And in countries such as Malaysia, on the other hand, where the nearest public track could be a mere 30-50km away, one may be more inclined to improvise speed sessions off track.

 

 OKAY. SO HOW FAR SHOULD I RUN ON A TRACK. HOW MANY IS ENOUGH?

 

 Assuming most of us run 10km or more, a suitable distance would be to start from repeats 600m onwards. Why 600m? Because less than 600m will not exercise the energy systems you need for 5 – 10KM or more.

 

Track workouts are considered ‘hard exertion’ sessions, and just like weight lifting/strength training at the gym, one should err on the side of caution and take about 48 hours or more for rest between hard workouts. This usually translates to about 2 track sessions per week. Any more and it might be counter-productive as one would also need to slot in days for long runs and other running specific workouts (I.e. Fartlek, hills, etc). How does one determine how long a rest to take between hard workouts? To prevent injury, it is generally advised that a hard day should be followed by 2 easy days.

 
Michele’s personal note: I, for one, would rather have 2 easy days before a hard workout again as I would rather begin a hard workout feeling fresh & knowing I can complete a given set of workout because of adequate rest.

 

HOW FAST SHOULD I RUN ON A TRACK?

 

Distance runners should not be compared to sprinters. That means not doing a set of workouts (whatever the distance) at 100%. This is because your body needs to learn how to sustain a fast, hard pace for longer periods of time. Normally how fast one should run a speed session on a track is just hovering around (either above or below) your race pace. If you could put a percentage to your effort (a heart rate monitor in this instance may be helpful to help gauge), how hard you should run a track workout could equate to about 65-80%.

 

IF YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOUR RACE PACE IS.

 

For example, if I am doing a 4 x 600m, I may run the 1st 600m at a striding pace, just to have a feel for the speed, track, and body, without regard for timing. It does not matter if you run a little slower than you think you could manage, what is more important is that you do not extend the rest period. It’s no good if you cannot go again for the next repetition after 60 – 90 seconds of rest.

 
Another point of a good speed session is that – you have set out & completed the workout (let’s refer to our example of 4 x 600m above again) & you have completed all 4 repeats and feeling like you could perhaps do another 1 more or 2 more of 600m, instead of (and I have witnessed this many times) gasping for breath, bending at the knee, collapsed all over the floor (or the grassy fields by the track).

 

ALRIGHT, NOW I KNOW HOW HARD I SHOULD RUN A TRACK WORKOUT, HOW LONG SHOULD MY REST PERIODS BE?

 

ANSWER: 30 SECONDS TO 90 SECONDS.
The whole point of keeping rest periods to as short as possible is because:

 

1. One does not usually have the luxury of rest periods during the race, and of course,

2. It’s all about training the body to subsist longer periods of fast paced running with little to no rest. Whether rest periods are 30, 60 or 90 seconds depends on the type of workouts you are doing.

 

Most runners keep their rest periods to 60 seconds or below for repetitions of 600m and below. You can give yourself a 90 seconds rest if you’re running 800m or longer.

 

HOW SHOULD I CONDUCT MY (EXTREMELY) SHORT REST PERIODS?


You may have noticed some runners rest by 100m finishing line standing around (this is where you may also notice some of them gasping for air). Try to avoid doing this. A good rest period is what a lot of elite runners like to call as active rest, this means instead of standing around at a fixed spot/walking around – the moment you cross the finishing line to complete your e.g. 600m, immediately go for a little jog (also known as, ‘active recovery’) until you are set to repeat 600m. The whole point of this is, again, because you want to train your body to constantly be on the move even though you are exhausted. A lot of learned coaches and experienced runners swear that being active on the resting phase of a track workout (that is, jogging about, as opposed to standing or walking) is more important than the effort itself.

 

Michele’s experience: As a newbie to the running world, when I used to train with the Kenyans residing in Asia, I was pushed by them to immediately jog before the next repetition. Thereafter I noticed this is how most elite runners the world over train like. It is good practice.

 

ALL YOUR POINTS SOUND NOBLE AND TRUE, BUT WHAT YOU ARE SAYING SOUNDS MIGHTY COMPLICATED. IT SOUNDS LIKE I NEED A COACH TO TIME MY REPEATS & REST TIMES.

 

Don’t fret. All of these can be accurately measured with a simple wrist stop watch with at least 30 lap memory. If you are considering getting one, one important point to note is that it must show individual lap times. As you start a 600m, start the stop watch, and as you finish your first 600m and immediately go into rest period, you press the lap button again in order to begin timing your rest period, and as 60 seconds slowly run out, you should be at the start line for your next 600m, and this is where you press the lap button to begin timing your 600m again.

 

CAN YOU GIVE ME AN EXAMPLE OF A GOOD TRACK WORKOUT?

 

TRACK WORKOUTS

 

All track workouts should start with a dynamic warm-up. Run a couple of fairly brisk laps and stop every 100m or so to do some dynamic stretches. Finish with three fast ‘run-through’s of 20-30m or so.

 

A typical track session to prepare you for the 5k distance:

 

8 x 600m (60secs active recovery)
  • In this session you will have run 4.8km of effort. (Close to 5k)
  • Decide on the pace by using your best recent race time for 5k. Work out what that is per lap for a 5k track race. Divide the time in seconds by 12.5 (the number of laps in a 5k track race). The take that lap time and run your efforts 1-2 secs quicker. Not any faster.
  • Start the efforts at the 200m mark on the track. You will run 1.5 laps for 600m and end at the usual finish line. Then walk/jog 200m (active recovery) to the 200m mark and go again. If you need to you can do four repeats and then take a few minutes rest (not more than 4 mins) and then do the final four efforts.

Don’t extend the recovery 60 seconds. If you aren’t ready to go again after 60 secs you are running the efforts too fast. So slow them down and stay with the 60 secs active recovery.

 

A typical session to prepare you for the 10k distance:

 

8 x 1000m (90 secs active recovery)
  • Calculate the pace as you did for the 5k session. Take your 10k best recent time and divide by 25 (the number of laps in a 10k track race). Run your 1000m efforts 1-2 secs/lap faster.
  • Here it may help for track beginners to break the session up into 2 x 1000m at a time with a slightly longer recovery after two repeats (3 mins).

As with the 8 x 600m start at the 200m mark on the track and this time you run 2.5 laps ending at the finish line. Then walk jog 200m (active recovery) to the 200m mark and ready to go again. As before keep the recovery period down to 90 secs and reduce the speed of your efforts if you find this difficult.

 

Finally: as a refreshing change you can occasionally do a Pyramid session. These are appropriate for both 5k and 10k.

 

It looks like this:

 

1200m (200m jog) 1000m (200m jog) 800m (200m jog) 600m (200m jog) 400m (200m jog) 200m (as fast as you can!) This comes to 4.2k total effort. This would do fine for 5k preparation. 10k racers can do this and then take 10 mins rest and do it all again! (8.4k)

 

An easy cool down jog on the grass infield for 5-10 mins finishes off the session. Do your long slow static stretches for flexibility at home.

 

THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR

 

Within a week into the race, one could totally opt out of track workouts altogether, or do what some would call a ‘recovery track workout’, that is,
On a typical 400m track, stride on the bend on the straights, and jog on the bends (and outer lane, keeping to good track etiquette). This is especially good to do pre-race, post-race, or making a come-back from an injury – when all you want to do is just loosen up and play with speed paces, but not to work up or tire the body too much.

 

 

 

Text: Michele Tan

 

This interview was originally published in RUN Singapore. Besides the print edition published bimonthly, selected stories can also be found online at www.runmagazine.asia.