We're hopefully in the last few weeks of winter and many of the earliest spring races are just a little over a month away. With that in mind, if you've been slugging away through the winter months on the treadmill, or are looking to sharpen your running skills and start picking up some speed, getting on the track might be just what you're looking for.
I personally have a love/hate relationship with track workouts. On the one hand they're mentally and physically demanding and uncomfortable. On the other hand, if you want to become a faster runner, then run fast, and one of the best ways to do that is on the track. The balance between speed and the physical and mental stress of running track leads to one of it's greatest benefits; track work really provides you with a sense of how your body feels at different stress levels, providing you with valuable experience for your next race.
Over the past two years I've really noticed that track work has improved my running economy and helped me move towards a more mid foot strike. On my longer runs this has translated into quicker leg turnover and greater physiological efficiency. In terms of the aerobic benefits intervals and track offer, work done at or slightly above your functional threshold heart rate pays dividends. Track work and intervals allow improved running economy which translates into decreased oxygen extraction at sub maximal pace, increased maximal oxygen consumption at maximal pace, and improved lactate tolerance, which delays fatigue.
So what do you need to know to hit the track? I've personally found the research and insight provided by Greg McMillan to be a great resource. Probably one of the best kept secrets on the internet for runners is the McMillan Run Calculator. This tool, which is also available in an excel spreadsheet if you're a real run geek, is an exceptional predictor or run performance. Input your best or most recent race result, and it provides some pretty decent numbers around what your performance should be for different race distances, as well as what you should be targeting for training and track paces.
As always, ask your coach for their thoughts on getting on the track, but if you're keen to get going, here are a couple other resources with some good track workouts;
McMillan Run Calculator
Runner's World - Get on Track
Running Times - The Best 10k Workout
No Meat Athlete - Three Track Workouts Guaranteed to Kick your Ass
Running Planet- Marathon Interval Training
Now, who wants to hit the track for some lung busting 800's?