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Got speed? Run In Circles!

Posted Sep 30 2012 9:27am

I used to think that track workouts were so boring and I would never be able to stand to run in endless circles. However in the last few months I learned to absolutely LOVE to run around in circles, well ovals really, and even more I noticed that the track just seems to help to bring out the best in me as I am more focused on my running technique. Now for me, running on the track is absolutely my favorite thing to do, I look forward to it as it helps clear my mind and calms me down, often more than if I were out on the streets. And I feel damn good afterward! In any case, either you love it or hate it, training on the track improves your running fairly quickly if you know what you’re doing.

Jump if you like the track

Intimidated of the track?

The track can be a little intimidating the first time, I get it. However, once you know the basic rules it is supposed to be a fun supplement to your other “normal” runs.  Just bring a running stopwatch, using the start/lap/stop function will help you pace yourself on each lap. Here is what you need to know about running on a track and  some track lingo:

  • One lap is 400 meters, just about a quarter-mile.
  • The outside lane is 40 to 50 meters longer than the inside lane. That’s why some race starts are staggered.
  • Run counterclockwise. However if no one is around I would switch direction once in a while as running in the same direction over and over (especially if it is more than once a week) will “functionally” make one leg longer than the other can throw off your gait and lead to shin splints and other injuries.
  • If you are not  the fastest runner on the track don’t stay to the inside lane most of the time, and when you hear someone behind you yell “track,” you get out of the way. if you need to pass someone do the same.
  • Threshold pace —The pace you could race at for about one hour (10K to 1/2 marathon depending on your ability). Workouts using Tempo pace are to promote strength and also to increase your tolerance to lactic acid buildup in your muscles (also called Lactate Threshold or Anaerobic Threshold workouts). Let me explain. The lactate threshold is the point at which your blood-lactate level soars that happens during a workout that increases with intensity. This is the top end of your aerobic zone, the point before you go into anaerobic exercise (without oxygen). When you run anaerobically your legs can turn into jelly as lactic acid kicks into your system, and it’s hard to keep going. Threshold or tempo running will help prepare your body for running at a faster pace for longer, as well as boosting your lactate threshold. Increasing your lactate tolerance, will increase your ability to run with high levels of lactate in the blood.
  • Interval pace — The pace you race at for about 3K or 2 miles. Workouts using Interval pace are to help improve your aerobic capacity  - also called VO2MAX-  the ability for your body to take in oxygen to the bloodstream. By the end of each interval you should be breathing pretty hard, and as the workout continues you will start to breathe heavy earlier in the interval. These are usually combined with a moderately short recovery time. Your Interval paces are found in the columns of the pace chart where the heading reads “INT”. Workouts that consist of a hard effort followed by an easy effort repeated several times.  The interval, technically, is the easy portion or the time you spend recovering between speed segments. A typical interval session might be 6 x 800 with a 400 jog recovery.  What does this mean?  It means you run 800 meters (2 laps on a track) at a fast pace followed by 400 meters (1 lap on a track) at a very easy pace to recover.  Repeat this pattern 6 times.
  •  Mile repeats — The fast segments of running that are repeated during a workout, with recovery in between. It’s simply running 1 mile either all out or 10-15s faster than your race pace, followed by a couple laps of recovery, and repeat.
  • Split — The time it takes to complete any defined distance. If you’re running 800 meters, or two laps, you might check your split after the first lap to shoot for an even pace.
  • Strides — Short bursts of speed that increase heart rate and leg turnover. They get your legs ready to run hard. Strides are run near 90 percent of maximum effort for 20 seconds at a time with easy jogging in between. Strides can be incorporated into the middle of a workout or at the end. Either way, the goal is the same; to get the body moving quick,  rehearsing fast running so the muscles and nervous system adjust to it.
  • Pace Runs — These work a bit like threshold runs – they raise the point at which lactic acid builds up in the muscles.  I’ve done a lot of those training for Chicago. Basically, you practice running at goal pace when you are fatigued and your glycogen stores is dropping resulting in being able to run faster while using fat as a primary fuel source (you could run for days on fat) while preserving glycogen stores. How it works? You usually run the first part of your long run (about 2-3 Miles) at an easy pace and speed up to your goal race pace for the last section. For example – run 20 miles with 4 miles at an easy pace (warm up and cool downs) and the middle 16 miles at goal marathon pace.

Me on the track

The marathon is a demanding event that requires training on tired legs and implementing workouts that simulate the fatigue and soreness you will experience during the final stages of the race. That’s why Rick made me do lots of Pace Runs, Mile Repeats and few Yasso’s. Oh Yasso’s! I didn’t talk about those. I really didn’t do many of those, Rick had me do it at the beginning of my training to approximately calculate my Marathon Pace and then I did few of them on the last few weeks of my training and I have to say that since July my 800′s time improved. Let’s step back for a second and talk about Yasso’s.

Bart Yasso , besides being he Chief Running Officer (CRO) of  Runner’s World  , he has completed the toughest races on the planet and influenced thousands of people to improve their lives through running. He is one of the few that has run marathons on all seven continents, raced in ultra marathons around the world, completed several Ironman Triathlons and even competed in the Badwater 146 through Death Valley.  He is basically an inspiration to anyone who loves running. He is the one that introduced the Yasso 800s, a marathon-training schedule used by thousands around the world.

So let’s discuss the Yasso 800′s. The concept is very simple. Take your marathon goal time in hours/minutes and convert this to minutes/seconds. For example, if your marathon goal is 3 hours and 10 minutes then convert that to 3 minutes and 10 seconds.  Then try to run 800 meters ( 2 loops around the track) in 3 minutes and 10 seconds. Recover after each 800 by jogging for the same amount of time ( 3 minutes and 10 seconds).  Bart recommends incorporating Yasso 800s on a weekly basis in your marathon training plan – he suggests starting with 4x800m and working your way up to 10. There’s a lot of debate about whether Yasso 800′s are a true indicator of predicted marathon time as there are no scientific basis to back this up just, but it has just been described as being a great training coincidence. In any case, I think Yasso 800s are a killer workout and I enjoyed doing them and walked away with that feeling of a great workout.

My favorite is the Wellesley College Track

Yasso’s workouts for Chicago Marathon Training

July 4th — 2×800 Meters

  1. 3:15
  2. 3:15

September 20th — 4x800Meters

  1. 3.05
  2. 3:07
  3. 3:03
  4. 3:07

September 27th — 6 x 800 Meters

  1. 3:05
  2. 3:04
  3. 2:58
  4. 3:00
  5. 2:58
  6. 3:00

As I was saying I did tons of pace runs. Yesterday it was an easy 10 miler with 8 miles at Goal Marathon Pace and here is what I did:

  1. Warm up in 8:30
  2. 7:18
  3. 7:18
  4. 7:13
  5. 7:12
  6. 7:08
  7. 7:15
  8. 7:15
  9. 7:09
  10. Cool Down in 7:49

Finished up my run with 6×100 Meters Strides. Rick said that my training is exactly where it should be a week prior to the marathon and that definitely gave me some more confidence. I feel pretty good, mentally and physically ready. Besides my ankle being a little fatigued probably due to my run on the track yesterday, my legs feel solid, strong, powerful and healthy!

It’s me, my shoes and my legs on the track


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