Training with or without a track

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FromHereOnOut
FromHereOnOut Posts: 3,237 Member
i want to start this dicussion from another thread where there was mention of track workouts helping with long distance pace improvement.

First, I'd be interested in how others have used track workouts to help improve pace, especially if you gave a personal story of improvement and what you did. This would be much appreciated!

And second, there was mention that tracks are not necessary, just a known distance. I'd like some advice on this.

My situation is that I'm base building now, but will eventually want to add one faster run per week and some occasional strides, keeping the rest of my runs aerobic or recovery. The faster run I can do anywhere, it'd just be a faster version of my normal runs.

My question then comes to strides. It was mentioned in the other thread that you don't need a track for speed work, just known distances. Here's my question. Does it matter if there are hills and obstacles? If hills are okay, then I'll find a place eventually. (There's a park that's not quite rectangular, 840m around, including two hills). If hills are not okay, then I'd probably only find a place with obstacles or at the very least, curbs to jump. There just aren't long, flat straightaways where I live.

I live in a dense city, with lots of traffic and lots of obstacle-laden sidewalks (parking in the sidewalk is the norm here, plus trees, bus stops, trash bins, crushed sidewalks, curbs etc). It's also very very hilly. I can think of no place that is not with some sort of incline/decline and often somewhat steep. There are also no free tracks. You must pay a monthly membership to have access to a track. So if I start to use a track, I'll want to have a plan in place.

Thank you so much!

Replies

  • vcphil
    vcphil Posts: 79 Member
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    I started doing "workouts" (tempos, speedwork, hills, etc) after running for a few years. I took my 5k time from ~25 min to 22:30 in 4 months by simply "adding track workouts".. But then I peaked. I stopped improving. I was running the same mileage a week & doing track workouts all the time for months with no improvement.

    I stopped doing workouts & upped my mileage to 50ish. At that point, after cutting out "workouts" for 4 months, I ran a 20:59 5k.

    Without much improvement, I then started adding "track" workouts to my weekly routine at 50-60mpw and ran a 19:56.. Then eventually a 18:56..

    It's the combination of mileage & workouts that have collectively got me to my current fitness level.


    No. Hills don't "matter". Just be careful and adjust your pace. Personally, I do them all on a treadmill. It's all I have access to besides the roads which are completely covered in ice/snow for 5 months out of the year!
  • SonicDeathMonkey80
    SonicDeathMonkey80 Posts: 4,489 Member
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    Strong and enduring leg muscles are worthless without the aerobic conditioning to back them up. For a while last year, my legs were incredibly tired on short distance races, but my heart rate never redlined. Once I started hitting the track (or doing tread intervals when not accessible), the distances got easier and I can get more value for my race, so to speak. I'm not training for a 5k, but I ran one for the hell of it on Valentine's day and easily PR'd, despite *kitten* conditions. Do smart and targeted intervals for the race you're aiming for, but don't neglect the easy miles. They should be 80-90% of your workload.
  • GiddyupTim
    GiddyupTim Posts: 2,819 Member
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    I've always thought sprinting hills was better than sprinting on the flats.
  • arussell134
    arussell134 Posts: 463 Member
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    I'm kind of newer to track/speed workouts with any sort of consistency. Before, I just had my one pace that I would go out and do all my workouts at.

    Since doing some speed work, I've certainly seen an improvement in my time. I would also add, there is a HUGE mental boost to those speed workouts too. I love the way I feel when I run fast - it's exhilarating!

    I run on a track-ish sort of circular trail behind my gym. It's not an exact distance and it even has a couple slopes to it. Sometimes I'll even do my speed workouts in the blocks right in front of my house. Doesn't really matter. I just use my Garmin watch to track time/pace/distance. Do you have one of these? If not, it's really a MUST. I have no idea what I thought I was doing before mine! :) It's the clearest way to see what kind of times you're running and create benchmarks for improvement.

    Also, I only do one track workout per week. I'm still working on building mileage. I do a long run of about 6-9 miles at a slow pace each weekend plus 1-2 other easy runs, some cross training and a tempo run. I've learned it's OK to pull out different speeds for different workouts.

    Good luck, and don't get hung up on having a track or no track. Any stretch of road/trail/etc will do. You could even do some interval work on a treadmill too.
  • arussell134
    arussell134 Posts: 463 Member
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    tufel wrote: »
    I've always thought sprinting hills was better than sprinting on the flats.

    I like doing both.

  • FromHereOnOut
    FromHereOnOut Posts: 3,237 Member
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    Thanks for all the ideas. I have a feeling I'll be piecing things together for awhile and if I find a good place for speed work, great. But if I don't, I might join the track in September, when my youngest starts school and I have more time flexibility. I know a track isn't necessary for some people, but in the city, I think it's a must (plus, I don't do treadmills). Considering it costs, I'll definitely want to make the absolute best of it.

    More ideas still welcome. The base building I'm doing right now is crucial and I've got pretty good weekly miles, but until my little girl starts school, I don't always have consistency (I may run 40+ miles this week, but come March when my husband travels I'll be shackled to kids and will be lucky even to get a run or two if someone volunteers to take the kids a few hours). Luckily I'm not training for a race, but I have a fantasy of running The Marathon someday, maybe next year.
  • SonicDeathMonkey80
    SonicDeathMonkey80 Posts: 4,489 Member
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    tufel wrote: »
    I've always thought sprinting hills was better than sprinting on the flats.

    I like doing both.

    Depending on how we define "sprint," I'd rather do both than overcook a downhill. The latter never ends well, unless there's a finish line on the descent.
  • CarsonRuns
    CarsonRuns Posts: 3,039 Member
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    tufel wrote: »
    I've always thought sprinting hills was better than sprinting on the flats.

    These are two completely different workouts with different purposes.

    Hill repeats are to build strength in the legs to better withstand speed work down the road.

    Strides (not really sprints) are designed to develop proper form, prepare the legs for running fast and fast turnover and to recruit fast twitch fibers to help out when the slow twitch fibers become fatigued.
  • CarsonRuns
    CarsonRuns Posts: 3,039 Member
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    OP, let's break speed work into three categories for the sake of this discussion.

    Fast Running (strides)
    Short Race Pace (mile to 10K)
    Long Race Pace (over 10K, includes LT pace)

    For the first category, you really only need a spot about 120 meters long that flat and level. A grassy area is better than a hard surface. Usually for strides, you'll go from 50 to 100 meters or 15 to 30 seconds. Then you'll easy jog it back to the start and repeat. If not a flat spot, slightly downhill is best. This is the only category where you really want a straight stretch.

    For the second category, a track is the best. If not a track, then a relatively flat area. Doesn't have to be straight, but I would avoid having to make any sharp turns. Laps around a soccer field are good, or walking paths through parks with mile markers. If you don't know the distance, you can go by time, which is defined as a fartlek. It's important to know 2 of the three elements, time, pace or distance. With 2, you can figure out the third. So, get a GPS watch if you don't already have one. For this workout you might do 4x400 meters at 5K pace if you were at the track or 4x3:00 at 5K pace if you don't know the distances. You would take 1:30 to 2:00 easy jog recovery. All workouts in this category would be some combination of a specific pace for either a time period or a specific distance. This is speed work.

    The third category is where you will find your tempo runs. Terrain is less important here as you need to learn to run by feel. A tempo at LT (Lactate Threshold) should feel "comfortably hard". If you have hills on a tempo run, you just have to adjust your pace to keep the effort consistent throughout.

    Of these three categories, I believe that the first and the third should be a part of base building. Strides once a week and 20 to 30 minutes at LT pace once per week. The second category is for fine tuning of race pace and shouldn't be done until you have a developed aerobic base and should last for a period of more than about 6 weeks. After 6 weeks, it starts to lose it's effectiveness, much like @vcphil stated up thread.
  • FromHereOnOut
    FromHereOnOut Posts: 3,237 Member
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    @CarsonRuns‌ thanks for the breakdown. That helps immensely. (*) First, yes, I have a watch. Just got it and it has changed everything vs using my HRM with Vivofit with custom stride length (ha!). I have a Fenix 2 and am in love with it so far <3 .

    Pretty much, I was thinking of #1 above for the track (FYI, the pay track is actually an athletic center, one of the best in Athens, so grass, track, all that would be doable there). Re: #3, was just going to use my normal city routes. That's basically how I ran all the time, before I started studying up. ;-) So, as far as adjusting for hills, etc, I think I know what to do. #2, I suppose the track, if I join, since you say flat, and the half mile park path is not flat (it has two hills, actually it goes up one side and down the other) but okay re: turns (wide path gives room for the corners).

    Now, as to when to start. I was thinking I need to get started on some strides and tempos, after I finish the aerobic program I've started in Jan. I wanted to do 12 weeks in aerobic zone (started with Maffetone calculation and timeframe, but have had to adjust...plus I obviously haven't been able to do the monthly tests because no track or good spot to do it). I'm right now trying to confirm my aerobic zone as recalculated with RHR and maxHR (according to Garmin). I felt I had room to go much higher than the 138 the Maffetone calc gave me. I "ran" (ha, ""ran"") that for awhile (January and start of February) and it helped hugely to condition my feet and tendons etc (I just started back Jan after 3 mo break to let Achilles/calf heal after a year+ of I'll-fitting shoes, d'oh!). But it was way slow and I felt like it was less than easy--downright sleepy. Now I'm looking to really find my max aerobic. Using other calcs, I've gone up and towards the end of recent runs, when I'm on uphill, I'm letting it drift higher according to perceived exertion (pulling back when I feel it). I'm running in the afternoon 3:00ish fully fasted since ~midnight the night before and so far have not dropped energy or needed to refuel on a two hour+ run, so even at the higher HRs I think I'm keeping to aerobic/fat burning (not even tired or hungry when I get home either, love it!) So I think I've just about pegged my range, which will make the last half of my 12wk HR training much more efficient (except for the two week break while my husband travels :\ ). After that, I'll piece something together for strides. Heck, it's only once a week. Some days the coastal path is good for it, other days, too many dogs, bikes, etc. there's also a few big Parking lots to try. But I'll only be patching it together til June, when I'll probably spend a couple months in the USA (yay for free tracks!), island vacation in August, and then hopefully join the local track if I haven't found a solution, in September.

    Sorry for the novella, but it helps to lay it all out and I'd welcome your reactions.

    Thanks!
  • _Waffle_
    _Waffle_ Posts: 13,049 Member
    edited February 2015
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    CarsonRuns wrote: »
    So, get a GPS watch if you don't already have one. For this workout you might do 4x400 meters at 5K pace if you were at the track or 4x3:00 at 5K pace if you don't know the distances. You would take 1:30 to 2:00 easy jog recovery. All workouts in this category would be some combination of a specific pace for either a time period or a specific distance. This is speed work.

    I used to try and do this by feel but I bought a Garmin Forerunner last June and it's so magical for speed work. Plan your workout and upload it to your watch. (You can make them on the watch but that's annoying) Select your workout and the watch tells you everything. When the next interval is, if you're too fast or too slow, when to stop.

    MEa9plY.jpg

    It's sort of nice to not have to keep count of which interval you're on in your head and just focus on the one you're doing at the moment. I highly second this advice. Get a GPS watch when you can. You'll love it.

    ETA: I generally do these on a 1.1 mile dirt loop at a park however if it's strides at the end of an easy run it could happen anywhere. The watch keeps track of time, distance and pace so you don't need mile markers or anything other than a view of the sky for a GPS signal.
  • _Waffle_
    _Waffle_ Posts: 13,049 Member
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    To the OP's question about intervals working, I think they've helped me a lot. I didn't do these at all before my December marathon. I was just doing tons and tons of easy miles. I was more worried about my achilles being healthy.

    I've been adding in some interval work since mid January and some target pace runs. Last week I had one that was 5 miles @ 8:40 (HM pace) and instead of it being work it felt pretty darn easy. After about 3 miles I was thinking "This isn't even that hard. I could do this all day."

    That's a huge improvement over where I was a few months ago. Of course there are a lot of easy miles in there too but I'm confident that the intervals and targeted pace runs are helping out a great deal. I can do a 9:30 - 9:40 pace and not even feel like I'm breathing much different than just walking. Last year at this time (after taking 6 months off for an achilles issue) I got a little bit winded running 3 miles @ 10:00 pace.

    Second marathon coming up in April. Goal time is 4:15 with zero walking granted that it isn't 90 degrees that morning. You never know around here. Anyway running faster than race pace some days makes race pace feel like you're being lazy. If I stop being a piggy and drop 15 pounds like I should I'm really confident I can get a 4:00 time this next winter.
  • FromHereOnOut
    FromHereOnOut Posts: 3,237 Member
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    @_Waffle_‌ thank you so much for your story and advice. I will definitely create interval workouts for the Garmin when I start those, because I'm terrible at keeping count of laps. great tip! You are exactly where I aspire to be: not knocking myself out at what would be an eventual race pace for me. I have never learned pacing, so that will come after this initial aerobic work. I look forward to those improvements. (And I'm in the same place of needing to drop some weight. Hoping some of these long easy runs might help with that.)

    Thanks!
  • arussell134
    arussell134 Posts: 463 Member
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    tufel wrote: »
    I've always thought sprinting hills was better than sprinting on the flats.

    I like doing both.

    Depending on how we define "sprint," I'd rather do both than overcook a downhill. The latter never ends well, unless there's a finish line on the descent.

    I meant kind of what Carson is referring to - two separate workouts. hill repeats OR sprints.
  • MountainMaggie
    MountainMaggie Posts: 104 Member
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    I hate running in circles.
    I also hate plans.
    These two things are true for me in both life and in running. I don't run very fast. But my life is awesome. And I love to run.
    I aim to to run far. I aim to run till everyone else stops and I'm alone. And then keep going.
    I don't know why I commented. I am no help.
    Good luck.
  • FromHereOnOut
    FromHereOnOut Posts: 3,237 Member
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    I hate running in circles.
    I also hate plans.
    These two things are true for me in both life and in running. I don't run very fast. But my life is awesome. And I love to run.
    I aim to to run far. I aim to run till everyone else stops and I'm alone. And then keep going.
    I don't know why I commented. I am no help.
    Good luck.
    ^This is sorta where I've been for two years, then I thought that with all the running, I should just run a marathon someday (especially since I live in Athens-for now-which means I could run the original Marathon, which I think would be a pretty cool accomplishment). But then I misread the Marathon info and thought it said you have 5 and a half hours til it closes, and I thought, "I gotta build some speed and endurance because God forbid I had to walk any, I'd not finish!!" Well, just yesterday I reread and realized it said 5:30(so 17:30) which is 8 hours. So actually, I could maybe even sign up for this year (before, I was thinking next year, in order to train enough). Kinda scary to think about though. Idk. Registration starts next month, the race is in November (the day after my lil girls birthday, which also crimps the idea). Idk. Hmmmmm. Idk. :\
  • aldousmom
    aldousmom Posts: 382 Member
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    Lots of great answers, already. I set my Garmin watch to mark the distance within which I'd like to do speedwork.400m, 800m, etc.and just run whereever I want. Additionally, I've found short, steep hill sprints to be super beneficial to improving aerobic capacity.