Running tracks. They’re the reserve of speedsters and the spike-wearing brigade, right? Wrong. Alongside the lycra-clad elites are plenty of normal runners a lot like you.

Hitting the track is great for boosting top-end speed, developing your lactate threshold, improving your form and technique, and providing a mix and motivation for your training – and that really does help you run faster.

A track is a fixed distance (400m) meaning it’s perfect for understanding pace and effort. It’s a very controlled environment, meaning you can structure a specific workout and be able to get feedback on distance and time and see progression as a result of training.

Tracks are made for speed, and faster running is good for you. It keeps your motor neuron pathways sending speedy signals to fast-twitch muscle fibres, keeps your joints, tendons and ligaments more reactive and responsive, and helps with running posture and form. Even a self-proclaimed ‘one-paced road plodder’ would benefit from faster running – and the track is the ideal place to give it a whirl.

BOXOUT – Know the track basics

  • A standard running track is 400m long if you run in the inside lane.
  • Run anti-clockwise around the track.
  • A running track has 8 (or sometimes 10) lanes. Lane 1 is the ‘inside’ lane, lane 8 the ‘outside’ lane.
  • A track has 2 bends and 2 straights – a ‘back’ straight and a ‘home’ straight.
  • Take care – don’t walk across the ‘infield’. That’s where they throw pointy things!
  • Keep the inside lanes clear when not running.
  • Be iPod-free. Be aware of what’s going on around you, especially if the track is busy.
  • Stick to your lane. Don’t swerve across lanes. Remember, the inside lane is 400m long so ‘hug the curve’ where possible.

What to wear
When you first set foot on a track it can seem like a hard surface. Take your time with any footwear and surface progressions. Just because your stepping on the track, it doesn’t mean you should step out of your normal trainers. A radical move from your normal running trainer to a super light track spike isn’t advisable and could result in injury or at least very tight calves. Try running on the track in your trainers first, then progress to a lighter training shoe, then a racing flat and, if you really get into it, a track spike.

Track technique
You don’t need to run differently or change your running style when running on the track. It is a great opportunity to think about your posture and form and be a ‘tidy’ runner with balance, poise and control.

  • Keep your hips high. Run tall. Imagine you are reaching upwards to place your head in an imaginary baseball cap just above you.
  • Run confidently. Eyes at horizon level, head high (not chin up), arms swinging laterally by your sides, increase your leg cadence and your stride rate and look and feel great.
  • Relax – don’t strain! You don’t need to screw your face up in a sinewy smile to run fast. Instead keep your head, neck and shoulders still, relaxed and in control. Relax from the eyebrows down.

Four key sessions for track newbies
Always warm up thoroughly for a track session. Take the time to adequately prepare your body and mind to help minimize the risk of injury. Do this by warming up your heart and lungs through continuous steady running for 10 to 15 minutes followed by some mobility and dynamic stretching exercises and some specific drills.

  1. 400s: 6x400m (with 50% timed recovery). Run 400m (1 lap) in the inside lane at 80%+ effort level. Your pace should be fast but controlled. Take 50% of the time it took you to run the 400m as rest (eg. a 2min 400m = a 1min rest period) and repeat a total of 6 times.
  2. Pyramid: 800m – 600m – 400m x 2. Run 800m, with 200m walk recovery. Run 600m, with 200m walk recovery. Run a flat-out single lap 400m, walk one lap as recovery. Repeat.
  3. Speed 200s: 5x200m with a lap walk recovery. Run 200m flat out. Walk a lap slowly to recover and repeat 5x total. A real speed session.
  4. Pace change 600s: 200m at 75% effort – 200m at 85% effort – 200m at 95% effort. Progressively build the intensity of the run throughout the 600m. Take 400m walk / recovery and repeat x4.