Keeping Track

Runners often have what might be called a love-hate relationship with the track. Many of us had our first taste of running there – anyone who ran in high school certainly did their share of track intervals.

As the years have passed, I’ve continued to see the track as something of a haven – a place that feels like “home,” predictable and safe, regardless of where it is and whether it’s indoors or outside. And while doing a track workout this week, I started a mental list of why I feel that way:

  1. The track cuts no slack. It provides honest feedback. You know after a workout what your fitness level is.
  2. Such feedback is constant. Whether it’s a 400M, 200M, or 10th of a mile track, you calibrate with each lap – a good nudge if the pace is falling off!
  3. Workouts are easily scaled for speed or distance. In fact, it’s best to mix it up week-to-week or even within a workout.
  4. In that vein, it’s a natural place to change speeds, which is good for varying muscle recruitment and exerting a different type of fatigue on muscles. Running the same speed for all workouts invites overuse injuries, stressing the muscles and joints in the same way.
  5. Track intervals test us.  Unless we look forward to pain, or at least a high level discomfort, this is where the love-hate relationship is borne.  If we do six repeats, for instance, that’s six times we approach our limits.  So when we hit that place in a race, we recognize it and know we’ve pushed through it in practice — multiple times.  It’s a confidence builder!
  6. The track is a community resource. At schools, teams have scheduled workouts, but that leaves a lot of open time. Often others are working out too. Sometimes they’re acquaintances; sometimes not. Maybe a chance to meet new people for longs runs. And generally runners of all levels – a real melting pot.
  7. While groups and teams often meet at the track, even if you’re doing your own workout you don’t feel alone. When you’re putting the pedal down, it’s nice to have company!
  8. It’s a great place to warm-up, cool down, and do running drills. In part because storing stuff is no problem — you can bring several pairs of shoes, your phone, keys, jacket, etc. but not be burdened when you run.
  9. On some winter days, before streets and paths are cleared, it is the only option aside from the treadmill.

The track is not an end-all. Doing every workout on it is self-defeating. It’s important to incorporate hills and vary the terrain during a week. I find once or twice a week a good balance. True, some days it feels like a real challenge to hit planned splits. We may leave a bit discouraged. But there will always be another day to come “home,” to that familiar and welcoming place!

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