Track is not every bodies cup of tea but one thing is for sure, it has certainly helped me run faster. When I look back over the last year I can see that I have shaved nearly 3 minutes off my Parkrun time, from 25:10 in February to a PB of 22:30 last week on my favourite course. One of the biggest changes to my training since Feb has been starting to run track regularly, this started with me running Yasso’s. You run 10-12 x 800m and the time it takes on the longest circuit is your approximate marathon time. So for example if your longest 800 is 3:50 you should be able to run a 3:50:00 marathon. To be honest I was probably not as dedicated as I should have been, I did not always complete a full set but I gradually got faster and, I started to see my Parkrun times tumble.
This autumn I have not been focused on anything in particular and am just having some fun running. I love running anyway but it is nice to feel I have a break without a marathon just around the corner. It’s given me a chance to try a few things out before I start my next marathon training program at the end of December. I am still out on track every Thursday, only now I am hanging off the back of a faster group. All of the training is focused around 10k times, as a club we run a lot of 10k races so it makes sense to train for them. The principle of this training seems to be that your pace can be increased entirely separately to your distance, while maintaining some endurance ability.
The 10k track sessions that we do at club each are built around running approximately 5k. This is then divided further into classic track distances, so you might run 5 x 1000 or 6 x 800, even 16 x 300. The time you should aim to run the set distance is calculated according to your speculative 10k time. For example, the session that I did last week was a set of 5 x 1000 and judging from my past performance I was looking at a 10k time of somewhere around 44 minutes. This meant that each 1000 metres was supposed to be run somewhere around 4:14 if I remember correctly. The little clutch of 3 who ran together managed a quite consistent pace with our slowest being 4:15 and the quickest being 4:11. You can find a pace calculator here. Training pace calculator
This brings me to another positive that track can bring. It can really help you get pacing under control. If I pace a session the first set is nearly always way to quick. I get a bit excited. After that everything starts to get slower until the last where it is a real struggle to keep it barely within acceptable margins. I am in the process of learning to keep things under control so that there is still enough in me to maintain a consistent pace by the time we are coming up to the final run. Of course in a race understanding your pacing is absolutely essential, an eager start can spell absolute disaster by the last mile and you can forget running clever negative splits.
The endurance aspect of this is related to the question of pacing. One of the reasons I tend to overcook it at the start of a session is that it feels too easy. Yes I am pushing myself, but not to the absolute ragged edge. After each repetition you have a 200m recovery and then you go again, this time it feels a little harder, like you are putting a bit more effort in. By the last set it often feels like you are running your poor little legs off. Even knowing how it works it still feels a little disappointing that the pace is usually quite close to that of the first set. These final few are where endurance and digging deep really kicks in. At this point stopping seems like a really good idea but, because you are a runner and almost by definition one sandwich short of a picnic, you grit your teeth, endure and complete what you set out to do.
Before I go let me give you this one piece of sage track wisdom. If anybody ever suggests a pyramid session run for the hills. These are hell. The distance you run starts small gets bigger and reduces so your session goes like this 400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1200, 800, 400, with different lengths of resting time between. The real hell making aspect is that the shorter runs are paced much faster than the long ones, so having run your little socks off to get to 1600 admittedly slightly slower with each set, you then have to start running quicker again. These are the track equivalent of hills sessions, only for the very foolish on a bloody minded quest for speed.