Every runner I meet wants to get faster. There are numerous ways to address your need for speed. But, spending some quality time at the track is one of the best ways to find that extra gear or two.
But, the track is daunting. The ominous oval promises discomfort, hard work, sweat, and fatigue. It’s understandable why you might be nervous about lining up in one of the lanes. Tackling intervals on the track is a far cry from logging an easy, comfortable cruise through the park.
With this in mind, you have to approach a session at the track differently. Getting your head ready for what lies ahead is key. Getting your body ready to go is critical as well. Lastly, you’ve got to execute it properly.
If your head is dialed in, your body is ready to go, and you execute properly, it’s possible to crush your track workout.
Check your head
Some runners are defeated before they even step onto the track. The voices of doubt creep in. These voices say insidious things like, ‘This is too tough. I can’t do it. I’m not fast.’.
It’s important to nip these voices in the bud. Don’t allow them to creep in. Don’t let your head derail you.
I’ve logged countless intervals over the years, but I still struggle with these voices of self-doubt. Fortunately, I’ve managed to develop a few techniques to silence them. All these techniques are designed to quiet the voices and get my head in the right space.
I carve out a few minutes, close my eyes, and visualize myself at the track. I see myself running confidently, economically, and consistently. This visualization exercise also includes seeing myself persevering despite fatigue.
As I make my way towards the track, I’ll do a little self-talk. A few self-affirmations can go a long way towards getting my head in the right place. I have a few simple phrases I fall back on, ‘You’ve been here before. You’ve done this before. You know how to pull this off.’
If you’ve never been to the track before, these phrases might not strike a chord. So, your self-affirmations might look a bit different. Reflect on tough, challenging circumstances you’ve dealt with and overcome in your past.
These could be running or non-running related. Surely, there’s something in your past that’s been tougher than a track workout. Leverage whatever you have to remind yourself of what you’re capable of doing.
The general rule of thumb around warming up is the shorter the distance you’re covering, the lengthier the warm up. With my runners, the warm up for a quality track session can easily be 15-20 minutes. There are a few components to a quality warmup.
I usually recommend at least 5-10 easy minutes of running to get started. Doing a solid warm up run can help activate the muscles you need to perform on the track. This can also reduce the chances of injury and improve performance.
I also encourage my runners to execute a variety of different dynamic range of motion drills. These drills include leg swings, walking lunges, heel raises, bounding, buttkicks, and myriad others. The combination of easy running and dynamic range of motion drills will help increase range of motion and prime your body for running.
Ideally, by the end of your warmup, you will have broken a bit of a sweat, your heart rate will be somewhat elevated, and you’re feeling ready to run (fast).
With my runners, we usually have a target pace range for whatever intervals are on the schedule. The overall goal is consistency in pacing. Each runner has a target pace range they’re following.
A runner might be doing 400-meter repeats at 2:00-2:05. Ideally, this runner is keeping all of their 400-meter intervals within this five second range. But, I always encourage starting at the slower end of the target pace range.
This approach generally mirrors what I recommend on race day. Whatever your target pace might be, going out just a few slower at the beginning gives you an opportunity to feel things out, suss out how you’re feeling, and make adjustments if necessary.
Starting at the slower end of your target pace range makes it easier to stay consistent. This more conservative approach also makes it easier to execute negative splits, if desired. If you’re not familiar with negative splits, the general idea is to run progressively faster (negatively splitting) as the run (or race) progresses.
Whether your goal is consistent pacing or negative splitting, starting on the slower end of your target pace range is a better approach than going out too fast and seeing your pace gradually degrade as the run or race progresses.
Stay focused on what’s in front of you
Just as a monstrous long run can be intimidating, a lengthy session of intervals can give any runner pause. It’s daunting to stare down multiple repeats of 400 meters or 800 meters to be done at something close to a sprint. So, employ an approach that’s also effective for dealing with tough long runs.
Don’t think about the entirety of what’s in front of you. Simply focus on the interval that’s directly in front of you. Focus on the now.
As the laps start to accumulate, your legs might start to get heavy. Fatigue might become more pronounced. You might need to make things even smaller.
Don’t focus on 400 meters (or 800 meters). Simply focus on the 100 meters straight in front of you. Then, focus on the 100-meter curve.
The same approach you use to break down a brutal long run or a marathon can just as easily be employed on the track. Make things small. Break down this daunting project into small, bite-sized chunks.
Save the best for last
My coach in high school was a bit cruel and sadistic at times. I say this (somewhat) in jest. But, he implored us to finish hard. He pleaded with us to find a way to sprint at the end of every run.
By doing this, the idea was that we’d simply become programmed to run this way. Whether we were tired, fatigued, or exhausted at the end of a race, we’d run fast at the end because that is simply what we were trained to do.
If you start your track workout a bit conservatively, you should have just a little something left for that last interval. Whatever you have, whatever you’ve been saving, spend it on the final interval. While doing this is admittedly very tough, it’s a great way to develop mental toughness and fatigue resistance.
On race day, the ability to run hard at the end may be the difference between capturing a personal best and falling just shy. Crushing your track workout is no easy feat. But, give a few of the strategies above a shot and you might find yourself crushing intervals on a regular basis.
Want to hear more from Marathon Matt? Find out more about his coaching and running experience at www.marathonmatt.com!