Get Ready to Race: Favorite Track Workouts

Triathletes running on a dirt road
January 30, 2017

Jim Hallberg


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I ran track in both high school and college and gained an early respect for the improvement an athlete can make with consistent speed work. Over the years, I have adopted, modified, and created some of my own track workouts to help keep the intervals exciting and fun. Some of these workouts can be done year-round, while others will require a bit of endurance and some already established speed.

Your first interval is NEVER your fastest interval. It takes 3-4 reps or nearly 1 mile of speed work to get warmed up and into optimal sustainable workout pace and intensity. If you go and kill it on the first and 2nd interval, you’ll be very likely to be done (unable to improve) well before the workout is over, thus not getting the true value of speed work.

It’s not always the speed; sometimes, it's the repeatability of the interval. Let's say you can run 1:45 per quarter mile. One of those, sure, no problem. Twenty of those with a minute rest between is an entirely different type of workout!

Recovery. Lots of people discuss or suggest less and less recovery. This is okay to a point, but it is important that you take into consideration both the length of the interval and the altitude at which you’re training. If, for example, you are doing 1-mile intervals at sea level, you might be able to get away with a 3-minute recovery. The same workout at 5000+ ft elevation may feel very different, and you’ll need a longer recovery between intervals.

All workouts start with a 15-20 minute slow, easy jog followed by drills such as high knee march, high knee skips, toe-touch skips, butt kicks, single leg quick drill, and butt kicks into stride and maybe a few extra strides for good measure.

**100m accelerations and 100m jog.** This is fairly straightforward. You jog the curve of the tracks and then accelerate to a fast pace on the straightaways (slightly faster than your Best mile time). Repeat this for anywhere from 1 – 3 miles. You may take a short 1-minute break in between miles. But I must say this simple 100-meter acceleration on and off gets challenging. Rumor has it that Lasse Viren would do 100x100’s in preparation for his 10,000. He would be able to respond to any acceleration that was thrown at him during any race. I suppose that’s why he won the double in the 5,000m and 10,000m twice in 2 Olympic games, setting a world record even after getting tripped and falling to the infield.

**The second workout I like** is a modification of the first one but slightly harder. Once warmed up, it starts with a set that looks like this: 200-meter jog, 300-meter fast, 300-meter jog, 200-meter fast. This is 1 set which is repeated without stopping, ideally building up to 5 sets. What makes this workout even tougher is trying to eventually make the jog more of a tempo pace and the ‘fast’ above race pace, near your fastest 1-mile time. This workout is a credit to my college running days when I thought I would be able to hang with a guy who was training for 5,000m while I was running the 1500. I hung but it was etched in my brain as how hard that hurt and yet how rewarding it was that I did this workout.

**This next workout**, my absolute favorite, will teach you patience and how to negative split your workout. Ideally, this workout should be implemented only after establishing a good base of speed work over time. 400-meter repeats (1 x around the track). Start with 6 laps and maybe a few weeks later work up to doing 8. Your first interval starts and stays in lane 2. Once you finish this first interval, that time is the standard for the next interval. For example, let's say you ran 1:40 in lane 2. Now do an easy jog of about 150-200m and back to the start but now move to (and stay in) lane 3. You must match or beat 1:40 but now in lane 3 all the way around, starting at the start line (not the 400-meter start arrow/line for that lane). This is roughly 7 meters more. Go! Okay, let's say you just did a 1:36. That's your new standard to meet or beat in lane 4. Repeat moving out to lanes 5-6 and eventually lanes 7-8. By the time you hit lane 8 that’s about 56 meters further than lane 1! Now, for your last interval for the session, you hop back into lane 1 but keep that same all-out intensity that you did in the outer lanes!

You’ve done this workout right and have negative split the workout – even if your time never changed! You had to, to keep the same time from lane 2 all the way to lane 6- or 7 and 8. I love this workout and so do a lot of my athletes!

When doing speed work, keep in mind that you will need to modify your intensity depending on the time of year. In the winter and early spring, you’ll want to keep a little in reserve and your form in check. You don’t want to be fatigued and burned out before the race season even starts!

Once the racing season hits, then it's okay to push a little more, dig into those reserves a touch, and fight the mental and physical pain. Keep in mind that although speed work can be incredibly rewarding, it can also be very taxing. You may need 3-5 days of easy running before anything remotely hard even if it's a bike workout. Listen to your body and train safely!

Coach Jim Hallberg notices that some athletes spend too much time focusing solely on their strengths or just on their weaknesses. As a coach, he believes you should work on both. Your strengths can give you a competitive edge in one or more of the disciplines but spend an inordinate amount of time on them and you can forgo progress in other areas. Not enough time and you’ll see them diminish. Same with your weaknesses.  Coach Jim works with you to build a plan to balance the two and make you the best overall athlete you can be!

Coach Jim is a 5X USA Triathlon National Champion, a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach and USA Cycling Level II Certified Coach.

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