Many beginning runners have an irrational fear of the track. They think of it as a place where the serious runners ply their trade and newbies who dare tread on the oval might be ridiculed for their efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth. At every track I’ve visited, I’ve found nothing but mutual respect and goodwill. You are a runner. The track is where you go get faster. Here’s what you need to know.

Painted Lines

Some track surfaces are black, some are blue, and many are red. Arrows, notations, lines, and lanes are painted on the surface of the track to provide information and boundaries to athletes. There is only one very important line for beginners, the finish line. On a standard outdoor track, one complete circuit (lap) equals 400m or 1/4 mile.

The painted lanes are there to keep people from interfering with each other during a race. For example, the 400m race uses hash marks in each lane that are staggered further ahead as lane numbers increase. This is to keep the race distance even as runners make their way around the track. The inside and outside lanes don’t line up until runners approach the last 100m straightaway. You will also find staggered hash marks at the 200m start located halfway around the track. These marks are very important if you choose to run in a specific lane and want to measure your distance accurately.

Track Rules for Beginners

Track Rules for Beginning Runners

  1. Always give up the innermost lanes to the fastest runners. If you hear someone behind you yell “Track!” or “On your left!” immediately move to the right and let them by.
  2. Race in lane 1 and 2, run in lanes 3 and 4, jog in lane 5 and 6.
  3. Respect the track by leaving your stuff off it.
  4. Run counter-clockwise
  5. Pass on the right unless you feel comfortable yelling “Track!”
  6. Defer to the teams and organizations that own the track.
  7. If you run with music, be aware of the runners around you. Better yet, leave it at home.
  8. Look both ways before crossing the track.
  9. Don’t stand on the track.
  10. No dogs, no wheels, no whining.

Track Jargon

A track workout generally consists of three distinct phases. The warm-up, the actual workout, and the cool down. Workouts consist of intervals or sets of intervals. Intervals are short, intense periods or running followed by recovery periods. You might see a track workout written like this: 4 x (200m @ 40, 200m jog) This translates to running 200m in 40 seconds, recovering with a 200m jog back to the start, and doing it again three more times. Intervals are sometimes referred to as ‘repeats.’

A ladder workout consists of increasing interval distances. For example: 200m, 400m, 800m

A cut-down workout consists of decreasing interval distances. For example: 1600m, 800m, 400m, 200m

A pyramid workout consists of increasing and decreasing interval distances. For example: 200m, 400m, 800m, 1600m, 800m, 400m, 200m

Split times indicate whether you are on or off pace. If you are running a 6:00 1600m interval, you’d look for splits of 1:30 at 400m, 3:00 at 800m, and 4:30 at 1200m.

Track Workouts for Beginners

Track Workouts for Beginners

Running on the track is a precise form of training. Bring a water bottle, a stopwatch, and a notebook with you. Record each interval time and use that information to design future workouts and monitor your improvement over time. Regular track work will improve running speed and stamina. Here are a few basic workouts for beginners:

Pyramid Workout

This example: Based on a 5K race pace of 8:00 per mile, 5 miles total distance

  • 1 mile warm up
  • 4 x (200m @ 56, 200m jog), 2 x (400m @ 1:52, 400m jog), 4 x (200m @ 56, 200m jog)
  • 1 mile cool down

Ladder Workout

This example: Based on a 5K race pace of 8:00 per mile, 5 miles total distance

  • 1 mile warm up
  • 2 x (200m @ 56, 200m jog), 2 x (400m @ 1:52, 400m jog), 1 x (800m @ 3:44, 800m jog)
  • 1 mile cool down

Cut Back Workout

This example: Based on a 5K race pace of 8:00 per mile, 5 miles total distance

  • 1 mile warm up
  • 1 x (1600 @ 7:45, 800m jog), 1 x (800m @ 3:44, 800m jog), 1 x (400m @ 1:52, 400m jog)
  • 1 mile cool down

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