As we progress in the sport (or get more addicted) it’s easy to start wondering what the best way to get faster is, especially on the run.
When we think about what we know of running it’s easy to immediately jump to thinking the best, or only, way to get faster running is by doing track work.
I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. Yup. I said it.
While it is a good way, a track is far from the only way to get faster at running. A track is a tool to get faster, but always remember your race won’t be done on a perfectly flat surface scientifically made for speed.
That being said, I want to offer up some ways to gain speed, both on and off the track.
The track is a great tool because it doesn’t lie. 400 meters is 400 meters. A 5k is a 5k. If you can’t hit your goal paces on a track you almost certainly won’t be able to hit them on the open road.
Tracks are great for testing.
If you need to do a heart rate test it’s a foolproof way to ensure elevation gain doesn’t cause any spikes in your heart rate.
Want to know if you can run a specific pace for a 5k? Repeats and intervals on the track are a great way to do this.
Repeats are done on full rest running a specific time for each. (e.g. 400s run at 2min each, with needed rest to be able to hit 2min consistently.)
Intervals are started at a specific interval on the clock, so run time and rest will vary, but duration of each interval never will. (e.g. Every 2:15 you start your 400, regardless of the rest amount.)
The thing about track work is a lot of triathletes tend to run too short on a track. While a 100m can be good for developing strength and speed out of the gate, for most of us 800s or 1600s is going to be the sweet spot. As the race distance increases, so should the distance.
For a 5k you might do 400s, for a marathon you might do 1600s. Then again, 1600 repeats are a great way to prep yourself to hit goal pace on a 5k.
So, the next time you hit the track think to yourself, “Am I trying to increase my speed overall?” If yes, the right option might be a shorter distance at goal pace. “Am I trying to fine-tune my race pace?” Then longer distances might be the right option for you!
How do you get faster off the track?
There’s nothing that says you can’t do 400s or 1600s out on the open road! I love this option because not only is it forcing me to keep pace, but it’s also forcing me to keep pace while the terrain is varying, just like it will on race day.
Another way I love to increase my speed off track is by doing hill repeats at goal pace. I might find a relatively steep 1/10 mile climb and do repeats at goal 5k pace.
The ability to hold goal pace up slight grades is what ends up destroying many PRs. If you’ve practiced running uphill fast, you’ll be able to do it more confidently on race day. It’s also a good mental boost on race day, knowing you’ve held pace (or faster than pace) on hills that would normally wreck you.
Tracks to me are a bit like the bike trainer. It’s a great tool when you need or want to use it, but at the same time can be horrifyingly mind-numbing. Whenever possible, I prefer to do my speed work out on the open road.
But others, maybe you, love doing their track work, to which I say, more power to you! I’ll leave a lane open for you.
Which do you prefer? Track or open road speed work?