Running Track For Beginners

If you enjoy running, or want to get involved in a sport that offers individual and team challenges plus many health benefits, running track may be the perfect solution. Track runners cover a variety of distances, depending on their specialty, ranging from the all-out sprint in the 100-meter dash to longer distances such as the 2-mile race.

Track offers challenging workouts for all levels of runners. (Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images)

Running Safety

Before beginning a track running program, get a complete physical from your doctor to make sure you're fit to run. Warm up by jogging at a slow, relaxed pace for one lap around the track, and then stretch before your workouts. These pre-workout stretches should be dynamic, gradually moving your limbs comfortably through their ranges of motion. Warming up will get your muscles loose, making them less likely to tear when you start your track workout. If you feel any sharp or persistent pain while running, stop immediately and consult your coach, doctor or trainer.

Track Distances

Standard outdoor tracks are 400 meters, and indoor tracks are often 200 meters, requiring you to run twice as many laps to reach the same distance. Four laps on a standard track equals one mile. Track runners compete in a variety of distances, from 100-meter sprints to 5K races. Middle distance races include the 800-meter run, which is two laps around the track, as well as the mile run. There are also relays, including the four by 400-meter relay, in which each person runs one lap, and the four by 800-meter relay, in which each person runs two laps. Most people feel naturally inclined to run either short, middle or long distance, and you should choose the distances that you feel comfortable with.

Base Training

If you are running with a team, you will not have to devise your own workouts, but if you are on your own, you can create your own track running program. It is important to begin training before the race season begins so your body will be prepared to meet the physical and mental demands of racing. Setting up a base level of fitness can also help you avoid injury as you enter race season. Long distance and middle distance runners should do some road runs a few times a week to build endurance, while sprinters can do workouts on the track for base training. For example, if you're training for a 5k race, perform about three 10- to 15-minute runs weekly during your base training.

Speed Workouts

All track runners need speed workouts to improve race performance. Speed workouts will vary in distance and intensity depending on what events you are training for. Interval training is a popular form of speed workout. During interval workouts, runners do repetitions of set distances at a fast pace, and then rest in between reps by walking or jogging. The Runner's Resource recommends resting for twice as long as each interval; so if you run 400-meter intervals in 80 seconds, rest for two minutes and 40 seconds between each interval.

Mental Preparation

Running is a mental sport that requires toughness and determination. Famous distance runner Steve Prefontaine alluded to the mental side of running with his famous quote: "A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts." To do well in races, track athletes must practice mental discipline by thinking positively and not giving up or slowing down when challenges arise. Sticking to your training program will not only train your body, but will help you develop confidence and toughness as a runner.

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