The Thursday night track session is an important ritual in many a runner's life. Having a concentrated, weekly session to devote oneself solely to improving performance, technique, speed (or all of these things) can prove invaluable in the long-run.
In order to find out more as to why this has become such a pivotal part of running training, we sat down with runner Steve Skinner and his friend George to discuss what they get out of these regular sessions.
1) Why do you do a track session?
Steve: After a few years of running regularly, my performance started to plateau. I knew I needed to do more speed work to improve my personal bests. I think I had become used to running at a comfortable pace and was maybe lacking motivation after achieving a sub 3-hour marathon. Now that I have run at track for a few years, I better understand the big difference between running for fun and training specifically for certain distances. You can gain fitness and improve your times to a certain point by running more, but as you get nearer to reaching your potential you have to train more specifically and find marginal gains.
Running at track has definitely helped me find another gear and helped me realise I can still improve a lot - it just takes dedication and hard work. I run with a large group, and so although the main reason I go is to train and push myself I also get to catch up with lots of friends and hear about their races.
George: I do track because it forces you to run fast and really push it with a group.
Once you say to yourself "every Thursday night is track night", and realise the difference the sessions make, you're winning the battle.
2) What do you get out of it?
Steve: As the first race I completed was a half-marathon, I am picking up speed over the shorter distances thanks to regular track sessions. I have definitely learnt how to pace myself better over various distances and found my "gears". There are some super quick runners at Mile End Stadium so I always have people to chase. I feel like my pain threshold has definitely increased, and I have started to push my limits in training sessions as well as races. I used to run at a comfortable pace all the time.
George: You get the hardest effort out of yourself, especially when someone's chasing you!
3) What do you find hardest?
Steve: The hardest part about track is getting there. When it is really wet and windy, you can often find yourself questioning why you’re at track and not at home in the warm, eating a nice meal. Then you remember crossing race finish lines in PB times and the group drags you round. Sometimes after a long day at work going to track can feel like the last thing you want to do. Knowing the difference it makes and that you’ll be pushing yourself alongside friends makes you more committed. Once you say to yourself "every Thursday night is track night" and realise the difference the sessions make, you're winning the battle.
I also find it difficult to fuel myself before a track session, you don't want a large meal before but you want to have energy to get the most out of the session. I usually opt for a snack and coffee mid-afternoon. There are sessions when your legs feel like they're made of concrete, but you have to remind yourself of what you want to achieve.
George: The hardest thing for me are the long reps with short recoveries. E.g. 1200m with 60sec recovery.
If you're new to track, be prepared to leave your comfort zone. You need to be comfortable with being very uncomfortable.
4) How does it improve your performance?
Steve: When I first started running on track, I thought my legs would be wrecked for days. What I actually found was that it stretched my legs out and I felt an urge to run at a quicker pace on steady runs. My personal bests at all distances over the last few years are mostly due to working hard at track. As Peter (the coach leading the Run-Fast session) tells you which paces to run, and what rep you dial in to certain paces, when it comes to race day, you know how much effort you should be putting in.
George: It works you up to your maximal effort which is hard to do on your own on the roads.
5) What are your favourite sets?
Steve: I tend to prefer the shorter reps, I really enjoyed a recent session which was: 800m @ 5k pace (70s recovery), 400m @ 3k pace (60s recovery) X 6.
George: Favourite session is a straight forward 14 x 400m. Go hard.
6) Do you like running in the summer heat?
Steve: Over the last few years I have struggled during June & July due to the heat and not having a goal race on the horizon. However, this year with OCC coming up, I have stuck to a training plan and taken part in a run streak whilst racing regularly. I try to remind myself that running is always going to be harder in the summer due to the heat and humidity. So I ease off the pace, keep fuelled up and hydrated, and get the miles in. At the end of the day, if you can carry on training well in summer you'll be flying around races and/or cross-country races come winter.
George: As long as I stay hydrated I love the heat. I'd rather be sweating buckets than have numb fingers!
7) What tips do you have for a runner who doesn't do track regularly?
Steve: Persevere. A lot of runners are intimidated by going to track. Don't be. If you want to improve your PBs it is the quickest way (pun intended) to improve your speed. It's ironic that running around in circles can get you so far.
George: If you're new to track, be prepared to leave your comfort zone. You need to be comfortable with being very uncomfortable.