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Everything You Need To Know About Working Out On The Track

The track can be a bit intimidating if you have never stepped foot on one before. I know it was for me, when I joined my local running club for the first time five years ago. I had no idea what the lines meant, what the distances were—I’d never run track in high school and track was like a foreign language to me.

Over the years I’ve come to love the track and understand the purpose of different intervals and types of rest. If you’ve never been to the track before, here’s the lowdown to get you through your first workout.

Distances Demystified

200m = 1/2 a lap (the curve and the straightaway)
400m = 1 lap (on a standard track) = .25 mile
600m = 1 1/2 laps (a lap, plus the curve and the straightaway)
800m= 2 laps = 1/2 mile
1,000m = 2 1/2 laps (2 laps, plus the curve and the straightaway)
1,600m = 4 laps = 1 mile

Line Up

For most workouts you’ll start at the end of the straightaway, before the first curve. On this side of the track the start line goes straight across and the numbers line up, on the far side of the track at the other end of the straightaway the lines and numbers are staggered.

If you’re running a hard effort and you’re not sharing the track, run your workout in lane one. If you’re sharing the track, yield lane 1 to the faster runner. And if you come up on a slower runner running in lane one and they don’t step to the side, call out “track” as you approach. This is universal track language for “coming up behind you.”

Rest Or Recovery

Ever wondered if you should jog between workouts or just stop and catch your breath? There are two types of recovery in track workouts: a slow jog recovery and a standing recovery. A general rule of thumb is that if you’re trying to build endurance and log mileage (as in training for a marathon) you should jog your recovery. Typically your recovery should be half of what your interval is, so if you’re running 800m repeats then you would jog one lap (400m) between each interval.

If you’re trying to build leg strength, power and speed you’ll want to incorporate standing rest. This allows you to run each interval at a faster pace than if you were to jog between intervals. Standing rest is a good way to start your track workouts if you haven’t run them before, it allows you to recover without adding extra mileage.

What Workouts Should I Do?

It really depends on what distance race you’re training for. If you’re training for a marathon, 800m repeats and longer are pretty standard. But you can benefit from building up to that distance, perhaps you take the first few weeks to run 200m and 400m repeats, before you tackle an 800m workout. Thousand meter repeats, 2K repeats and mile repeats are also great, but grueling workouts that will prepare you well for a marathon.

If you’re training for 5K, 200m to 800m repeats are great, or you can create a ladder workout where you sequentially go up and then back down in your interval distance.

And if you’re wondering how many intervals you should be doing, try to get 2-3 miles of work (not including jog recovery, which is why it is a good idea to start with standing rest) on the track, or you can log workouts based on time, for example as many 400m repeats with a 200m recovery jog that you can do in 20 minutes or 30 minutes or longer. And don’t forget the mile warm-up and the cool down!

The track is a great tool to improve your running, if you’ve been afraid to give it a try—don’t be! You never know, you may grow to love it!

Run Far Girl

Run Far Girl

Sarah Canney is author of, freelance writer, running coach and creator of Run Far Gear and Rise.Run.Retreat. After running on the roads for nearly 14 years, Sarah recently transitioned to trail and mountain running and is an avid snowshoe runner. She is mom to three little ones, whom she homeschools. Sarah is also a passionate fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock, where her son, Jack received care as an infant. After a nine-year battle with anorexia and bulimia, Sarah has reached a point of peace and freedom and openly shares her journey to recovery. You can also find Sarah on Twitter and Instagram as @runfargirl.