When I started training for my second marathon, I did one thing differently than I did when training for my first marathon. Track. On race day, I was fast enough to crush my previous race time by 20 minutes (and qualify for Boston). I owed the track a big thank you then, and I continue to thank it today, for all of its magical powers.
Although running around a flat red oval again and again might not sound like the most stimulating running experience, you’ve got to give the track a shot. It will change you in so many ways, and I’ll bet that in the end, you’ll thank the track just like I have below.
First, I obviously need to thank the track for making me a faster runner. As just about any running coach/blog/website/newspaper will tell you, speedwork brings results. Most marathon or half-marathon plans include one to two weekly speed workouts to boost your fitness level and build a specific type of strength and endurance that you can’t get from slower runs. There are numerous scientific studies that support this statement, but for brevity’s sake I will direct you to this Runner’s World article that summarizes one.
Second, I’d like to thank the track for boosting my mental toughness. Of all my weekly workouts, it’s usually my track session that intimidates me the most. Every week I step onto the big oval, wondering: Will I be able to make my goal time? Instead of heading out for an easy jog with loose legs and an open mind, the track calls for a mental focus and consistency that I don’t typically apply to other runs. Come race day -- when I’m on that last mile and want to quit with every ounce of my body -- I can rely on that mental focus to help me push through.
And third, I want to thank the track for its honesty. Running is a simple sport ruled by numbers, and there’s no place better to judge your level of fitness than the track. It’s a flat, unchanging route that you can rely on to gauge your improvement. Although weather can of course play a role, other factors such as terrain and route are ruled out. When you’re on the track, you’re only running against yourself. Your times (“splits”) are your times, with few excuses.
I’d encourage everyone to try a track workout -- and if you hate it, to come back and try again. Eventually, you might enjoy the challenge that the track brings and appreciate it when you see the physical and mental strength you’ve gained come race day.
Here’s a short list of area tracks which are open to the public -- there are many more, so keep your eyes open for one in your neighborhood! (And make sure to check out a list of example track workouts and track etiquette before you go!)