A Lesson in Track Workouts

IMG_7699Since I’ve been working with my coach (started in early August) he’s gotten me back on the track for some speed workouts. I think I mentioned in a previous post that my last successful track workout was in June, before the whole calf injury ordeal and before my final marathon of the spring season. I made through two fall marathons with zero track work and one long run. My chance for a PR was shot but I still got close at the Chicago Marathon (3:08, about two minutes off of my PR). Now that the recovery period is pretty much over, I’ve put in three successful track workouts since starting back up.


The first two workouts given to me were both mile repeats – something I’ve done very infrequently in the past (and usually try to avoid). I used to do a lot of 800s, and when I actually did mile repeats I would only ever do three of them in a workout. My coach gave me workouts where I did four repeats the first time, and five the second time. So adding a few extra repeats on was new…and hard…but doable. I was able to hit the goal paces given to me and felt strong.

Last week, my track workout was completely different than anything I’d done before. It was 12×400 in 1:25-35 with two minutes of recovery between each. I never do 400s because I didn’t really think they had any value in marathon training. Well, after actually doing them I can absolutely see their value. Especially when you are doing a lot of them. When I first saw the workout, I actually thought it kind of seemed easy. Yes, a 400 in 1:25 is somewhere around a 5:40 pace, but it was for ONE quarter. Yes, there were 12 of them, but that only equals three miles. And, there were two whole minutes of recovery time in between each one. How hard could it really be?

Haaaaa! It was HARD! But SUPER fun. Because as hard as it was, I felt like I could really push the pace (especially when I got past #6) and feel what it feels like to run that fast. My splits ranged between 5:48-5:57 pace:

1- 1:31
2- 1:30

3- 1:30
4- 1:30
5- 1:28
6- 1:30
7- 1:29
8- 1:29
9- 1:30
10- 1:28
11- 1:28
12- 1:27 (last one, fast one!)

It was the first time I ran negative splits for a track workout. However, my overall pace for the whole workout (warm up, cool down and recovery time) was 8:44. I did walk/jog my two minute recoveries because when I did my initial track workout with my coach, he had me do just that. I normally run my recoveries. By the time I got to my cooldown following the 12×400 workout, I was lucky to be able to average a nine minute pace.

So, that brings me to the title of my post. I’ve always trained myself and never had any guidance on how to do speed workouts. I was also never much of an athlete until I began running in my late 20s. I tend to judge the quality of my workouts based on my overall pace – including track workouts. I’ll be the first to admit that seeing slower paces on my Garmin messes with my head. For example, on a day where I am supposed to be running fast (like a track workout), if my overall pace was “fast”, I thought I was successful. On Friday, my overall pace was much slower because I slowed my recoveries, and had almost nothing left for the cool down. I really almost had to walk, resulting in a slower overall pace. I had mixed feelings about this. Did I nail the workout because I hit the interval times, or did I fail because I was unable to maintain a specific pace for the overall workout? I realize at this point I should be able to answer that question on my own, but I decided to ask my coach his thoughts.

His response made a lot of sense and basically just served as reassurance to what I already knew. Track workouts, in a sense, are not necessarily about the quality of the overall average pace so much as they are about the quality of the intervals. The quality comes from hitting each interval hard, which I did. It’s more important to hit the interval hard and take the rest periods extremely easy so you can be ready for the next one.  I just needed to hear someone tell me that I was doing it right.

As for the rest of the weekend, I followed up the track workout with a nice easy run around Bethlehem on the Christmas City 5 Mile course to prepare for next weekend. My 5 Mile PR is a 33:xx, and I’d like to break that if I’m feeling good. I just need to keep my eye on my piraformis, which has still been a bit sore. On Sunday, my group hammered out a nice 8 miler at a decent clip to get in the weekend “long run”. Most of the group is running longer than me right now since I’m just building up my mileage again. I think I hit something like 38 miles last week, and that was the most I’ve done since Chicago. I’m used to a lot more than that, so now that my recovery period is over it’s time to start ramping up my mileage. I do have a marathon coming up in February, but I’m really just thinking it will be a good long run to get my legs ready for Boston!

Do you do track workouts? Do you base your success off of your overall pace or quality of each interval? If not, what kind of speed work do you find works best for you?

10 Replies to “A Lesson in Track Workouts”

  1. When I do track workouts, I only care about the intervals. The rest periods don’t mean much to me.

    Lately I’ve been doing a lot of mile plus speed work. It’s unorthodox but it works for me. Currently I can run a mile comfortably hard at a 7 min pace. I slowly increase the distance I run at this pace over a few months. So right now I run 1.3 miles at 7 min/mile. I slowly work up to 2 miles. Then I drop back to a mile at a new comfortably hard pace (6:50’ish).

    1. Makes total sense to do longer speed sessions! My next track workout is next week, and I’m basically doing a pyramid of 1000s, 2000s, 3000s and then repeating in reverse. It will be really challenging because I don’t know that I’ve ever done more than a one mile interval in my workouts. I’m interested to see how it goes. Do you repeat the 1.3 miles multiple times during the speed session?

  2. Ohhhhh nobody let you in on the power and/or the hurt of the 400’s lol 😛 yes I do track workouts and base my success on the quality of the workout as in can I shave 1-2 seconds of each successive interval. Your 400 times are the envy of the town missy!!! Nice job!!!

  3. Way to go, Allison! Those are some badass 400 interval times! I haven’t done many 400m intervals either in training since it doesn’t seem like it would do much to help for endurance. But that’s probably me being a little ignorant of the importance of building more overall speed. I’m so glad your coach is pushing you to do things you never considered before. I’ve considered getting a coach too, but I’m just not sure yet… I know it would probably be a good challenge, but I’ve always been so independent with my training – I don’t know if I’m ready to put my trust in someone else yet! You’ve been so successful on your own; what ultimately made you decide on hiring a coach? Did you know your coach beforehand or how did you find him?

    1. Thank you!!! I was pretty excited. My coach’s theory in throwing the 400s in there is that he wants that 400 time to be my mile repeat time, so we are breaking it down with smaller goals to make it doable. It makes a ton of sense, and the endurance aspect comes from the quantity of intervals he had me do.

      I’ve been very independent with my training for the past seven years. I went from just running when I felt like it to trying different plans, and it ultimately led me to him this past summer. I dropped a bunch of time off of my marathon over the past year and I was afraid I would plateau. My personal goal is to break 3 hours in the marathon, so I thought it would be cool to let someone else do the planning and see what happens. At this point, I know enough about my body and how I respond to different training methods. That’s both good and bad. Good, because I can often look at the miles he wants me to run and tell him what I think. Bad, because I noticed I’ve developed lots of bad habits that hold me back. I’ve learned so much from him already, and he has bigger goals for me than I have for myself (he wants me to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials. I think he’s crazy.)

      I didn’t know him personally beforehand, but I knew of him through his other athletes. He works with a lot of my friends and he is actually more of a triathlete coach, but he does offer running specific training. Since I also do triathlons and really enjoy swimming and biking, he is a good fit for many reasons. He knows how to give me swimming and biking workouts that help my running and recovery. Also, when I am ready to do a full Ironman someday, he is the guy I want to train me! He is in the Lehigh Valley so if you ever decide to hire someone, I would highly recommend him!

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