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Track Workouts For Distance Running

Last updated: May 24, 2022

Long-distance runners don't just hit the pavement. They log laps too.

Sure, nothing beats the freedom of the open road. Yet savvy runners embrace the power of the oval. Track workouts for distance runners provide an opportunity to practice better form, focus on specific skills, and break up the monotony of training. The defined distance of a track helps chart your progress and control your pace.

And it isn't about running circles around the competition either. It's about achieving your personal best. Track workouts for distance runners are the best way to increase running endurance. Yet speed work for distance runners is equally important.

Fortunately, both of these goals can be achieved on the track. Below are some tried-and-true track workouts for distance runners that are sure to get you running in the right direction.

Attack the Straightaways

If you're new to the track, this is a great introduction. After warming up, simply push the pace for the full 100 meters on the straightaways. Recover by walking or slowly jogging on the turns. Repeat for four total laps. Each week, try to add another lap to your training.

Run it Back with Repeats

"Repeats" are running segments of the same distance for a set number of times. Recovery periods of equal length are granted in between each set. Repeat exercises are a type of interval training and can be run at any length. A 200-meter repeat run will look like this:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Sprint for 200 meters (half the track)
  3. Walk or jog another 200 meters (the rest of the lap)
  4. Repeat 5-8 times
  5. Cool down

Pro tip: The best way to increase running endurance is to shorten the recovery time between each repeat.

Climb the Ladder

Ladder intervals build speed, endurance, and confidence on the track. Essentially, you are advancing "up" the ladder as your workout progresses. The primary difference between this and repeat training is that the recovery period remains unchanged as the distance increases. A standard ladder exercise includes:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Run 400 meters (one lap)
  3. Walk or jog 400 meters (another lap)
  4. Run 800 meters (two laps)
  5. Walk or jog another 400 meters
  6. Run 1,200 meters (three laps)
  7. Walk or jog another 400 meters
  8. Run 1,600 meters (four laps or one mile)
  9. Walk or jog another 400 meters
  10. Cool down

Note: During the running phases, use your 5K pace. If you don't know this, there are calculators online that can help.

Reach the Pyramid

Pyramid interval training incorporates the same principles as ladder training. The key distinction is that the running intervals will eventually reach their "peak" and, working backwards, eventually return to the starting distance. Here is an example of a pyramid workout:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Run 200 meters (half the track)
  3. Walk or jog another 200 meters (the rest of the lap)
  4. Run 400 meters (one lap)
  5. Walk or jog another 200 meters
  6. Run 800 meters (two laps)
  7. Walk or jog another 200 meters
  8. Run 1,600 meters (four laps or one mile)
  9. Walk or jog another 200 meters
  10. Run 800 meters again
  11. Walk or jog another 200 meters
  12. Run 400 meters again
  13. Walk or jog another 200 meters
  14. Run 200 meters again
  15. Cool down

Depending on your speed and pace, this workout should last between 30-45 minutes.

Flexibility with Fartleks

If these above track workouts are too regimented and restrictive, Fartlek might be more your speed. Literally. Fartleks, which is Swedish for "speed play," adds short, informal speed bursts to regular running sessions. These are both freeform and flexible, allowing the runner to use their feelings and intuition to guide when these bursts are applied.

To put this into action, go for a 3-5 mile run at a relaxed pace. After a couple of minutes, find a landmark on the track. This might be a light pole, an object off to the side, or any other item to focus your attention on. Once you've found your endpoint, sprint to this landmark using a 90% effort level. Typically, this exertion should last 1-2 minutes. Then return to your relaxed, base running pace. After a few moments, pick a new landmark and repeat. The goal is 5-10 Fartleks during the entire workout.

Mimicking the kick across the finish line during races, this exercise offers outstanding speed work for distance runners.


What gear do I need?

Unless you are a professional, track workouts don't require special gear. Whether you are trying to find the right fit to fight the cold or searching for more budget-friendly options, you can't go wrong with any moisture-wicking or compression clothing.

But start from the ground up. With any long-distance running, your feet take a pounding. Invest in shoes that offer support and traction. Toe caps for runners can be equally helpful. While inexpensive, these reduce stress, pressure, and friction.

How do I start building a running program?

It starts with a single step. There's no need to run a marathon overnight. Beginning runners should construct a diet and exercise routine that builds gradually. Although the track might be the ideal setting for speed work for distance runners, the best way to increase running endurance might be achieved through a different training regime.

Which is best for me: spinning vs running?

Often, the best way to increase running endurance is on two wheels. The benefits of "spinning vs running" are hotly debated. Luckily, you don't have to choose. Cross-training always maximizes your results. And, according to a recent study, both cycling and running produce the same endurance output. They even rank similarly in caloric burn also.

In short, pick an exercise program that works best for you. As long as you're up and moving, you can't go wrong.

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