Sunday, February 18, 2007


The track. While most elite runners get their start there, the great majority of runners came to the sport by way of local roads, sidewalks and forest paths. For the average runner, the track seems all too intimidating, almost scary. Fact is, though, the track is not simply the domain of the elites. Any runner at any level can improve her performance with a little help from the 400-meter oval. This is what intervals are about.

Interval sessions are the most formal of speed workouts in that the distances and target paces are precisely fixed before you run. The idea is to run a series of relatively short repetitions over distances from 220 yards to one mile, with rest periods of slower running in between. Because of their very nature, intervals involve a shorter period of effort than your usual run of, say, 45 minutes at a steady pace. This allows you to run much faster than you usually do, adapting your body to higher demands and your leg muscles to faster turnover. Over time, you become more physiologically efficient.

Because of the clearly measured distances, the track is an ideal place to do intervals, but some may find the never-changing scenery to be, well, maybe just a little dull. In that case, you should feel free to do your intervals on the road, using permanent landmarks to measure distance.

The various distances, as you might guess, are each best suited to runners with specific goals. The 220-yard run (1/2 lap, or 200 meters) is best for short-distance training (5K and under) to improve speed. The 440 (one lap, or 400 meters) helps improve overall conditioning at slower paces, and at faster paces is good final race preparation. The 880 (two laps, or 800 meters) is used to develop speed when training for races 10K and under and to condition form and pace when training for longer races. Finally, the mile is used most often to train for longer races, from 10K to marathon, to help improve pace judgment and overall conditioning. from