Running Laps – Learn How Triathletes Get Faster with Track Work

By Coach Troy Jacobson

There’s an old saying that goes, “If you want to run fast on race day, you need to run fast in training.” And the best way to get faster is to hit the track!

Runners, whether focused on the 5K or the marathon, have long used track work as a tool to build speed, strength and a well developed sense of pacing. Hitting “the oval” on a weekly basis with an eye on the clock keeps one accountable and focused on improving. Add the competition and fun that training with a group offers, as well as the guidance and workout management of a good coach, and you have a recipe for future personal bests in your next running race or triathlon.

Triathletes who use the track have slightly different goals than those of ‘pure runners.’ In addition to having the need to recover for the training demands of two other sports, the triathlete needs to be mindful of avoiding injury, and overly demanding and fast track work can do just that. Furthermore, pure speed development for the triathlete isn’t as high of a priority as is running strong and steady off the bike on tired legs. Therefore, most of the work done on the track should target the enhancement of strength, endurance and holding a desired running pace. In most cases, reps (or intervals) aren’t run at a ‘sprint’ pace, but more so at ‘tempo’ and ‘lactate threshold’ paces, on shorter rest intervals. Also of importance is that the triathlete finishes track sessions with some gas left in the tank. This ensures adequate recovery for upcoming swim and cycling workouts.

The following is an example of track session for a triathlete in the mid-season form, targeting a late season Olympic distance race.

Warm-up (3 x 200 striders at 200 jog recovery)
Jog 1-2 miles easy. Perform some simple dynamic stretches, then do a set of 3 x 200 striders (focus on form and stretching it out) at 200 jog recovery.

Main set (1-mile tempo at ½ marathon pace / 2 x 800 (10K pace ) at 400 jog, 4 x 400 (5K pace) at 200 jog)
After the warm-up, start with a mile tempo effort at roughly your ½ marathon race pace. This pace is steady and hard, but not overwhelmingly hard. Jog at 400 easy after the mile.

Next, prepare for a set of 2 x 800 on a 400 jog recovery. Run each 800 at your 10K race pace, which is hard yet very sustainable. Jog another 400 easy recovery lap.

The last set is to be 4 x 400 at your 5K race pace, or slightly faster. Focus on good running form and try to even split each rep. Your recovery is an easy 200 jog, so get ready to dig deep in order to hold your splits.

Cooldown (1-2 miles easy, and light stretching.)
The conditioned triathlete in mid-season form should finish this workout tired, but with enough energy and strength to complete several more reps if tasked, while still holding pace.

Incorporate track work into your weekly training regimen and watch your performance take a leap to the next level!

A former pro triathlete and coach since 1992, Troy Jacobson is the creator of Spinervals Cycling and the Sr. National Director of Endurance Sports Training for Life Time Fitness. Learn more at www.lifetimeendurance.com.

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