Winter Track Attack!
The temperatures are dropping, the sun is hanging lower in the sky, and days are getting shorter. It can only mean one thing; winter is upon us! And for most of us, that means an ‘off-season’ from racing and intense running and training. These cold winter months give runners everywhere the opportunity to “reset”: to reflect on the ups and downs of the last racing season, think about goals for the next season, and take some much needed rest and recovery time to allow our bodies to heal and give us some extra time to soak up the merriment and festive holiday season with our loved ones. These days should be filled with a little more sleep and less early alarm clocks, a few more tasty treats that we find ourselves saying no to when a race is upon us and scheduling more coffee dates with friends than running dates. But that does not mean that you should stop running cold turkey, especially if you have plans to compete again next race season. In fact, the offseason is the prime time for preparing yourself mentally and physically for what lies ahead. And one of the best ways to do that is to hit the track!
After you have taken some ample time off to recover after your last race of the season, it is time to lace up those running shoes and get back out there – albeit SLOWLY, listening to your body and being okay to scale it back if your legs are screaming at you, “Not today!” The name of the game here is low stress and running for enjoyment. After a few weeks of this, you will probably actually start craving a few more intense, heart-pumping, sweat-inducing workouts. Enter the track workout.
Be careful not to do too much too soon – a good rule of thumb is to start sprinkling in a moderately hard track workout about once a week, about a month into the off-season. Studies have proven (and runners everywhere attest) that the track can really pay off when it comes to increasing speed and helping focus on form and your end of race “kick.” This is especially true when you get a jump start on your speed workouts during the offseason. Offseason winter track workouts should focus on shorter distances at increased paces. As the weeks go by, you should be thinking about slowing increasing your paces, but don’t push it too hard. You do not want to burn out just a few weeks in, and risk peaking during your season too early. And make sure you are throwing in plenty of recovery time between intervals. This not only gives your body time to recover enough, but you will actually see greater returns on increasing speed in the long run.
Some great ideas for a winter track workout include starting with a 3 to 5-mile progression run (in which each mile is faster than the last) so that by the last mile, you are actually thirty seconds faster than your average PR pace. This is a great workout, to begin with, because you likely have that 3 to 5-mile base already built up from your slower, more casual jogs in the weeks leading up to the workout. You can then move on to shorter distances with more intervals and at faster paces, such as 8 to 12 200 meter strides with 200 to 300-meter recovery jog in between and fifteen 100 meter strides, alternating with 100 meters of recovery.
The track is also a good alternative to speed workouts on the road because it is a confined space – meaning, you will not get trapped in the dark if the sun goes down, out in the middle of nowhere. You do not have to map out a route beforehand, which saves you time and mental energy, and most local tracks at public parks or area high schools are lit. They are also more likely to have other runners out which might seem annoying at first if you were hoping to have a lane all to yourself. But this also ensures you are not out alone running (safety!) and having other runners nearby who see you pushing it and working hard might just turn out to be the best kind of spectators and support that you can have! And tracks will be safer if you are facing wintry weather conditions. Whereas roads do not show black ice that could potentially result in a harmful injury, tracks are usually made out of synthetic track surfacing material (often tartan) that is similar to rubber and does not freeze over in the same way. And if conditions just get REALLY bad but you still want to get your workout in, a track workout is flexible because you can take it indoors! Find a local indoor track, or if you do not mind the old treadmill, a speed interval workout can be easily and successfully completed on a gym treadmill (or better yet – one in the basement of your home! Get ‘er done with ease!).