Tackling Track Etiquette, Rules, and Benefits

Coach086-460x306Running coaches and experienced runners have a few weapons of choice for improving running. Luckily, some of these tools benefit all runners, veteran and novice alike. One of my favorite weapons of choice: track work.

Okay, so you may be assuming that only track athletes belong on the track. You know who they are. They are strong, powerful and confident. They make many of us look and feel like tortoises. You might think if you aren’t a sprinter that there is no reason to ever set foot on a track. You may not even know how to use a track, or wonder about track etiquette. Never fear, I have some basic track rules, tips, reasons why you should use the track, and more!

Regardless of running experience, reasons you run, or race goals (if any), running fast once per week benefits all runners. Running hard calls to action fast-twitch muscles, spikes metabolism, increases cardiovascular strength, and often improves running form. Running fast is also FUN. Yes, its hard, but feeling like you are flying, even if the track athlete next to you whizzes by with ease, will make you feel accomplished, strong, and badass at the end of your workout. Plus, over time you will see incredible improvement in running performance in every road distance from the mile to the marathon.

Hopefully I have peaked your curiosity, and you now want to know any rules for using the track. Great. Here are some basic tips:

  • Run counter-clockwise. Everyone on the track should be going in the same direction.
  • Share the space.
  • Most outdoor tracks are 400 meters once around, if run in Lane 1. Many indoor tracks are 200 meters.
  • Lane 1 (the inner lane), is often the speed lane. If you are running hard, feel free to hop in lane 1. If you are taking a recovery lap, warming up, or cooling down, be courteous and move into the outer-most lane. Just be sure to check over your shoulder before changing lanes.
  • If you are in Lane 1 and need to pass a runner who is also in Lane 1, you can choose to go around them by cutting into Lane 2, or you can try to stay in Lane 1 and yell “Lane 1″ or “Track!.” If the runner you are gaining on hears you and knows track etiquette, they will move out of your way and into Lane 2 so that you don’t have to work hard to pass them.
  • If you are in Lane 1 and hear someone shout “Track!” or “Lane 1″ behind you, glance over your shoulder and move out of their way into lane 2 so they can pass you. Then move back into Lane 1.
  • Do not walk or take recovery jogs in Lane 1, as you’ll probably be in the way of someone doing speedy repeats.
  • Do feel free to tell other runners that they look strong.
  • If your track doesn’t have a water fountain, bringing a water bottle and dropping it somewhere along the track is a good solution.
  • Many tracks have restroom facilities. Some may also have lockers.
  • If you prefer to be on the track when it’s least crowded, avoid “after school hours,” when many school teams will be using the track for practice.
  • Most tracks are open to the public. If you use a track on a school campus, look into if there are any hours the track is not open to the public.
  • Do go to the track with a workout plan. Going to the track and winging it will leave you without much focus.

Runners new to track workouts don’t know what they should be doing on the track. I suggest only going to the track once per week, for your speed session. If you go to the track for all of your training, you will feel like a mindless hamster. You will also fall into a rut. Keep the track for those hard workouts, where you leave all distractions behind and simply focus on the track.

As a coach, I tailor my track workouts to my runners and their race goals. However, you can certainly make up your own workouts! Some popular track workouts: 8X400, 8X800, 4X1200, 3X1600 – you can mix and match and combine all kinds of variations. A general guideline: if your goal is speed and shorter distances (for example, a 5K race), 400s are a great distance for repeats. If you are gearing up for a Half Marathon or Marathon, 800s-1600s will benefit your training.

What the above examples mean in non-track terms: 8X400 @ 5K race pace = run 400 meter repeats 8 times at your goal 5K race pace, with a recovery between each repeat. The recovery times are up to you, but it’s usually beneficial to recover for half the distance of the repeat (in this case, 200 meters), at a SUPER easy jog.

Or say you decide to run 2X400, 2X1200, 2X400 @10K race pace in a workout – that would mean you’d recover with 200s between the 400 repeats, and 600s between the 1200 repeats. Once again, you can mix and match as you choose, depending on your strengths, weaknesses, and goals.

It’s always important to warmup and cool down when hitting the track. While running hard is fun and great for your training, you need to be careful and make sure to not go from 0-60 without waking up your legs. Take your warmup and cool down at super easy paces, in the outside lane.

If you are still intimidated to try out the track, bring a running buddy. Not only will your nerves calm, but you will both probably work harder if you are running together and pushing each other. So find a buddy, bite the bullet, and head to your local track. You’ll realize after your first workout that it really isn’t so scary, and its a training weapon that just might lead to some big person bests this season!

“HOW TO START RUNNING NOW: 7 TIPS TO GET YOU ON YOUR WAY”

img_6834-editA few weeks ago I was interviewed for Bustle.com‘s article on tips for getting started with running.

I thought some of you may perhaps benefit from some of the questions I answered.

If you are new to running, perhaps you have found other tricks and tips that have worked for you! While we are all different, it’s important to always begin slowly and to build mileage gradually. Before you know it, you’ll be running harder and further than before!

Have a tip I didn’t mention in the article? Please share it with the class in the comments!

Winter Warrior

img_6789-editUnless you live in Southern California, you are probably aware of how cold this winter has been. Inspired by the “Polar Vortex,” here are some tips for how to train outside as safely and comfortably as possible.

Training for a spring race (especially a marathon!), fitness goal, resolution set back on New Years Eve – often requires getting out of the gym and into the fresh air. If conditions are dangerous – icy, deep snow, high winds – sometimes heading to the gym or taking a rest day is the smart decision. However, if you can stomach the temperature, here are a few tips that can make your miles as safe and comfortable as possible under the given conditions:

  • Hats and gloves are a must. You lose heat from your head, which is good in summer but bad in Winter. Keep your head covered, and you’ll hold onto your heat. Hands and feet will quickly lose heat, as your body will work hard to regulate your core temperature, pulling blood away from your hands and feet and directing it towards your core. Gloves and compression socks can help you feel better and reduce the risk of frost bite.

  • Adjust your pace for extreme temperatures. Just as I’ve mentioned in the past that extreme heat has an impact on athletic performance, the same is true with extreme cold. Because your body is working hard to regulate your temperature and work hard to meet your demands, your body and brain won’t function as well as they would at 50-60 degrees. It’s best to run by feel and effort instead of focusing on your pace.

  • Breathing hard in cold climates can be hard. Again, you are sucking in very cold air into a body that is comfortable at 98.6 degrees. Warming up and cooling down is always important, but in Winter it’s even more crucial as it will give your body a chance to ease into your workout.

  • Do not wear cotton. Running in cotton can be unpleasant, but is also dangerous in Winter. When you sweat in cotton, it dries very slowly and pulls your body heat out of you. If you must run in cotton, get out of it as soon as you are finished your workout. Hypothermia and other dangerous things can happen if you are in cold, wet cotton.

  • Wear compression/sweat-wicking gear. Yes, Winter running gear can be expensive. I feel your pain. But if you plan to train through days that don’t go above 20 degrees, you need to invest in proper gear. It will make a world of difference.

  • Wearing layers can be great. As a general rule, dress for the current temperature +20 degrees. When running, your body heats up and “feels” like its about 20 degrees warmer outside than what the thermometer says.

  • In extreme conditions, like when it’s 5 degrees and you are out running before the sun comes up, hand warmers can be useful. I sometimes stuff them in my gloves, or in my compression shirt on my back if I am coaching and not running the whole time.

  • Upon finishing your run, drink or eat something hot – like soup or hot cocoa. Personally, I like to make chocolate milk and heat it on the stove. Warming yourself up from the inside feels pretty awesome. Pair that with a hot shower, and you’ll feel great.

  • If you can plan to run at the warmest time of the day, that can certainly help. While not everyone can plan their work and life schedule around the weather and training, if you do have the ability to duck out of work for a long lunch break, that can make Winter training a bit more bearable.

  • Watch for icy patches on the road or sidewalk. Wiping out could lead to injury, which is never good. Keep your eye on the path in front of you, and take short, quick steps – making it easy to navigate icy patches.

Heating Up

DSC_0350A few tips and reminders regarding running in the heat:

It take a few weeks for your body to acclimate to heat/humidity, so be patient and sweat it out.

Be prepared for your effort to produce a slower time than it would have in cooler weather. Don’t obsess over the number on your Garmin.

Gage your workouts on effort, instead of the numbers for a few weeks. You know what your 5K effort or Half Marathon effort feels like. Get your eyes off the watch.

Hydrate well before your run. Like I have mentioned before, you need to hydrate days/hours before a long or tough effort. Running in the heat is tough, especially for long runs or speed work. Drink often before your run.

Take hydration breaks during your run, but only small sips. Gulping water will leave you with a sloshing, unhappy tummy. If you go into the run hydrated, a few sips can keep you satisfied until your post-run refueling.

Refueling with gatorade or a beverage option with electrolytes will help you recover quickly. Bananas can also help ward off muscle cramps, thanks to potassium.

Wear light colored clothes, and be prepared to potentially chafe more as you sweat more.

Sun glasses and a visor can help protect your eyes and face from sunburn, harmful rays, and swarms of bugs.

Plan your runs around the weather, when possible. Summer storms often pop up quickly, and the heat index can be a helpful tool when trying to avoid sweltering temperatures. If you can get out there in the morning or evening, your body will thank you.

Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These can spring up quickly, and when least expected. Look out for other runners, as you may end up helping someone who becomes sick.

Embrace the heat and sweat. There’s no avoiding it, so learn to love it.