The Beginner’s Guide To Track Running

Athlete running on an all-weather running track alone. Runner sprinting on a blue rubberized running track starting off using a starting block.

Looking to give track running a try?

Then you have come to the right place (and planning to run in the right place).

Here’s the truth.

The local track is the ideal place to improve your running speed, learn how to run, and hone your running game away from the monotony and distractions of road running.

The track is, after all, made for running.

In this article, I’m sharing a few beginner track guidelines to help get you started on the right foot.

More specifically, I’ll look at:

  • What is a track?
  • The benefits of track running
  • How to start track running
  • The rules and etiquette of track running
  • The track lingo you need to know
  • Track workouts for beginners and advanced alike
  • The track running gear you need
  • And so much more.

Sounds great?

Let’s lace up and dig in.

What a Running Track?

Tracks are predictable and flat terrains designed for running.

They’re made of a synthetic surface that provides a forgiving and soft landing, which lessens the sport’s impact on your muscles and joints.

But if you’re used to running on roads, trails, and grass paths, running around the track in what seems like endless circles may seem boring and tricky—especially if you don’t know how to get started.

What Makes A Track – The Measurements

The standard track usually has four to eight lanes and measures precisely 400 meters—that’s roughly one-quarter of a mile—around the innermost lane.

Then distance around the track goes up in each lane.

In fact, the outside lane is roughly 40 to 50 meters longer than the inside lane. That’s the reason some races starting lines are staggered.

Track Running Distances Explained

Here are some track measurements to help you wrap your head around track running

  • 100-meter – The length of each straightaway.
  • 200-meter—a half lap around a standard track, kicking off on the curve and finishing at the end of the straightway.
  • 400-meter—or a single lap. Roughly a quarter-mile, and one of the most challenging sprint races thanks to the speed and endurance it requires.
  • 800-meter—two laps around a standard track or roughly half a mile.
  • 1200-meter—three laps around a standard track, or roughly three-quarters of a mile.
  • 1600-meter—four laps around a standard track, or approximately one mile.

Using the same math, you can calculate further distances.

For example, if four laps around a track equal one mile, running 5 miles on the track will have you finishing roughly 20 laps.

Not rocket science.

The Benefits of Track Running

In case you’re still on the fence about giving track training a try, here are some of the benefits that it offers.

Good For Motivation

Feeling bored running solo? Head to the track to find some camaraderie and a little bit of competitive spirit.

It’s a public place, after all. You just have to get there at the right time of the day.

Improve Your Confidence

Training on the track helps boost your image of yourself as a runner, which can do wonders for your self-esteem and confidence level.

Meet New People

By the same token, you’ll usually perform your track sessions with your partner or club, so you have the extra bonus of competition against much more experienced runners.

You’re also more likely to push harder during a group workout than you might on your own.

Another Surface Option

Every running surface, whether its trail, road, concrete or even treadmill, has its perks and downsides.

By doing more workouts on a track, you’re also adding variety to your training surfaces, which helps you improve your running game and reduce injury risk.

What’s not to like!

Track Your Progress

Thanks to the deliberate design of standard tracks, you can easily track your speed, effort, and time over a set distance.

You can also do this in a safe and uninterrupted manner.

Unlike on the road where you usually have to stop because of traffic and other obstacles.

The track is literally your playground.

Your Guide to Track Lingo

The more time you spend at a track, the more likely you may come across some of these common track terms.

Better be informed.

Here are the essentials:

Splits

These refer to the total time broken down into smaller parts—typically miles.

Monitoring your time at specific split markers can help ensure proper pacing.

For example, running an even split means running the same pace throughout the run.

But if you run the second half of your session faster than the first portion, then that’s what’s known as a negative split.

Straightway

Consists of the straight sections, which is 100 meters in length—the shortest distance for an outdoor sprint race.

The Curve

Also called a turn, that’s where the straightway begin to turn.

Sprints

An all-out, maximum speed effort over a relatively short distance.

As a rule, sprint intervals are no more than 20 to 60 seconds long, roughly 100 to 300 meters.

Intervals

Stand for sessions that alternate periods of faster-paced running and periods of recovery (whether by jogging or walking) with the primary goal of increase aerobic capacity and boosting speed.

When performing intervals, you should aim to keep a consistent level of effort and performance in each one.

Recovery

Each sprint, or interval, is followed by a recovery—or rest—period.

This allows you to catch up with your breath and bring your heart rate down so you can be ready for the next intense burst of exercise.

Strides

These consist of short sprints—often in the 50 to 60 meters range.

To perform a stride, you simply sprint at roughly 90 percent of your maximum speed for 20 to 30 seconds, recover fully, then sprint again.

This works very well as a warm-up to build momentum.

But you can also perform them at the end of the session if you still feel like you have more in the tank.

Drills

A series of functional exercises and stretches, such as butt kicks, high knees, walking lunges, and inchworms, performed before a run.

The goal is to make the nervous system as well as the muscles ready for the speedwork ahead.

Get The Right Shoes

As a rule, you’ll need lightweight, comfortable, and supportive shoes that help you perform at your best while reducing injury risk.

Of course, your road running shoes can work, but you may want to opt for spikes or flats—as these are specifically designed track workouts.

I recommend starting with middle-distance spikes.

These tend to be fairly lightweight and have more padding at the heel for extra cushioning over middle distances. They’re also more flexible than sprinting spikes.

Keep in mind that some tracks may specify what size spikes are allowed.

Using shoes with large spikes may actually damage the track, so remember to check the track rules before using your spikes during your run.

Female track and field sprinter Photo by Monte Isom For Usage Contact Monte Isom at m@monteisom.com or 917.971.6633

Track Running Rules

Another thing you need to pay attention to is track etiquette.

Since it’s a social venue, there are many conduct rules you need to abide by—unless you want to come off as a completely obnoxious person, or worse, get kicked off the track.

Following these rules is key on the track.

Not only does it help prevent unwanted clashes with other track users, but it also reduces the risk of accidents to you and others.

Stick To Your Line

Just like driving on the expressway, there’s a pecking order for lanes.

The inner lanes are by rule reserved for runners who are performing speed workout, allowing them to pass slower runners more easily.

That’s why you should never stop on the inner lane—or else, you’ll become a speed bump.

The outer lanes are reserved for slower runners and walkers.

Run Counterclockwise

When running on a track, the direction is counterclockwise—left turns only.

This is not the time to run against traffic and try to stand out—you’ll only look like a complete noob doing that.

In case of doubt, look for posted signs telling which direction to run.

Or follow the lead of others on the track.

Pass Safely

A track is a public place that you’ll be sharing with others training at different paces, so expect to pass some.

As a rule, pass other track users on the right-hand side when running counterclockwise or on the left clockwise.

Also, this rule isn’t written in stone.

Adjust your approach to what other runners and walkers tell you is right for their track.

What’s more?

As long as you’re mindful of the shared space, you’re doing it right.

Know The Slots

Most tracks are not open all day long for everyone.

They typically have off-limit times for recreational runners.

For example, some tracks restrict public use during school hours for the safety of the students, whereas most restricts use at night.

Check out the rules to check what is allowed and not allowed for each track you use.

How To Get Started With Track Training

Now that you know a thing or two about track training and how to conduct yourself once you’re there, let’s look at how you can actually get started.

Warm-Up

Whether you’re doing a long run on the trails, or a speedwork session on the track, the warm-up is always the first step

The main purpose behind a warm-up is to increase blood circulation, heart rate, and core temperature so that you won’t have to “go through the gears” in your workout.

A good warm-up also fires up your muscles so they can perform optimally, reducing the risk of muscle or tendon injury.

To warm-up, jog a few laps on the track, preferably on the outer lanes.

Once you feel your heart rate and body temperature increase, perform a few dynamic stretches on the infield or outflies space.

Have A Plan

Decide beforehand what your track sessions will be so you can get mentally ready for what pace you’ll run, how much recovery you’ll take, and how long the session will be.

Avoid running laps mindlessly around the track.

That’s how you are going to waste your time running in circles and actually achieving nothing in the process.

I’ve provided you below with many workout options to choose from.

Pick something that suits your fitness level and training goals.

The rest is just details, as the saying goes.

Pace Yourself

Most track workouts involve some form of speedwork or the other—that’s why it’s key to pace yourself properly.

As a rule, pace depends on your fitness level and training goals.

Start slower than your maximum so you can hold early and finish strong.

As the workout progresses, it should feel harder to keep up the pace.

But if you find it hard to complete a fast segment, ease back a bit instead of adding extra recovery time.

The fitter you get, the more you can increase the number and/or length of reps or reduce recovery.

It’s up to you.

Sample Track Running Workouts to Try

If this is your first time on the track, performing 100-, 200-, or 400-meter reps can help you set the right foundation.

As a beginner, aim for a 1:1 ratio for the interval to recovery.

In other words, run the same distance you walk.

For example, if you run one 400-meter, walk for a full 400-meter in the outer lanes to recover, then repeat.

Here are a few workouts to try.

The 100-Meter Repeats

  • Start with a 10-minute warm-up
  • Run hard for one straightway—or 100 meters.
  • Recovery by jogging or walking a full straightaway.
  • Repeat six to eight times
  • Cool down for 10 minutes

The 200-Meter Repeats Session

  • Warm-up for 10 minutes
  • Run hard for 200 meters, or half the track, which is one curve and one straightaway.
  • Recover by jogging or walking for another 200 meters
  • Repeat six to eight times
  • Cool down for 10 minutes

The 400-Meter Repeats Workout

Warm-up for 10 minutes

  • Run hard for 400 meters, or one lap around a standard track, at a controlled effort.
  • Recover by jogging or walking a full lap.
  • Repeat five to seven times.
  • Cool down for 10 minutes.

The Ladder Session

The ladder workout is a fantastic session that helps you build endurance, speed, and confidence, regardless of the race distance you’re aiming for.

  • Start with a 10-minute warm-up.
  • Run hard for 400 meters, but at a controlled pace. Then walk a full lap to catch your breath.
  • Run hard 800 meters at a controlled pace. Then walk a full lap to catch your breath.
  • Run 1200 meters at a challenging pace, then walk a full of catching your breath.
  • Run hard 800 meters at a controlled pace. Then walk a full lap to catch your breath.
  • Run hard for 400 meters, but at a controlled pace. Then walk a full lap to catch your breath.
  • Cool Down for 10 minutes.

The Mile Repeats Session

Looking to improve your race times and increase your running confidence?

Then mile repeats are exactly what you need.

In fact, mile reps are the ideal speed workout to run a faster long-distance event, such as a marathon.

Here’s a sample routine.

  • Start with a 10-minute jog as a warm-up.
  • Run one mile, or four laps, at your 10K pace, or 15 to 20 seconds faster than your realistic goal marathon pace.
  • Recovery at an easy face for two laps around the track. Make sure your breathing and heart rate are back to warm-up level before you crank up the intensity.
  • Repeat the cycle two to three times, depending on your fitness level. Aim to get it up to 5-6 reps as your fitness improves.
  • Finish it off with a one-mile jog as a cool down.