Saturday 23 November 2013

My first attempt at: track training sessions

To run fast you must practice running fast. 

OK, that’s pretty self explanatory. But I’m running a marathon, where I’ll be running long and slow, slow, slow so running fast isn’t for me, right? WRONG! 

If you look at any marathon training programme these days there is a lot of emphasis on adding in at least one session a week that involves increasing your pace - tempo runs, hill work – anything that gets you out of your comfort zone and breathing a little bit harder. This approach apparently makes you a more effective runner and will help you to run faster even when you run slow. Even if speed isn’t your no. 1 goal let’s face it – we’d all like to be a little bit quicker and see some progress on those race times! 

Now, I’m not a ‘lazy’ person, per se. I’ll happily kit up and hit the tarmac for a trot round the park and, if I’m training for a longer distance, dedicate my weekend hours to get some decent mileage in. But push myself to the point of hard breathing and inability to chat as I run (say what now??) – no, sorry, it’s not really going to happen on my watch alone. And if I ever try, I do a few short bursts of speed, give myself a pat on the back and then trot on home for a crème egg and a cuppa. 

My marathon training programme, however, says otherwise. As the teachers at school used to tell me, if you can’t be trusted alone then you require supervision! So, I had the bright idea to head along to a track session. Back in the day I was actually a track runner at school and, unbelievably, I used to do track training 2-3 times a week. Sometimes just for fun! Ah, to be young...

Through tips and advice from fellow twitterunners (did I just invent a new label for runners who tweet?? Trademark pending...) I found a session with run coach Karen down at Battersea track on a Wednesday evening. I’d already convinced my friend Josie it was a good idea too, and she’d gone along a few times already – a guinea pig of sorts, in the nicest possible way! – and fed back that it was quite good and she hadn't died yet: always a good sign. So I decided that this was the week to make my return to the track. Ah, dammit! I now have the classic 90s song ‘Return of the Mack’ inside my head... I digress (as always). 

I’d had my first post-school track experience when I went to Battersea stadium as part of my Run to the Beat training and – despite it being really tough – I loved it! The only difference was than back then it was in August, 20-odd degrees and sunny. As I walked to the track on Wednesday it was November, pissing down and freezing cold! 

As I walked along I gave myself a pep talk: “you’ve played numerous seasons of hockey in the Scottish winter, woman! You can do this!” And I’m glad that the voices in my head prevailed... 

At the track there turned out to be 8 of us plus Karen, and the rain died down so it was only freezing cold now and not wet. Relentless positivity, anyone? To try to explain just how cold it was, I had three layers on and an ear-warmer headband, and not one item of clothing was removed over the course of the session! 

A short ‘warm’ up of two laps round the track, some drills (walking on toes, walking on hills, high knees, bum kicks etc.) Karen explained the session. The regulars told me that each week was different and you don’t get told in advance so nobody knew what to expect... Karen paired us up in a two-man team, and told us we were to do non-stop 400m relays. For 25 minutes. Yup. 25 minutes solid. Ouch! 

Once we got going though it actually didn’t seem too bad. That is until after our 3rd or 4th lap of the 400m track when the legs really got tired and the lungs hurt from the cold air. For some reason I always seemed to die at 200m and had to spend the remainder of the lap screaming: c’mon stupid legs, work!! 

Battersea track in sunnier times!
We kept pushing through, supporting and cheering each other on the rounds and getting some tips from Karen while we recovered. For example, it’s much more efficient to run with short, fast strides than with long slow ones – my preferred mode of ‘bounding’ around the track. I tried the shorter strides out on my next few laps and, while I can’t vouch for efficiency or graceful technique, I certainly felt like I was running much faster! 

Team Josie & Katy managed 9 laps each in the 25 minutes, averaging around 7min mile pace. We were knackered at the end, but with happy, rosy-cheeked faces :) Time will tell how much these sessions will help my running, but it was great to mix up the training and to meet some new people; I really enjoyed it and will definitely be back: ‘Wednesday track’ is now a solid fixture in the marathon training plan! 

If you fancy channelling you inner Usain Bolt and getting down for some track action then get in touch with Karen – the sessions are held on Wednesdays at Battersea Millennium Park, cost £8.90: £3.90 to the track and £5 to Karen. 

Have you tried track training or other forms of speed work? Did it make a difference to your running? 

Katy | City Girl Fit


  1. I started speed and track work around Easter with an ex-Olympic runner in my local park one lunchtime a week, organised by work. It has made such a difference to my running, and led to me achieving a massive 10 minute PB at Brighton 10K last week!

    1. It really does make a difference, doesn't it! I felt much stronger running faster in my recent 10K too - who knows what months of training will bring!!