The 6 Most Important Track Workouts for Distance Runners

Are you tired of the same old running routine? Looking to take your training to the next level? Look no further than track workouts for distance runners!

Many distance runners tend to shy away from track workouts thinking they are only meant for sprinters training for some fancy USATF competitions. However, even short track workouts offer benefits that translate to cardiovascular and endurance improvement in distance runners.

Whether you’re training for a 10k, half marathon, marathon, or even one of the world’s best ultramarathons, track workouts will pay off in dividends for long distance runners (and middle distance runners, too).

From building leg strength to increase speed to improving stamina and endurance, in this article we’ll dive into what track workouts are all about – and how you can use them to make the most of your training.

A runner practicing track workouts for distance runners.
Photo by Jakub Matyáš on Unsplash

What Are Track Workouts?

Simply put, track workouts are structured training sessions performed on an often 400 meter running track. Track workouts traditionally involve shorter, faster intervals with structured rest periods.

The types of workouts vary. There are very short ranging sprints, to tempo runs, to longer interval work.

Why Distance Runners Should Do Track Workouts

Are you tired of pounding the pavement day in and day out, without seeing any noticeable improvement in your speed or endurance? Or, do you wish you could spice up your training routine and add some variety to your workouts?

Whatever the case may be, maybe it’s time to consider incorporating track workouts for distance runners into your training regimen.

Track workouts improve your running economy by improving your leg strength to generate higher running speeds and certain workouts may help you become more comfortable at sustaining a racing pace. In either case, they add much-needed excitement to your routine.

Here are some more benefits of these sorts of workouts for runners of all kinds.

Improved Running Economy

First and foremost, track workouts can improve running economy – that is, the amount of oxygen your body consumes to maintain a given speed.

By doing shorter, faster intervals on the track, your body becomes more efficient at using oxygen to producing energy. When you run a combination of intervals on the track, your body takes on a higher anaerobic capacity, letting you go for a longer time at a faster pace as a result – leading to faster race times later on down the road.

As distance runners, our longer, slower runs tend to focus more on the aerobic system. The anaerobic intervals bump up your heart rate and improve your body’s ability to run fast for longer periods of time.

Track workouts aren’t just for faster runners – they’re great training for runners of any fitness and speed levels who are striving to achieve a specific goal pace. The goal is to get your heart rate up and improve your body’s ability to run fast at longer distances.

How high should your heart rate be getting? The answer varies depending on the type of workout you’re doing, but most of the time, track workouts for distance runners will have you running faster, more intense paces at Zone 4 or 5 (your threshold paces and bumping up to your max heart rate).

Improving your running economy will also help prevent injuries as it reduces the amount of stress on your muscles and joints because of the lighter impact of a soft track surface to road running concrete. Modern running tracks are made of materials like polyurethane, synthetic rubber, or even a mixture of asphalt with rubber and sand.

While each running track can vary somewhat in terms of its composition, running on a track is almost always easier on your joints and ligaments than running on the road.

Running on a track also encourages proper running form. Since the track is flat and uniform, it allows you to focus on your stride, cadence, and foot strike. You don’t have to look for a straightaway section of road and worry about tripping over rocks, roots, or sidewalk cracks – you can just focus on your form.

With each lap, you can concentrate on maintaining proper form, which will carry over into longer runs. Good form leads to reduce wear and tear on your body and reduce risk of injury.

Improved Running Variety

Another great reason to mix in some track workouts is to add variety to your training routine. Long, slow-distance runs can get monotonous. Doing the same workout daily may out can lead to burnout.

Running on the track offers a range of options for intervals, such as 200m, 400m, 800m, or even longer distances.

You can also incorporate different pacing strategies like as negative splits and intervals – which add new challenges to your daily run.

By mixing it up, you’ll keep your body – and your mind – engaged and motivated.

Comfort at Race Pace

Doing track workouts will help you become more comfortable at your goal race pace. Many distance runners struggle with finding and maintaining the right pace during a race, especially if it’s a new distance or a challenging course.

By practicing interval workouts at your designed goal pace, you’ll train yourself to become more attuned to that speed and feel more confident on race day.

You can also practice different pacing strategies during speed workouts, such as starting slow and finishing fast which might be the way you decide to pace your half marathon.

The more comfortable you feel sustaining your goal pace during your speed work, the more likely you are to reach your racing goals.

Track workouts for distance runners
Photo by Philip Strong on Unsplash

Improving Speed With Track Workouts

Track workouts can be fun and challenging – and offer a surefire way to get faster, fast. If you’re at a point in your running where you’re determining how to run a faster half marathon in the shortest amount of time – here are some of the most popular track workouts you can do if you’re a distance runner.

Track Intervals

What Are Track Intervals?

Intervals are short, intense bursts of running alternated with periods of rest or low-intensity recovery. The idea is to challenge your body to work harder, increasing your speed, endurance, and overall fitness.

Why Run Track Intervals?

Track intervals are performed on a standard running track, which is usually 400 meters per lap. Depending on your fitness level and goals, you can vary the distance, intensity, and number of intervals performed. 

Track Interval Workout for Half Marathoners:

Before you start, make sure you warm up properly with some light jogging, stretching, and dynamic movements. Then choose a distance and pace that challenges you but is still achievable.

  • Start with 4-6 intervals of 200 meters at a faster, not quite all out, pace.
  • Follow this with a recovery period of 200 meters at a slower pace.

As you progress, you can increase the distance, speed, and number of intervals performed.

Another option is to do ladder workouts, where you gradually increase and then decrease the distance of each interval. Start with 200 meters, then 400 meters, then 600 meters, then back down to 400 meters, and finally 200 meters again.

This can be a challenging and rewarding way to mix up your training and challenge your body in new ways.

Tempo Runs

What are Tempo Runs?

Tempo runs are running workouts that are done at an increased pace for a specific duration of time. The pace at which the workout is done is referred to as your “threshold” or “tempo pace,” which is around 20 to 30 seconds slower than your 5K race pace.

Why Should You Run Tempo Runs?

The most significant aspect of tempo runs is that they are designed to challenge your lactate threshold, which is a point when your body releases lactic acid, and continuing to run becomes difficult. Running at or slightly below your lactate threshold pace for various intervals will enhance your lactate threshold and teach your body to run more efficiently.

One of the significant advantages of incorporating tempo runs or threshold runs into your distance running routine is that they improve your endurance and speed. By training at, but not above, your lactate threshold, you’re pushing your anaerobic threshold higher while preserving your aerobic capacity. It means that you’ll be able to hold a pace for more distance and run faster in a race.

Track Tempo Workout for Half Marathoners:

Start off by incorporating one workout per week at 20 to 30 minutes, including a ten-minute warm-up and cool-down. As you develop your endurance, you can progress towards longer sessions.

When it comes to the structure of a tempo run, you may have lots of variation to it, but here’s one you might find helpful as a start. 

  • Warm up for 10 minutes, running at zone 2 pace (conversational).
  • Run at tempo pace (20-30 seconds slower than 5K pace) for 20 minutes.
  • Cool down for 10 minutes, running at zone 2 pace (conversational).

If you want to, you can break a tempo run into manageable intervals like five minutes or three minutes, running at tempo pace during every interval before the few minutes rest.


What Are Fartleks?

First things first: what the heck is a fartlek? The name comes from the Swedish word for “speed play,” and that’s exactly what it is.

Why Run Farleks?

Fartleks involve alternating between periods of faster and slower running, often with no set plan or specific distances. You might sprint to that tree up ahead, jog for a bit, then speed up again when you see a mailbox.

Fartlek Workout for Half Marathoners:

There are a few different approaches you can take.

One is to simply do them spontaneously during your regular runs. Pick out landmarks or objects ahead of you and challenge yourself to sprint or surge until you reach them.

Another option is to structure a fartlek workout, where you plan out specific intervals of hard and easy pace running:

  • Run hard for 1 minute.
  • Jog or walk for 1 minute.
  • Repeat for 20-30 minutes.

To make fartleks even more effective, you can add in hill reps or incorporate them into longer tempo or interval runs.

When doing fartleks on hills, focus on shorter, faster bursts of energy to get up the incline. During tempos or intervals, you can use fartleks as a way to mix up the pace and keep your body guessing.


What Are Strides?

Strides are short, fast intervals done at a controlled pace. They should be done at about 80-90% of your maximum effort, with a focus on good form and relaxed breathing.

Why Should You Run Strides?

The purpose of strides is to increase your leg turnover, improve your running form, and help you develop a more efficient stride (hence the name). They can also help you build up speed and power.

Strides Workout for Half Marathoners:

The best way to incorporate strides into your training routine is to do them after an easy or moderate run.

  • Start with 4-6 strides, each lasting about 20-30 seconds.
  • Add a 1-2 minute rest in between.
  • As you become more comfortable with strides, you can increase the number of repetitions or the length of each stride.

Good form is essential when doing strides.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Focus on a quick turnover, with short, fast steps
  • Keep your upper body relaxed and your shoulders down
  • Keep your arms at a 90-degree angle, with your elbows close to your body
  • Keep your knees and ankles relaxed
  • Focus on landing softly on the balls of your feet

Yasso 800s

What are Yasso 800s?

Invented by Bart Yasso, the Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World, the Yasso 800s is a popular workout routine that’s often used by cross country and other  distance runners to improve endurance and speed.

Why Should You Run a Yasso 800?

The basic premise of this workout is to run 800-meter repeats at a pace that simulates the time you want to run a full marathon in hours and minutes.

Yasso 800s Workout for Half Marathoners: 

If you aim to run a 3-hour 30-minute marathon pace, your goal time for each 800-meter should be three minutes and thirty seconds.

  • Once you’re warmed up, start the Yasso 800s by running eight 800-meter repeats with a recovery jog in between each set.
  • The recovery jog should be equal in time to the 800-meter interval, e.g., if you run the 800 in three minutes, then your recovery jog should be three minutes as well.
  • The aim is to maintain a consistent pace and run each 800-meter as fast as possible while recovering enough to run the next one.

As you progress with the workout, you can increase the number of repeats and decrease the recovery time until you can run ten 800-meter repeats in the same time you want to complete a full marathon. These can be done often in your marathon training and help you target a faster per mile pace.

For instance, if you aim to run a 3-hour 30-minute marathon, your goal would be to run ten 800-meter repeats in 3 minutes and 30 seconds, with a 3-minute recovery jog in between each.

Pyramid Intervals

What Are Pyramid Intervals?

Pyramid intervals follow a pattern of increasing and decreasing intervals, hence the name.

Why Should You Run Pyramid Intervals?

They offer all the same benefits as regular track intervals but with a bit more variety, helping you fight boredom since you’re mentally “working your way up a ladder,” with the intervals getting more challenging as you go on. 

Pyramid Interval Workout for Half Marathoners:

To perform pyramid intervals, start with a warm-up of easy running for about 10-15 minutes. Once you feel sufficiently warmed up, begin the intervals.

Start with a short, high-intensity interval of 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest. Next, increase the interval time to 45 seconds and decrease the rest time to 15 seconds. 

Continue to increase the interval time with every rep until you reach your maximum interval time, then decrease the time with every rep until you complete the pyramid pattern.

Race Into a New Season With These Track Workouts For Distance Runners

The idea of running on a track can be intimidating, but with these five track workouts for distance runners, you can race ahead into the new distance running season with confidence.

And these aren’t the only track workouts you can do, either – mile repeats are another example of track workouts that will help you improve your time on race day, and you don’t have to have a running coach to get started.

Hopefully, this guide has shown you just how you can use a running track to its full potential.

Remember to start with a warm-up and end with a cool-down jog, stretch after each workout, and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts to avoid injuries.

Mix up these workouts to keep your body guessing – and to prevent boredom. And most importantly, have fun while you’re doing them!

How do you train a distance runner in track?

Beginners should prioritize building up their aerobic capacity to increase their cardiovascular endurance. A basic training program can include weekly runs with increasing distance and pace, strength training to improve the muscles’ strength and power, and tempo runs to improve your speed endurance.

What exercises help with distance running?

Exercises like squats, lunges, calf raises, and deadlifts are some of the best for building up leg strength. These exercises will help you improve your running form, stability, and strength. Core exercises for workouts, such as planks and leg raises, will help improve your overall balance and stability.

How do 1500m runners train?

1500m runners train with a mixture of speed training and endurance training. They do interval training, strength training, and speed training that includes hill intervals, fast repeats, and race pace running.

How do I train for 100M and 200M sprint?

Short distance runners (100M and 200M) focus on developing explosive power for sprinting. The focus is on training to optimize the energy production system and strengthen fast-twitch fibers. Intensive strength and resistance training are essential to enhance muscle mass and improve neuromuscular efficiency.

How do you train for a track workout?

To get started with a track workout at any level (high school, college, etc) begin with a warm-up that includes some light jogging and dynamic stretching. Then, move on to some interval training, where you alternate between sprinting and jogging for a set number of reps. Finally, finish with a cool-down that includes some static stretching.

What is the difference between a sprinter and a distance runner?

The main difference between a sprinter and a distance runner is the intensity and duration of the effort. Sprinters focus on short bursts of maximum power, whereas distance runners aim for endurance over long periods. Sprinters require more explosive strength, while distance runners require greater cardiovascular endurance and efficiency.

What are the benefits of training for distance?

Distance running has numerous benefits that include improving cardiovascular fitness, enhancing stamina, strengthening muscles and bones, reducing body fat composition, and providing mental clarity and relaxation.

What are the benefits of plyometric exercises?

Plyometric exercises help enhance your explosiveness and agility in running. They are essential for improving muscle contractility, power output, muscular strength, and calf flexibility. Plyometrics also reduce the risk of injuries and improve neuromuscular coordination.

What are some exercises to include in a workout for a distance runner?

Effective exercises to include in a workout for a distance runner include dynamic warm-up exercises, such as lunges and high knees, followed by strength training exercises for runners, such as squats and deadlifts. Hill repeats and tempo runs can improve endurance and speed, while plyometrics, such as running drills and box jumps, can help boost explosive power.

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