track workouts

9 Track Workouts for Long Distance Runners

Track workouts are the staple of sprinters and middle-distance runners. But are they worth the time for distance runners?

The answer is a resounding YES! There’s no runner—regardless of race distance—who couldn’t benefit from regular speed work. You can also take your VO2 max intervals to the track. There are no excuses to dodge pre-defined paces, as you won’t encounter obstacles like hills, sharp corners, or traffic lights.

And although I enjoy various workouts in different settings, track day has always been my favorite.

The Benefits of a 400m Track

There are a few good reasons to train at the track once a week, even if it entails a short commute.

A Shock-Absorbing Surface

The faster you run, the higher the ground reaction force that travels through your ankles, knees, and hips. A rubberized running track cushions that impact. That also means you can bring your racing flats for your faster workouts. You can even bring track spikes if you fancy pulling a Usain Bolt occasionally.

Exact 100, 200, 400m Landmarks

The advent of GPS-running watches has enabled us to run anywhere with reasonable accuracy. But nothing matches the precise 100, 200, and 400m landmarks on a track. There, you know a 200m is really 200 meters long and not just GPS guesswork. Therefore, the track is a great place to clock precise intervals and repeat time trials to measure your progress.

Run Intervals in Group

Running isn’t a team sport, and if you are like me, you are perfectly fine running solo most of the time. But when it comes to speed work and hard intervals at VO2 max, you’ll have a better experience in a group setting, where other runners acknowledge your heroic efforts—or struggles, for that matter.

The other advantage is that runners of different abilities can join forces. Everyone runs at their appropriate pace, yet no one gets lost on a 400m track. You can do this by manipulating sendoff times or by adjusting the duration of intervals.

Learn from Other Runners

But even if you despise joining a group and prefer doing your own workout routine, being exposed to other athletes on a 400m track will benefit your running. It’s a bit like having your own gym in the basement. Yes, it’s convenient. But nobody will correct your posture, nor will working out from home spark new ideas. Observation and feedback matter.

Track Workouts for Speed

As a long-distance runner, you won’t necessarily need a dedicated speed session. When I lived in Munich, for example, I would run my easy runs at the Olympia Park and then do a few 100m reps at the nearby track. If you have a track within running distance, that could also be an option for you.

100m Sprints & Accelerations

I don’t recommend running 100-meter sprints at an all-out effort, as this will tense you up and tax your central nervous system. Instead, run them powerful but relaxed at a 400-meter race pace (90% of maximal velocity). Alternatively, accelerate gradually to 50 meters, hold peak velocity for 30 meters, and then decelerate.

Sprint the straights with perfect technique (high knees and bring your heels up to your butt). Then, walk the curves. Rest as long as you wish because sprinting isn’t about training your energy systems. It’s about neuromuscular adaptations.

4 – 8x at 90% of maximal velocity

  • 100m @ 400m race pace w/ 100m walks

4 – 8x with flying start and gradual acceleration

  • 50m acceleration to peak velocity
  • 30m hold maximum speed
  • 20m deceleration
  • 100m recovery walk

200m Repetitions

Although you’d be perfectly fine by just doing 100m and 400m repeats, the 200m helps to bridge the gap between the two. What I love most about the 200s is that they’re neither slow nor hard. Despite the blazing speed, they’re short enough to prevent a significant lactate buildup.

  • 5 – 10x 200m @ 800m pace w/ 200m walks

400m Repetitions

Those one-lap repetitions are perfect for improving running economy. They are also great practice for upcoming VO2 max workouts in later training stages. If you are used to 1500m pace, then VO2 max pace (3K pace) won’t be as challenging.

Don’t run 400m reps faster than 1500m race pace, or you’ll build up too much lactate, interfering with your aerobic base.

  • 5 – 8x 400m @ 1500m pace w/ 200m jogs

Track Workouts for VO2 max

VO2 max intervals are longer and less intense than speed repetitions. They also feature longer rest intervals relative to their distance. Understand that velocity at VO2 max (vVO2 max) occurs at around 2 – 3K pace for most runners. Any faster pace will require additional energy from the anaerobic system, prolonging your recovery with no extra gains to show for it.

800m Intervals

  • 4 – 6x 800m @ 5K or 3K pace
  • 2 – 3 min rest intervals

1200m Intervals

  • 4 – 5x 1200m @ 10K or 5K pace
  • 2:30 – 3:30 min rest intervals

If you use 5K pace and shorten the rest intervals to 1 – 2 minutes, then you will have an excellent 5K race-specific workout.

1600m Intervals

  • 3 – 4x 1600m @10K pace
  • 2:30 – 3:30 min rest intervals

You can make this workout 10K race-specific by increasing it to 5 work intervals and shortening recovery to 1 – 2 minutes.

Combo Track Workouts

With combo workouts, you can employ a variety of intensities instead of using the same pace for all intervals. This challenges your body in novel ways, creates pace awareness, and accustoms you to pace changes.

Ascending Ladder Intervals

Run 2 sets of the following sequence with 5 minutes rest between sets:

  • 400m @ 1500m pace
  • 200m recovery jog
  • 1000m @ 5K pace
  • 400m recovery jog
  • 1600m @ 10K pace

Descending Ladder Intervals

This is the reverse of the above workout, going from slow and long intervals to fast and short intervals. Do 2 sets and rest 5 minutes between them:

  • 1600m @ 10K pace
  • 400m recovery jog
  • 1000m @ 5K pace
  • 400m recovery jog
  • 400m @ 1500m pace

Pyramid

The pyramid workout featured here is also called the reverse pace ladder. It means ascending with increasingly longer but less intense intervals and descending with shorter, faster intervals. One set is enough for most runners.

  • 400m @ 1500m pace
  • 200m recovery jog
  • 1000m @ 5K pace
  • 400m recovery jog
  • 1600m @ 10K pace
  • 400m recovery jog
  • 1000m @ 5K pace
  • 400m recovery jog
  • 400m @ 1500m pace

Summary

  • Know the purpose of each workout
  • Use a sensible work-to-rest ratio
  • Bring your racing flats to the track
  • Join a guided group occasionally
  • Be open to new ideas from others

Supercharge Your Training Today

Running training plans for every time goal
in 8, 12, 16, and 20-week versions.

Training plans for every time goal
in 8, 12, 16, and 20-week versions.

Tap your distance

Sandro-Sket-4 (2)

Sandro Sket, CSCS

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

Hi, I’m Sandro. A lifelong endurance athlete,
coach, and founder of RunningFront.
You can find my training plans on
TrainingPeaks and FinalSurge

Latest Articles

Scroll to Top