Speed work is an important part of a solid training plan. It helps you build strength, cardiovascular capacity and increases both speed and turnover. So, of course, there’s no better place to do it than on the track, right? Not always. Here’s how off-track speed work can make all the difference.
But wait, isn’t that what tracks are for? Yes, the track is a wonderful place to run fast. Just don’t do it too often unless you’re going to race there. The constant left turns can create extra torque on your inside leg, the surface might not be the same as what you’ll find on race day and it can be boring. By choosing off-track speed work instead, you’ll reap some major physical and mental benefits.
Running hard away from the track’s smooth, steady surface makes muscles work on both sides of your body. You learn to balance in all directions and deal with the variety a road or trail presents while strengthening your hips, ankles, core and legs. Conquering race-like conditions during training goes a long way to helping you succeed after toeing the line.
To get started with off-track speed work find a place where it’s safe to run fast. Ideally that will be a road, paved trail, park or sidewalk where you aren’t battling distractions from traffic or other outdoor recreation activities. Hills are a great spot for challenging speed workouts and can be lots of fun. Mark a one/two/three mile loop around your neighborhood to use as benchmarks for progress. When you can cover the same distance faster with less effort, you’ll know your fitness if improving.
Remember, the track is always there when you’re in a jam. If you don’t have somewhere safe to go instead or are working with a group, it can be the perfect spot. But to get the most out of those fast sessions, opt for off-track speed work as often as possible.