Jim is an accomplished triathlete and endurance cyclist, and has raced in more than 35 USAT-certified races. He is also an avid trail runner and endurance gravel bike rider. Jim is a founder of Complete Tri and frequent writer on triathlon and cycling.
Becoming fit and building exercise into your lifestyle can be difficult to do. Having a personal trainer is not always appealing or can be justified on the grounds of costs. Going to gyms can be a lonely and intimidating experience, especially if only just embarking on trying to get fit and feeling body conscious – not to mention the potential commute involved just to get there. There is always someone huffing and puffing during their weightlifting session which can be quite distracting. It could be that running on a machine is just too tedious.
Running on the roads can provide other problems because of the uneven and hard surfaces, runners are exposed to vehicle fumes which can be increased depending on the time of day, not to mention the fact that being so close to moving cars creates safety issues (if you are a road runner, dress safely).
It is proven that running is one of the most efficient ways of getting fit fast and losing weight fast. If you have a running watch or other fitness tracking device this theory can easily be checked. Burning calories by running happens quickly.
Running outside – with wind in your face and the interest of passing scenery – is an incomparable workout activity.. There are a number of indoor tracks that can be accessed and can be found by an internet search, but nothing beats running in the great outdoors. Add in some precise workouts, timing your 200s, 400s, or 800s with a running watch, and you can truly get a track-team-style workout for a pretty low cost — assuming you can find a track to run on!
HOW TO FIND A TRACK
Finding somewhere safe to run can prove difficult, so consider finding a track to run on. The advantages are the track will typically be well maintained, level and accurately measured so there is not even the need to own one of those fitness trackers because all you have to do is count how many time you travel around the track. Add the obvious advantage of no car or bike traffic whizzing by you, and you have a great setup for an excellent workout. Some may have floodlighting for your evening runs.
There have been medical studies that have proven that short intense exercises for approximately 45 seconds, then stopping for a minute or two and then back to intense exercise is also good for your health and a quick way to improve fitness and lose weight. You might be inspired by Usain Bolt and want to be able to run fast so a running track will be ideal.
And while running on a treadmill gets old, running on a track can give you sunlight and fresh air in your face. Even if it is colder, just put on your running jacket and start doing some quick laps.
Where to Find Running Tracks
The problem is finding a track close to you. Here are a few tips for trying to locate a good place to practice your interval runs or your 400 meter sprints:
Schools and Colleges
The first place to start would be to check out the facilities at local schools and colleges. It is worth investing time to have a look at the facilities as it might be that the running tracks are not accessible outside of school and college hours. It would be polite and reasonable to ask permission from the school or college to use the facilities just in case a zealous caretaker interrupts your exercise regime. However, I always feel that if I am a local taxpayer, the track is open, and there is not signage to stay out, I can go for it.
Anywhere you see a football field, look for a track running along the outside of it – it is a common design. Note that you will want to use these tracks during off-hours, not during the sports teams’ practices or games. If you see people practicing nearby, turn around. There are plenty of times when the fields and tracks are not being used.
City or Regional Parks
Some large, amenity-filled city or regional parks have a running track in them. Many of these parks had prior lives as sports complexes. For example, a quick search in the city of Chicago shows that they have 23 running tracks in their public parklands. Many are standard 400m tracks that can allow for your great interval runs. Go to your city’s park and rec department to see if they offer such a resource for you.
Fitness Club (especially for indoor tracks)
A local fitness club such as a running club, rowing club, boxing club may have a track that can be used. Again, it would be right and proper to ask for permission, and if need be make a small contribution for access to their facilities. Some of these tracks will be indoors, but on occasion you will get lucky and find a nice outdoor track. If indoor, expect it to be shorter but still serviceable.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Running around a track is an exhilarating experience. Whether your have a fitness buddy or not, that feeling of a running in such a controlled environment gives you precision that you normally don’t have on a trail or pavement run. Like any run, make sure you are doing warm up and cool down exercises to avoid muscular, knee and ankle pain.
Switch the direction of your running (if there are not lots of other people at the track) throughout the workout. Running in the same circular direction can be one of the causes of IT Band issues. Our experience is that these tracks are often sparsely populated and you may well be the only one there.
Be sure you bring your own hydration, as most tracks do not have any services for runners unless an event is occurring. Don’t forget to bring your running shades and sunscreen too. Because of the open clearing that outdoor tracks need to be built in, there are usually no trees for shade. You will be in the sun. Make sure you use some type of sweat-proof sunscreen, and consider a hydration pack or other insulated water bottle to keep your temp down.
If you encounter other people using the track, just be respectful. If you are at a public school track and the people appear to be that school’s track team, you may want to come back at a different time. Yield to them. Overall, runners are a pretty welcoming bunch and happy to have other people sharing the track with them. Most often, though, you will probably be all alone.
BE ABLE TO TIME YOURSELF
Part of the benefit of running on a track is to do timed interval runs, which can really advance your speed and overall fitness.
I always bring my multisport watch or running watch with me, so I can do timed 200s, 400s, 800s, and 1600s. In my opinion, there is no better run workout than doing timed 400 meter laps at or below by target pace. It is a tough one!
A good all-around run-specific watch I recommend is the Garmin 245 (find it here at Garmin).
Most athletes have break times in their training regimes i.e. not exercising every day. Set a steady pace for yourself so that you constantly improve your performance and stay motivated about running. Good luck.