Mak­ing the move from parkrun to the ath­let­ics track

Athletics Weekly - - Contents -

IF YOU’RE MAINLY A PARKRUNNER AND MORE USED TO HIT­TING

THE ROAD OR CROSS-COUN­TRY EVENTS, CAN YOU EN­JOY TRACK RUN­NING? DAVID LOWES OF­FERS HIS THOUGHTS

PARKRUNS have in­tro­duced a new wave of pre­vi­ously seden­tary peo­ple to run­ning and the health ben­e­fits that it can bring. Some may en­joy a 5km so­cial jog just to get fit­ter while many turn out week af­ter week with the de­sire to im­prove as their pri­mary goal.

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of parkruns held every Satur­day also serve a pur­pose for the club – and even elite mid­dle-dis­tance run­ners, who pre­fer a shorter, hard road work­out to test their train­ing progress. A parkrun there­fore throws up many dif­fer­ent par­tic­i­pa­tory rea­sons and “run­ning types”.

Al­though times ap­proach­ing 30 min­utes – and even much slower – may be com­mon­place at parkruns, let’s not for­get some fan­tas­tic per­for­mances have been recorded, too.

At the time of writing the records for these runs were 13:48 for men and 15:55 for women – classy times on the track but truly ex­cep­tional on a parkrun cir­cuit.

If these week­end events at­tract masses of slower run­ners, is there an op­por­tu­nity for some who are slightly fleeter of foot to at­tempt rac­ing on the track? Maybe, but we should first look at the lo­gis­tics of en­durance run­ning from a more over­all per­spec­tive.

There is ob­vi­ously a win­ter and a sum­mer sea­son. The win­ter months are geared to­wards cross-coun­try and road run­ning, where the slower run­ners get the op­por­tu­nity to line-up along­side elite ath­letes. Once the gun goes, one cat­e­gory will speed off to­ward the hori­zon while the other can only watch in envy.

This is not a crit­i­cism – it’s what makes the sport a spec­ta­cle with big fields snaking their way around the coun­try­side and city streets.

At na­tional and re­gional cham­pi­onship level the gap be­tween the first run­ner and last is al­ways vast in win­ter events. Come the sum­mer sea­son, and with track at the fore­front, races are much more spe­cific and even elit­ist. And al­though fin­ish­ing a dis­tance be­hind the lead­ing pack over grass­land and the streets can be de­mor­al­is­ing, on the track over 5000/10,000m it can be seen to be soul de­stroy­ing once run­ners are lapped.

Track train­ing for parkrun­ners

If you have the de­sire and the will to make some changes you can step from the parkrun to the track. Rac­ing on a 400m oval is a bit of an ac­quired skill – it’s more spe­cialised be­cause of the re­straints on space and, as noted, more elit­ist – get­ting an en­try ac­cepted into many races can re­quire time-stan­dards.

On the flip-side, the good thing is that most clubs com­pete in leagues and if there are graded races the op­por­tu­nity may arise where our new­bie track run­ner can com­pete against sim­i­lar abil­i­ties.

For those who have never ex­pe­ri­enced track rac­ing, pac­ing may be one of the

most dif­fi­cult skills to de­velop. An­other could be the con­sis­tent quicker ca­dence needed.

How­ever, like most things in life, if the re­quired skills aren’t prac­tised then it will al­ways be dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble.

Then there’s footwear. For those who haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced run­ning in track spikes it may well come as a shock, and a painful one at that, with tight calf mus­cles be­ing just one pos­si­ble out­come.

Of course, for the heel-to­toe run­ner, and the ad­van­tage of a syn­thetic sur­face, rac­ing flats may be the pre­ferred choice of footwear and also more con­ducive to bet­ter per­for­mance.

Track train­ing ses­sions us­ing many differing rep­e­ti­tions from 200m to 1600m will give the parkrunner a chance to utilise all the dis­tances re­quired to com­pete rea­son­ably well – and more quickly – on the track.

Adding ex­tra reps and re­duc­ing the re­cov­er­ies will also help with the main­te­nance of run­ning more aer­o­bi­cally. There will also be a need to do more qual­ity ses­sions which in­clude quicker paces, fewer reps and longer re­cov­er­ies.

These lat­ter train­ing vari­a­tions may not have been pre­vi­ously fac­tored into train­ing for many parkrun­ners, nor may they have ex­pe­ri­enced the re­sul­tant fa­tigue and higher heart rate lev­els that come with them com­pared to their parkrun train­ing.

Nowhere to hide

Track rac­ing can be ex­tremely tough. There is nowhere to hide for starters. Gen­er­ally, there are no seg­ments in a race where you can slow down sig­nif­i­cantly, un­like in cross coun­try or on the roads where tight cor­ners and steep hills ne­ces­si­tate ad­just­ing stride length and ca­dence. Im­por­tantly, and some­what ob­vi­ously, there’s no mud on a track to slow you down ei­ther – al­though in re­al­ity some may dis­agree, as at cer­tain points in a track race it may feel as if you are run­ning through trea­cle, with the run to the line feel­ing, if not look­ing like, a very steep in­cline!

I’m not try­ing to put parkrun­ners off track rac­ing. How­ever, be­cause of the speci­ficity and smaller fields that gen­er­ally in­clude the bet­ter and more ex­pe­ri­enced run­ners, per­haps a lit­tle thought and hon­esty in the first in­stance needs to be taken be­fore head­ing for it and rac­ing.

Per­haps those who have em­braced parkrun should have times of sub-16min for males and sub-18min for fe­males in those 5km events be­fore at­tempt­ing a sim­i­lar track dis­tance.

Why? As pre­vi­ously men­tioned the track high­lights any lack of abil­ity or fit­ness and al­though fin­ish­ing 100m be­hind the lead­ers in a parkrun might seem not too bad, on a 400m syn­thetic sur­face the same deficit can feel cav­ernous.

Track is also gen­er­ally an in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic sport – which com­pares markedly with the em­brac­ing na­ture of parkrun – how­ever, a club track league event may value an ath­lete’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in re­spect of gain­ing some valu­able team points and where fi­nite time is of sec­ondary im­por­tance.

What­ever a run­ner’s pref­er­ence is, how­ever, one thing should not be for­got­ten, and that is cross coun­try and road run­ning will help stronger sum­mer run­ning – whether on the track or not.

In the same vein, the faster ef­forts in the sum­mer will def­i­nitely en­hance win­ter run­ning by in­creas­ing ca­dence and thus help­ing with biome­chan­ics.

And if ul­ti­mately track rac­ing isn’t your cho­sen pur­suit, don’t ne­glect to in­clude some lung- burst­ing and lac­tate­fu­elled ef­forts in your train­ing. You’ll no­tice the dif­fer­ence once you get back to your win­ter parkruns.

David Lowes is a free­lance level 4 coach, ath­let­ics writer and pho­tog­ra­pher as well as BMC academy chair and event or­gan­iser

The track can be a lonely place for the ill-pre­pared parkrunner – so train specif­i­cally

Train­ing on the track will boost your parkrun po­ten­tial

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