3 Track Workouts Guaranteed to Kick Your Ass

I’m a huge fan of the track workout.  It’s something that I didn’t introduce into my training for about five years after I started running, probably because of a subconscious fear instilled in me by awful, once-a-year miles forced on me in middle school gym class.  But now that I’ve gotten comfortable with running on the track, speed workouts are my favorite of all.  Yes, they’re awful.  But you feel damn good afterward.

Scared of the track?

Going to the track is a little intimidating the first time, but it needn’t be.  All you really need to know is this:

  • One lap is 400 meters, just about a quarter-mile.
  • Run counterclockwise.
  • Stay to the inside most of the time, yelling “track” when you need to pass someone — they should get out of the way.
  • When you hear someone behind you yell “track,” you get out of the way.  Or get run over and make an enemy in the process.

Once you have this down, you need to know what you do there, since running around in circles at a steady pace gets boring quickly (as in immediately).  While lots of track workouts are so complicated you need to bring a piece of paper to remind yourself of the paces and distances, my favorites are the simple ones that involve running a single distance multiple times at a single prescribed pace, punctuated by rest intervals.  To me, such workouts mimic the feel of a marathon, where miles at the beginning feel easy, but as your body wears down, hanging on to the pace that was once so comfortable becomes a true test of fitness and willpower.

With that melodramatic introduction, here are my three favorite track workouts.  Of course, warm up before attempting any of these, cool down afterward, and only attempt them if you’re already in good running shape and know what a proper intensity feels like.  These aren’t get-off-the-couch-and-into-shape workouts.  If something feels too hard, by all means slow down.

Three Killer Track Workouts

Track Workout #3:  3 x 1 mile with 400 m rest intervals.

Pace:  Determine 5K mile-pace and subtract 10 seconds.

Just in case you aren’t getting the notation, consider my example:  My 5K pace is about a 6:12 mile, so I’m looking at 6:02 for this workout.  After a warmup, I run one mile at 6:02, then jog slowly around the track one time, then repeat the whole thing two more times, for a total of three repeats.  Too easy, tough guy?  Try resting for only one minute instead of one lap.

Track Workout #2:  Yasso 800’s.

I’ve mentioned this workout before, but that’s because I like it so much.  It’s used as a marathon prediction workout, but it’s a good workout in its own right.  Here’s how it works.  Start with your marathon time (or better, your target marathon time).  For me last year, it was 3 hours, 10 minutes.  Now shift the units so that it becomes minutes and seconds instead of hours and minutes.  (3:10 becomes 3 minutes, 10 seconds.)  Run 800m at this pace, then lightly jog for the same amount of time.  Do this as many times as possible.  If you can complete 10 repeats and 10 rests, then in theory, you can run your target marathon time on a flat course.  In my experience, this is a bit optimistic — that’s why I like to do more than 10.  For more, see the original Runner’s World article introducing the workout.

And my all-time favorite…

Track Workout #1:  10 x 400m with 400m rest intervals.

Pace: Determine 5K mile-pace, then divide by 4 and subtract 10 seconds.  (Example: 19:15 5K is a 6:12 mile.  Divided by 4 gives 1:33, subtracting 10 gives 1:23 for each 400m interval.)  This takes the idea of “easy at first, brutal at the end” to the extreme.”  And it’s so easy — Run 400m, jog 400m.  After one or two of these, it seems like a breeze.  Get to number 6 or so, and all the sudden 4 more is out of the question.  But because each only requires a short effort, I find myself thinking “Ok, I can manage just one more.”  And then after a rest, I think the same thing. And so on until the end.

And then, as I drink my recovery drink, I feel like I own the world.

Good luck!  Why not get your speed on today?

This post is part of a series of posts designed to teach you how to run long and strong.  Go check out the rest!



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  1. I have been thinking, actually knowing, I need to put track workouts into my training. Unfortunately, I will need to find a track since my high school’s is torn up for replacement this year. Thanks, Matt! I actually understand.
    .-= Nicki´s last blog ..A Sunny Spring Walk =-.

  2. Thanks for breaking it down so it’s easy to understand. I always read about track workouts, but my head is spinning before I even figure out what I am supposed to do.

    Now I just need to find a track…

  3. Nice post! I really appreciate the special tidbit “one lap is 400m.” For some reason that was extreme insider information I had never figured out before.

    I may try the first one(#3) out as it seems most attainable for me. Right now I don’t incorporate any speed portions into my runs- my runs are all jogs I suppose.

    Do you remember any of your track workouts from when you were beginning? I would be really interested!

  4. Nice post! I usually do 800m repeats, so these will come in handy!
    .-= Aimee (I Tri To Be Me)´s last blog ..The good, the bad, and the ugly =-.

  5. Matt, This post was very inspirational. I find myself a little sad that I am simply going out for a run tonight. I am thirsty for a track to do the last workout you mentioned. Anywhere near me in the city of Baltimore that you know has a track?


    • Pat, glad to hear you liked the post. Hmm tracks in Baltimore where you won’t get shot… no, none come to mind. 🙂 Come up to Bel Air and we can run at JC!

      • Matt Carrico says:

        I know I’m really late on this one, but when I lived in Baltimore County I would go to one of three places to run the track- Essex Community College, Loch Raven High School, or Dulaney High School. All three were good place to get a good track workout in. Now I hit John Carrol, Bel Air High, or Fallston High school.

        Have fun.

  6. Hi Matt,

    I’m a lurker but I’ve been reading NMA via RSS for a while now.

    I really like the 400m track workout…probably one of the most painful workouts I do. I’m training for 5K/10K so are those 400s paced correctly for that kind of training?? I usually do about 10 x 400 at 79-80 but subtracting 4 seconds from my pace per quarter in the 5K would be 85…
    .-= Caroline (Ribbons, Roads, and Raspberries)´s last blog ..Mushroom Risotto =-.

    • Caroline, thanks for commenting. That’s a good question about the pacing for 5K/10K training, and I don’t know the answer. All the track workouts I’ve done have been in the context of marathon training, so these are adapted from that.

      To me, it sounds logical that in training for shorter distances, there would be more focus on increasing V02 max, hence running the intervals a little faster. Although, there’s no way I could go 4 seconds faster than 5K pace and complete 10 of them!

  7. Matt, thanks for making track workouts simple to understand.

  8. Great post! In the past I’ve always been inconsistent with doing speed work while training, but this year I’m committed to sticking to it.. I’ve always done Yasso’s so I love these new ideas. I also appreciate that you talk about how hard speed work is to get through- I always I’m convinced I’m dying by the end.

    Your post about the 4-minute mile and the power of our thinking was amazing too! I had been thinking about how much I want to qualify for Boston this year… after reading that post my thinking has now changed to “I will qualify for Boston this year.” (Hence the commitment to speed work).

  9. Hi Matt! I’ve been a reader for awhile but this is my first comment… 🙂 I am going to get a tshirt and have been meaning to for awhile- i absolutely love the front and the message on the back. i think it’s genius.

    also thank you for posting track workout ideas! i love the simplicity of each of these 3 workouts. i’m a huge fan of the track, it is the one place where i always have a great run. i was tired yesterday and almost didn’t run at all, then i read your post and sucked it up and went and did 10×400 and it was awesome. so thank you.
    .-= Lacey´s last blog ..Same four miles, five minutes faster (and WOW you guys are good). =-.

    • Hi Lacey, that’s great to hear. Thanks so much for commenting. I love that you actually did one of the workouts! That really is a great one. Thanks also for buying a shirt and for the link from your blog!!

  10. Hi Matt! I’ve been reading NMA for a little while now and figured I should stop lurking and comment. 🙂 I love your site, especially since I am also a vegetarian long-distance runner (have been for over 10 years now!). The way you incorporate so much natural foods/fuel into your diet is inspiring and am I excited to start incorporating some of these myself.

    Anyway, I wanted to comment on this post specifically because I’ve been sort of avoiding track workouts for about as long as you’ve been excited about them haha. After running competitively for 8 years I got a little burned out by track workouts…even though I know in my gut I should be doing them more often. I think the 3 workouts you described here are awesome — simple, yet extremely effective. Thank you so much for posting them. I think it’s the extra push I needed to get out there and get back on track. 🙂

    • Hi Lauren, thanks for your comment. It’s always especially nice to hear what it is that gets long-time readers to comment! I can imagine that 8 years of competitive running would burn one out a little bit. I played golf relatively competitively for about that long and got really burned out too. I guess since running feels more like a hobby, burnout hasn’t been much of a factor. But certainly after I BQ’d, I needed a break and did a lot of slow, fun trail running.

      Hope you get back out there, and more importantly, enjoy it.

  11. I’m one of those runners intimidated by the track simply because I wouldn’t know what to do once I get there. This is great stuff. Thanks, Matt! Can’t wait to try it out!
    .-= Pinoy Weekend Warrior´s last blog ..Learning From a Mountain: My All Terra King of the Mountain Experience =-.

  12. awsome! Im super young ,but really fast and injoy running. Next year ill be old enough to join track, so gota practice!

    • A GREAT workout for track… not one to do all the time but it really helps increase speed is called lactic acid. An example of this would be do a 400m then a 200m, but only have a 20sec recovery.. this should be done after a regular workout, with a full recovery before doing this, after this you should do a couple laps cool down. Another one I’ve done is a 400m, 300m, 200m, 100m. This seems easy, but is actually quite tough!! Hope this helps… I’ve been in track for 3 years now and it’s almost the team state meat which our team is trying to get first this year.. we got second last year, so I’m realllly excited! GOOD LUCK!

  13. I’m really interested in trying out these yasso 800s, but I don’t quite understand where to work them in to marathon training. Would you do them during the offseason and then stick to a specific marathon training plan leading up to the race? Or would you substitute tempo runs in a marathon plan with these? Or just add them in as an extra hard day when the plan has an easy day? Thanks for the great info!

  14. Hey Matt,

    We used to do a track workout back in high school for soccer. I can see it working for training here too. Jog 2 laps around the track, When back to the start, sprint 1 side, jog other 3. Then sprint 2 jog 2. Sprint 3 jog 1. Sprint 1 full lap and then jog 2. This would be a total of 8 laps (2 miles). I hated my coach but it works.

  15. Albert Calvet says:

    Hey, interessting article, damn we share so many things! I have already done this workouts many times, the 10×400 is a very typical one, as for the Yasso, I usually do 6×800 or 8×800 but did the 10 once out of curiosity.

    If you want to experience real pain (I guess you will find it challenging hehe), you can try the 5×2000. Just run the 2000’s at 10K race pace (actual pace recommended, not target pace, you’d die) then rest a minute and a half (walking at the most, you’ll need to recover every single bit of energy!).
    Also the 6×1000 is pretty nice, take your 10K pace and substract 10 seconds (so if it was 3:40 then 3:30) and do them at that pace and rest 1 minute walking.

  16. These look like some good workouts I might take into consideration. Do you think they will help me in track in distances such as the 400 meters, 800 meters, and the 1 mile?


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