Tuesday nights at the track

The last few weeks I’ve been heading out just as the sun sets to hit up the track and get in my speed work.  Why wait so late in the day though? Well I’ve been trying to get it as cool as possible – and since I’m not a morning person, waiting until the sun is no longer pounding is my best bet. Especially on the really humid days where the heat and humidity make me melt like the Evil Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

Since my ‘A’ running race is the Philadelphia Marathon in mid-November the temperatures are almost guaranteed to be cool – so I don’t have to worry about the heat come race day.  The last two times I ran Philly it was lightly snowing at the beginning, which in my mind is just about perfect running weather (I’m most definitely not a hot weather running guy).  The challenge with getting in speed work at warmer times of the day is that it takes a pretty big toll from a recovery standpoint – and from a heart rate perspective during the workout.  The level of effort required for me to maintain the paces that I do for the speed work are much higher (8-10 BPM) during hotter times than just waiting a few hours.

But you know? I love the track at night.

Ironically, the high school where I run at (the one featured in ‘Remember the Titans’) doesn’t actually have lights at their brand new state of the art track and football field.  There is some rather vocal folks in the community, and as a result – when the sun goes down – so does the light.


But at night the track is both peaceful and quiet.  You can simply focus on nailing your splits without any distractions.  There is precisely one area where ambient light from a nearby street light illuminates a small section of the track, everything else is simply too dark for my little point and shoot camera to take a picture.


Of even greater to me though it that the last few weeks worth of Tuesday night track workouts have been going quite well.  Each week the pace remains the same – 1’21” per 400m – but the repetitions increases.  For example, last week was 12 reps, this week 14 reps.  After each one I’ve got 90 seconds of walk/jog recovery.

What’s key is that I’m doing them with less effort each week – despite adding more reps.  Three weeks ago my max HR recorded towards the last half of the reps would be in the mid 180’s. Last week I maxed out at 181.  And this week, the vast majority maxed out in the mid-upper 170’s.  And perhaps more importantly – the paces are getting easier to execute on.

As with most track workouts – the goal isn’t to drop dead after finishing a work interval section.  The goal is controlled but hard effort.  If you’re collapsing after finishing each rep – you’re likely doing them too hard.  And that’s true of my Tuesday workout – I’m still feeling relatively good as I knock them out one after another.


It becomes a bit of a system.  For me, I find that they go quickest when I start at one corner, run 400m (work), then walk 100m (rest) and start at that corner.  Thus each time I complete a ‘rotation’ around the track I’ve knocked out four. I don’t have an explanation as to why this makes it better for me…but consider giving it a whirl next time you’ve got 400’s.


In order to keep them as even as possible, I like to try and hit each 100m section in 20 seconds (1/4th my overall time for the 400m) – which allows me exactly one second of spare time.  Ideally I like to see that when I cross the line at each 100m chunk the watch is changing from 19s to 20s.

Of course, this isn’t my only faster paced workout each week.  Early Thursday/tomorrow morning (albeit violating my early morning run rule this week) I’ll head out on the street in front of my house and do 1-mile repeats.  I’ve got a set and measured 1-mile stretch that’s fairly flat.  And the street and I will become good friends given it’s 8 by 1-Mile, plus a 2-mile warm-up. Just wait until that ends up at 16 by 1-mile…Eek!

Fun times ahead!


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  1. how do you determine the speed and length and number of intervals for speed work day?

  2. I’ve never run on a track. I can imagine it would be great to know your exact distances, but the repetition might drive me mad!

    For my last marathon I was rotating flat sprints with hill sprints. The hills were the toughest workouts! It felt like they got easier even as the repititions got higher, but I never analysed my heart rate across the workouts to see how I was really doing.

  3. The Texas heat has made it completely miserable to do track work… it just takes everything out of you, and even for the next day’s training. It’s feels so self-defeating at times. That is, until you get a chance to run in cooler weather and realize how much the effort did pay off! Waiting until the evening here is even worse… you can just feel the heat radiating off the track at 9pm at night! Only way I can convince myself to do it is in the morning! What I wouldn’t do to run in some snow! Sounds awesome!

  4. Jim

    Ray – Any particular reason you use a track to do speed work? I know you’ve got like 25 Garmin watches and surely one of those would help you know how far you’ve gone! :) I don’t have a track that is reasonably close to where I’m at and have to use my Garmin. Crazy question though, is the Garmin (mine is a Forerunner 305) accurate at 200m and 400m? I’ve been using GTC to set the distance for my intervals setting 200 at .13 and 400 at .25.

    Thanks – Jim

  5. Tom

    Mile repeats are the devil. You may want to be careful, I am pretty sure doing 16 is fatal.

  6. Great job on the track workouts!

  7. Ahh… I miss posts like this – cold, hard workout stats/reports!

  8. The reason there are no lights at TC is the same reason there are no longer any night football games there…the kids that go there aren’t exactly the best example of perfect citizens. Really nice facility there though!

  9. @Jim: I’ve used my Garmin at the track and find over short distances it is not accurate enough. When I’m running 3:00 800s a couple meters make a big difference in my time. 15meters will be a 3 second difference if it runs long or if it runs short I’ll be overestimating me speed. I go to the track to have an absolute distance and garmins are not there yet. Saying that, I know a lot of people that use them for all their speedwork.

    Plus the track is soft and more cushioned to run on which I like and it lets me relive my high school glory days

  10. Kim

    i hit the track at least once a week… when i take my rest i wish i knew exactly how long 100m is so instead of watching my watch for rest time, i could base it on distance. i dont understand all those marks on the track. so confusing.

  11. I used to live a nice warmup away from that track. The school looks completely different since the renovation. And I actually work with one of the original Titans who the movie was based on.

  12. I used to always go to a track for my speed work, but a few years ago, I wheeled my block and discovered it was exactly 0.3 miles so I split it up to 0.05 increments and can run any distance I want. I’ve done 20×1/4, 10×1/2, and upto 4×1 mile repeats. The Garmins really go crazy with these fast repeats and distances usually go long the faster I run. My guess is the arm swing. This morning I did 8×1/2 mile repeats and kept getting 0.52 mile from the 310. When I walk or ride a bike with it, it always comes out 0.5 as expected.

  13. just did a track workout yesterday. in the early am though, trying to beat the heat that way despite humidity being higher. i need to keep in mind the goal of track workout is CONTROL!

  14. Ray – 16x1mile repeats is awesome. I peak at 14x1mile repeats a fortnight before race day.

    I also use my local track and use my TGT for measuring the distance/pace. I run them at 30s faster (or more) than goal pace, are you doing something similar?

    My mile repeats are on every 4th weekend (Sunday early mornings)…
    They are a great workout and recommended!

  15. hit your blog twice within the past 10 minutes….weird…1st looking for info on the Power Pilot as I have had the trainer for about 5 months….unit is hard to get in Canada….then linked over from Simon Whitfields blog to your Tuesday nights at the track….inspiring….heading back to work at the high school hear tonight and I will do some 400 repeats for fun….Marathon on Sep 18 but not even an A or B race just a run.

  16. Hi All-

    Answering a few of the questions-

    RE: Determining speed/length/quanity

    The length/quantity is primarily driven by trying to get my HR/effort into a given zone for a chunk of time. In other words, trying to get X minutes of Z5A time as part of the workout. Speed is determined by pacing goals for the race. Check out McMillian’s running calculator though for a great way to quickly figure out interval paces.

    Hi Jim-
    RE: Why use track

    It’s mindless. For whatever reason I can shut off my brain when I run around the track. While I too have everything marked out, I find something nice about just shutting everything off on the track. Accuracy wise it’s pretty good – check out this year’s accuracy tests, but in general it’s within 1/100ths of a mile.

    Hi Tom-
    RE: Mile repeats are the devil

    Yes, yes they are.

    Hi Lesser-
    RE: TC Kids

    It’s a tough school (my wife tought there for four years). Last year they did a game under rented lights that was an enourmous success. But the neighboors still won’t allow it. In my mind it’s better to have the kids occupied on a Friday night than roaming the streets. Ironically, they plan to build a new football stadium less than a mile away from my place – just for TC, with lights – merely because the neighboors won’t allow them to build lights here. Google “Alexandria Sports Complex” for more info.

    Hi Kim-
    RE: White lines

    The track is divided into four sections, two straights and two curves. There’s a line at the end of each 100m that stretches all the way across. Sometimes I run on dirt tracks without lines, usually they have drainage ditches though. Almost always the drains are lined up perfectly against a 100m marker of some sort (usually the middle of the traditional 100m marker).

    Hi Brian-
    RE: TC Renovation

    Yeah, it’s crazy how different the school looks now since it finished it’s (very expensive) renovation.

    Hi Dr. D-
    RE: Speeds

    I’m running my 400’s about 60-70s faster than goal pace. The mile repeats right now are at race pace, but that’ll drop down a bit over the next month.

    Hi Joe-
    RE: Simon’s blog

    I always forget I’m linked from Simon’s blog for all my posts. Speaking of which, check out this awesome piece about him (just came out):

    link to specialized.com

    Thanks all!

  17. Thanks for the tip Ray. the calculator is awesome!

  18. JP

    Hey Ray! Long time no speak. I was wondering what trainer would you recommend to do bricks on a track. I have the Computrainer, but it needs to be plugged in, I believe, for it to add resistance. Is there a trainer you recommend so that I can do bricks at the track? Something that can take some heavy wattage if necessary and doesn’t need to be plugged in. Thanks!

    One legged JP… trying to qualify for the Paralympics in Triathlon.