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5 Ways to Improve Your Track Workout

If you want to stay on track to tackle a big goal, like a half marathon or marathon, you gotta, well, hit the track. That brick-red, oval-shaped, closed-circuit course isn't just reserved for pimple-faced high schoolers and record-breaking Olympians. It's the perfect setting for speed-work and other drills to prepare you to PR any race.

Even if you don't have a conventional track nearby, you can make any block or open field your makeshift track for 30 to 45 minutes once a week, assures Chris Bennett, Nike+ running head coach in NYC. How do short sprints help prepare you to go the distance? It's about building speed, strength, and confidence, he says. Read on for his favorite track tactics, as well as tips from other top running experts, that will help you get faster and fiercer in the long run.

Get Ready to Go Full Throttle
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The art of sprinting is an aggressive action, Bennett says, so you need to warm up your body for the intensity. Start with a relaxed, easy-pace run for 8 to 10 minutes. Once your heart rate is up, stretch your hips, calves, Achilles, quads, and hamstrings with basic knee-to-chest A-skips, lunges with a twist, butt kicks, and side shuffles. Next, do a series of drills, like an agility ladder, that focus on rapid foot placement. Finish the warm up with 3 x 80 meter strides. “Run for about 12 to 15 seconds using the straightaway, building up to top speed by the halfway mark, and cruising at that speed through the finish,” explains Terry Chiplin, owner and director of Active at Altitude, a Colorado-based facility for endurance runners and other athletes. “Recover fully with an easy jog for 25 seconds, then do it again.”

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Gauge Your Speed
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To sprint does not mean to go all out until you lose your breakfast. If you're not sure how hard to push it, start by running at your 5K or 10K pace. “It should feel like a pace that you are confident you could hold for 25 laps,” Bennett says. Yup, you read right, 25! “Sounds like a lot, but don't be intimidated,” he adds, explaining that asking for 25 versus two laps forces you to relax into a sustainable pace. If you want to see how fast you can do a 200-, 400- or 800-meter distance, you'll need to do a time trial, suggests Francis Diano, a physical therapist, triathlon coach, running coach, and injury consultant for NY SportsMed’s Athlete Performance Center in Manhattan. Clock your all-out time for each short distance and then rate it on a scale of exertion from one to 10 with (one being the easiest effort and 10 the hardest effort), he says. “The goal is to train in the eight or nine zone for these short sprints.” Also, because you're exercising at a max effort, aim to keep your track workouts to not more than three miles of fast running, Chiplin advises.

Mentally Prep for “No Man's Land”
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Every race has a section, or several, where there are little to no spectators, your legs don't feel as fresh, and/or you can't see the end goal, like the finish line. This is what Bennett refers to as “no man's land.” These places are where your mind is most tempted to wander, causing you to lose focus, which, as a result, may compromise your form and slow your pace, he warns. One way to be ready for these moments and stretches is to anticipate them. Diano also recommends chasing the rabbit: “If you're stuck behind the pack, choose someone and use them as your visual target. It'll boost your motivation and morale when you pass them.”

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Take It Up a Notch
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Breaking your own speed records isn't just about stepping on the gas a little harder, which can feel impossible. To truly improve your personal horse power, you've got to build strength that can handle your desired velocity, Bennett says. There's a good reason we're obsessed with ab workouts here at Shape—and looking good in a bikini isn't half of it. Adding simple core work, like a series of planks, to your track routine can make a world a difference to your performance.

Don't Leave the Track Thinking You're Done
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The biggest mistake people make is thinking that the workout is over once you kick off your sneaks. While physically and mentally relaxing is a crucial part of the recovery plan, so is light stretching, foam rolling, and proper nutrition within an hour after training, he adds. Also consider taking an ice bath. “This may be one of the most overlooked tools for recovery, but an ice bath post-workout immediately reduces the effects of inflammation and decreases the unwanted delayed onset of muscle soreness,” says Diano.

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