Track is almost back. With the spring season right around the corner, I want to share some advice for preparing your body and mind for the busy season ahead. Whether you’ve participated in outdoor track and field before, keep these tips top of mind to make the most of it.
Track can feel intense, especially for high schoolers. For some, it might not feel as fun as cross country. Perhaps that’s because everything about track seems to be under scrutiny: your time to hundredths of a second, the unvaried, exact distances, and feeling like the center of attention, because there’s no place to hide!
But track is always exciting and can be really fun and rewarding. Even if it sometimes feels like a pressure cooker, it’s an invitation to dive deep into your own running journey and strive for your version of excellence—not to mention speed! It’s an opportunity to find your own uninterrupted rhythm.
The repetitive nature of the track, in fact, lends itself to a mindful and peaceful experience. That is if you avoid spoiling it by comparing yourself to others, whether that be teammates, competitors or all-time lists. On the track, we get to notice our unique physical and mental patterns, find out whether they serve us and then work to improve them.
1. Pre- and early season training should focus on aerobic fitness and injury prevention
Track is all about speed, so you need to prepare your body for running fast. The unforgiving surface and repetitive motion of training and racing on the track might beat up a runner’s lower legs. It’s important to safeguard against these injuries by maintaining aerobic fitness and doing hip mobility, stability and strength work over the winter. Ideally, this winter, you focused on building base miles and strength training to target the hips and core—plus the lower legs. These training components will also help you get ready to run swiftly in the 800m, mile, 3200m or two-mile, which all rely on aerobic capacity.
If you’re reading this and thinking “UH OH,” revisit your starting point for the season. Tell your coach where you’re at training-wise. She may likely suggest that you train through the first couple of weeks of the season until you have three to four weeks of easy miles, fartleks, strides and strength training under your belt before you increase the intensity in track workouts or races.
2. Gear up for the variable season
Check the mileage on your running shoes. If you’re approaching 300 to 500 miles in them, consider getting a fresh pair. Also consider getting a pair of shoes designed specifically for going fast, like racing flats and spikes. Racing flats (lighter weight shoes designed for faster running) and track spikes (racing shoes that have special configurations of plastic and metal spikes on the bottom) are not essential, but are super helpful. In addition to being lighter than training shoes, they allow you to feel like a cheetah instead of an elephant on the track.
Buyer beware: It takes time to get used to feeling like a cheetah. Spikes encourage running up on your forefoot (which helps propel you forward, quickly). This isn’t a natural footstrike for most people, and it will likely overwork your calves and lower legs at first. That’s why incorporating strengthening exercises like calf raises can be helpful pre-season.
Depending on where you live, the season might dish out some inclement weather. No matter what, you’ll likely be posted up at track meets for hours—and days—at a time. So pack a kit with warm clothes, snacks, water, and maybe even a blanket or pillow, homework or a foam roller.
3. Keep an open mind and prioritize team efforts
Racing around in ovals requires focus and grit. But also an open mind. You may find satisfaction in taking hundredths of seconds off your personal best, or in socializing with your team. Or both! If you’re lucky, your team will include athletes that do a range of events and make up one giant family that you get to know very well on pre-dawn bus rides to invitationals or during dinner stops after they’re all over.
Track and field offers so many events it might feel like a circus. No matter your favorite competition, though, everyone gets a chance to score points for their team. Sometimes the meet comes down to the last event, the 4x400m, an exciting finale you should consider running. It’s not only an opportunity to work on your speed, it’s often when you find another gear with your teammates in mind—maybe even under the lights.
Melody Fairchild is a running coach, director of Boulder Mountain Warriors Youth Run Club, founder of The Melody Fairchild Girls Running Camp, and masters athlete in Boulder, Colorado. Her first book, GIRLS RUNNING (VeloPress), co-authored with Elizabeth Carey, is forthcoming. Elizabeth Carey is a freelance writer and running coach based in Seattle, Washington.