Track Workouts To Train for Speed

Three fun, functional workouts to put some giddyup in your legs.

Beginners beware: Running hard on a track can tax your body and, worse, injure you. However, if you’ve built up to running consistently (where you’re comfortable heading out five days a week) and you vary your paces during those outings, then adding a once-a-week track workout can yield real results. Doing intervals on a track can increase your speed and efficiency, which means that running at any pace will feel easier. It can also be fun.  

John Zilly, co-author of Running in Circles: Sciencey, Gamey, Head-scratchy Workouts for Faster Running, has plenty of advice for work on the track that can complement your efforts in the field. Here are four track workouts that he recommends for runners either heading to the track for the first time, or returning after a hiatus.

Straights and Corners

If you haven’t run intervals in a while (or ever), this is a great workout to ease back into the feeling of speed. The high-output efforts are short: just 100 meters at a time.

TRY IT: After a 10- or 15-minute warm-up of jogging slowly, run the straightaways on the track fast, but not too fast. “Think of these as striders instead of 100-meter sprints,” advises Zilly. “It’s easy to get caught up in running too fast since these are short efforts, but running them too fast can lead to injury.” Gradually build speed to max out at roughly 75 to 80% effort, says Zilly. At the end of the straightaway, slow to a recovery jog for the duration of the curve on the track, which is also 100 meters. Once you reach the straightaway, gradually build your speed again. Repeat for two to three laps before jogging at least a 10-minute cooldown at an easy pace. Build toward four to six laps over subsequent track sessions.

From below back view of teen firl in sportswear sprinting on running track at stadium under blue sky on summer day

400-meter repeats

One lap around the track is short enough to practice a fast pace and get more economical, but long enough to build endurance. 


After a warm-up, run 400 meters (one lap) hard, followed by jogging a lap easy to recover. “The speed you aim for should be a little faster than your 5K race pace,” says Zilly, “but if you don’t know what that is, ease into the 400 breathing hard but not so hard that you can’t jog during your recovery lap.” How many 400s you do depends on how many total miles you’ve been running per week. “You may feel like two or three of these is plenty,” he adds. “But if you’re running 25 miles a week or more, you can likely handle 10 hard 400s.”

Ladder: 400, 800, 1200, 800, 400

This workout keeps things interesting because you’re running different distances, and different paces, with each interval. It can also build confidence and resilience for race day.


Again, make sure you warm up for 10 or 15 minutes. Then run the 400 at a hard pace—breathing heavy, but not all out. Run it a little faster than your 5K race pace. Jog a recovery lap/400 meters. Run an 800 (two laps) at close to your 10K race pace, or again, hard enough to huff and puff, but not so hard you can’t jog your one recovery lap. Run three laps (1200 meters) at a hard pace, something that’s close to your half-marathon pace, if you know it. Jog one recovery lap. Do another 800 hard, jog a recovery lap. Then run your final 400 hard (but not too hard!) before a cooldown of at least 10 minutes of easy jogging.

Keep It Fun

Zilly offers a few tips for keeping track workouts fun and interesting. For one, he recommends teaming up. “Running track workouts with a friend lets you push each other and get creative with relays.”

He also says playing with what lane you run your laps in can be interesting. While Lane 1 is often reserved for hard efforts, you can do your recovery laps in any lane, 2 through 8 (and you should; if others are doing hard efforts on the track, they’ll want Lane 1). You can also do your hard efforts in the outer lanes. The distance will be longer but that’s good for you and mixes things up.

And finally, reversing the direction you run can blow your mind—or at least add a little variety. Move out to Lane 6, 7, or 8 if other runners are on the track to run one 400 in one direction, then reverse your direction for the next. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.