Deciphering Track Talk

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 | By Hal Higdon
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Got a question about running? You're in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon's Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


I recently moved my training up a notch to see if I can improve my times and, at the same time, improve my enjoyment of the sport of long distance running. But I never ran track or cross-country while in high school, so sometimes I am puzzled by the jargon. For instance, what do you mean when you say run 6 x 500 at 5-K pace?


Training programs are like recipes in cook books. A lot of people who do not do much cooking often are puzzled when it comes time to figure out what the cook book author means when she says 1 Tbsp.

What you are asking about is a typical interval workout, normally done on a 400-meter track involving regular changes of pace: fast, slow, fast slow. The term “interval” comes from the slow interval between the fast repeats. Here’s how you would run that 6 x 500 workout you cited. Run 500 meters hard at 5-K pace. Run or walk 500 meters at a slower pace to recover. Continue to repeat until you have done a half dozen fast 500s with as many slow 500s between. It sounds complicated for those like you without a track background, but eventually you will get the swing of it.

How to do speedwork is explained in the introductions to all the free programs found on my Website, such as this one. And if you sign up for the interactive version available through TrainingPeaks, you will get daily advice on how to do each workout. Finally, there is an entire chapter on interval training in my book, Run Fast. As told in that book, interval training is probably the most effective means of improving as a runner.

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