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Rick's Corner

How to Speak Like a Track Rat in Five Easy Minutes

Track is for everyone. But first-timers are often intimidated because, inevitably, the first things they see are the leanest, meanest-looking runners around. And (just as bad) the first things they hear are people tossing off phrases like “three eights and four sixes on two hundred recoveries” as though everyone knows what that means.

It’s not really an alien world. The first time you go to a track workout, all you really need to know are five basic facts:

1. The track is 400 meters around – very close to a quarter mile. (In fact, Duniway Track is precisely a quarter mile.)

2. A “400″ is one lap. So is a “quarter.” A 600 is one-and-a-half, etc. “Halves” would be “half-miles” (two laps) not half-laps, but the term isn’t used much these days.

3. “Sixes” are 600s. “Eights” are 800s, etc. A few folks with grey hair will refer to “440s,” “660s,” “880s” and “1320s.” Ignore them. They were brainwashed long ago into thinking in yards, not meters. (Quickly now, how many rods are there to a furlong? See, there’s a reason most track rats speak metric.)

4. Lanes are referred to numerically. Lane 1 is on the inside; lane 8 on the outside. Don’t look for the numbers; they’re not there.

5. The official distance is measured along the white stripe at the inside of lane 1.


A workout is comprised of two pieces (not counting warm-up and cool-down): intervals, and recoveries.

Intervals are the fast portions. A typical workout might be 6 x 800, which means six 800s with recoveries between them. These 800s would be the segments you’d do fast. Some workouts are more complex than this, but the concept is the same.

Recoveries are just that. They range in length from 100-meter jogs (one-quarter lap) to slow 400s, depending on the workout. “Slow” means just that. Most beginners do the recoveries too fast and aren’t ready for the next interval when they get to it. Don’t worry, though: workout descriptions provided at the start of all Lizard workouts will make clear how slowly you are expected to go.

When you come to your first Lizard track workout, bring two things with you (if you have them): a watch, and a recent race time, with your per-mile pace calculated, if you know how to do the arithmetic. But don’t be deterred if you don’t have either of these: these really re all-comers’ workouts. If you don’t know your race pace, try to come a bit early, so we can make some intelligent guesses.

Finally, it’s useful to know that tracks have unofficial rules of etiquette. These range from the obvious (no bicycles) to the not-so-obvious (what lane should I be in?). Here are the basics:

1. Run counterclockwise.

2. Don’t run in lanes 1 or 2 except for timed speed workouts.

3. Never change lanes or stop without knowing what’s going on behind you.

4. When doing an interval, use lane 1. Even if you think you’re slow, you deserve to be there, and it’s more difficult if everybody isn’t following the same protocol.

5. When running with a partner, keep as far to the inside as possible. If you do it right, you can both fit in lane 1 (or nearly fit). If you don’t like being that close, run single file. Do not force people to go all the way out to lane 3 to pass you.

6. On recoveries, move at least to lane 3, but don’t forget Rule 3.

7. If you come up behind a slower runner, pass on the outside.

8. When someone comes up behind you, hold your lane, as close to the inside as you can. (There are track groups where people are expected to move out to lane 2 when faster runners come up from behind. That is NOT our rule, or the rule of coach Bob Williams who uses the track at the same time. Moving out risks collision – remember Rule 3! If you hug the white stripe and follow Rule 5, you won’t slow the people passing you down by enough to matter.

8. Occasionally someone coming up from behind will call “track” or “lane one.” Usually, this only happens when the track is super-crowded and they can’t find a good way around. Don’t argue; move out immediately and let them by on the inside.


Copyright 2006 by Richard A. Lovett. All rights reserved.

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  1. [...] some helpful background on track workouts, you might check out this article on track rules/etiquette or this article on Rick's SMELT [...]

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