February 10, 2014
I had an email yesterday from a 16 year old girl who was looking for some running advice. She told me that she weighs close to 300lbs and her biggest ambition is to run track. Now from this I gathered she is from the states, because here in the UK we don’t really use that expression.
But it got me thinking about my own relationship with track running.
My first experience of running on a proper track was as part of my year 8 sports day when I took part in the 1500 meter race, it was pretty tough going considering I’d not done any training and was up against girls who represented the county, so I feigned injury and hobbled across the finish line to save face.
I actually ran again 15 years or so later on that very same track as part of a 3mile memorial race which is held annually at the Terrance Macmillan Stadium in Newham, this time I cared less about my performance because it was a fun event with lots of kids and women with pushchairs, so no pressure.
I was also luck enough to run in the Olympic Stadium where the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics took place, and not once but twice. This was THE most amazing experience of my life, both time in fact, which you can read about here and here. The track bit was the last 400 meters of a 5 mile route, and had thousands of spectators in the stadium…imagine I ran on the very same bit of track as Mo Farah, Usain Bolt, David Weir, Hannah Cockroft, if that is not inspiring then I don;t know what is.
So that is the extent of my track running career to date, all based on races rather than training…until that was I started doing track with my running club last year. The session takes place every Monday night and has a focus on speed. When I was training for my first marathon I chickened out of attending as I was simply too scared, knowing that my pace was terrible in comparison to the other runners in my club. I thought speed work was simply put for proper runners, so I didn’t include any speed work in my training, which was a big mistake.
In fact when I returned to running after having my daughter I went to track rather than going to our weekly club run, because I suddenly remembered that at least with track, once you have been overtaken once people couldn’t care a less about how slow you are going and at least you don’t spend the whole evening without seeing another runner.
So I have been going pretty consistently for the last year in all weather conditions, and something must be working because my 5k times have gone from 46.48 back in March 2013 to 32.09 which I ran in January this year. That is a whopping 14 minutes, nearly 3 minutes per kilometre….this kind of improvement ONLY comes from doing specific speed work. Which is why FAT people should run track.
I can see though why the thought of going to track is quite nerve wracking, track is where fit people run, track is where athletes train, where races take place…where proper runners run. What if I look stupid, what if I get in other people’s way? Am I even allowed to run on that track if I am not part of that club? So many fears.
But its only a track. A rubberized artificial running surface, normally red in colour with white painted lines and markings. Although if you look back in history the tracks were not always so regimented. In the 1948 Olympic games in London for example they converted Wembley Greyhound Track into an athletics stadium by putting 800 tonnes of cinders over the sand of the greyhound track. The women looked a little more meaty back then too!!
But seriously, if you want to improve your pace then this is the place to do it even if you are overweight. Make a commitment to check out your local track, contact the people who run it and ask them about beginners sessions, or pay and run times…just give it a go.
Here are my top 5 reasons why track is great for plus sized runners
- One loop of track is only 400 meters. So if you are really struggling with your stamina you can take a recovery every lap if you like and build up each week.
- There will be very few distractions on a track (for example no roads to cross or uneven pavements) and you will be running on a very flat, safe surface so you should be able to concentrate 100% on your running.
- The variety of training sessions you can do at track is endless, pyramids, lassos…so have a plan before you turn up. Once you can run 3 or 4 laps without too much trouble you can really start concentrating on speed.
- You can train with others whilst still going at your own pace, so it can be quite a social way of training. It is also a good idea to try and run with others, so you push yourself by trying to keep up
- You can test your improvements from week to week, either with your own watch or even with someone else and a stopwatch
So back to my young american girl who desperately wants to run track, who hopefully will read this post…what advice would you give her?