No Track? No Problem! 5 Running Workouts You Can Run Anywhere

Being a distance runner who competed in high school and college track, I’ve spent a lot of time running in circles. I remember my time on the outdoor track fondly. It’s where I’ve sweat, bled, and laid it all on the line. Now that I’m older, I prefer to stay off the track and enjoy the freedom of the trails.

Track Running Workouts Can't Beat This

Track Running Workouts Can't Beat This

Finding a track that is close to my home is a challenge. Just a few weeks ago I ran to a new outdoor track only to find that it was asphalt with no lines painted on it (damn you Google street view!). Another track nearby is in a sketchy neighborhood (I had a large piece of wood thrown at me two years ago) and the last track near my house requires a mile of running uphill to get to.

Needless to say, doing track workouts is not ideal in my neighborhood.

Luckily, there are many ways to simulate track workouts without the actual track. They’re more fun too. Who wouldn’t rather run in a quiet neighborhood or on a dirt trail instead of feeling like a hampster?

There will be certain points in your training that you may need a track. If you’re adamant about knowing your exact splits, then maybe these workout variations aren’t for you. But if you embrace minimalist running, then you may enjoy getting off the track and running by feel.

Below are five classic workouts that many people run to get in shape for the 5k to the marathon. Next time you’re lacing up your shoes or don’t have a running track available, try these variations.

The 5k Introductory Period Workout

At the beginning of many track seasons where I was focusing on the 5k distance, a typical workout that I’d run was 8x400m at 5k pace. This workout helps you get used to your 5k goal pace without the stress of running longer intervals. Now that I don’t run as much on the track, I prefer to improvise.

These 400’s can be run on any non-technical trail or road using the time it would normally take you to complete the interval. So if you’re hoping to run 7 minute pace, run your 400’s in 1:45 on the road at what feels like 7 minute pace to you. Keep in mind this effort will get harder as the workout progresses.

A variation on this workout that I do more frequently is to run hill repetitions instead of doing all of them on a flat trail or road. In addition to building strength, the hills help me prevent injury, reduce impact, and introduce a little more variety in my training.

Running Yasso 800’s Off the Track

A popular workout for many marathoners is the famous Yasso 800’s. It’s simple: if you want to run a 4 hour marathon, work your way to ten 800m intervals in 4 minutes with equal recovery. If your goal is a 2:30 marathon, then run 10x800m in 2:30 with the same recovery time.

Be realistic about what you can achieve, but know that you don’t have to hit these times exactly on the track. Running them anywhere else will give you almost the same physiological benefits and prepare you mentally for the marathon.

The Base Phase Tempo

If you’ve followed some of my previous training logs, you’ll see that one of my staple workouts is the 5k tempo. Except I never run it on the track – I prefer to run my tempo on a short loop in Rock Creek Park. My standard 3 loop tempo is about a half-mile longer than 3.1 miles (I think) and includes some short hills. It’s perfect.

Find a loop or course that works for you. It could be an out and back run along the Charles River in Boston. Or maybe you like running around your neighborhood twice. You have the freedom to run wherever you’d like for this type of tempo workout. All you need to do is ensure the effort is where it should be.

5k Specificity – Getting Sharp for Your Goal Race

To simulate your 5k goal race and be certain you’re in top shape to race well, it’s important to get specific. Workouts that will tax your body in very similar ways to your race allow you to mentally and physically prepare for your goal race distance. If you can run 5×1,000m at your goal pace then you’re setting yourself up to race well.

If you don’t have access to a track, run for the time you think it would take you to finish an interval of this length. I like to err on the conservative side and over-estimate the time. So if I wanted to run 3:40 per interval, I would round that up to 3:45.

For these workouts that require a high effort at your perceived race pace, it’s important to simulate the type of race as well. So if it’s a cross-country race then run the workout on trails. But if it’s a road race then hit the roads. You get the idea.

10k Specificity – Dialing in Your Goal Pace

Like the 1,000m workout I mentioned above, a similar workout that I’ve done numerous times includes repeat miles. This type of workout is better for longer races of 8-10k. It’s challenging and will force you to be conservative in your first few intervals so you can still finish your last repetition strong.

For any race of 8k – 10k, I like to run 5xmile with a 400m recovery jog in between. To do this off the track, I simply round my estimated mile times to 5 minutes with a recovery jog of 2 minutes (I’m not that fast, but the math is easier). If possible, I’ll do this workout on a loop that includes a hill or two to simulate racing on a difficult course.

Building Confidence by Not Sweating Every Detail

Running workouts away from the track is a great way to promote small wins in your training. There are no lines at every 100m mark, so you won’t feel upset that you were one second too slow at the 1,300m mark (who cares?). You’ll finish the workout feeling better and with more confidence.

I’ve found that as I’ve done workouts on the road and trail based on time instead of on the track, I have felt less apprehension about my workouts. When I was training for the marathon two years ago, I would run the last 5-6 miles at sub-marathon pace on the track of my long runs. The fear that comes before long, hard efforts is almost tangible, especially because I was adamant about negative splitting every mile.

In the last six months, I’ve done about five workouts on the track. I’ve only felt good about two of them. Experiencing less workout anxiety is a big deal for me, partly because one of my goals is to enjoy running more and not worry too much about every split along the way.

So far, it’s starting to work. Just last Saturday I ran my second fastest 8k race of all time. This Saturday I’m running a 5k road race, so I have high hopes.

Are you ready to run stress-free away from the track?

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Comments

  1. Great advice. I haven’t hit the track for over a year. It seems every time I try to go to the local track the high school team is either having practice or a meet. I tend to do most of my workouts on a paved trail close to my house and use my Garmin to figure out the distances. I’m pretty sure you can get just as fast training off the track compared to training on the track. In high school cross country we did all our speed workouts in grass parks which had the added benefit of saving our legs.

    • Hey Dan – I remember doing my high school xc workouts in a grass park too! I think we got on the track 1-2 times the entire season. These days, the track is more of a hassle for me and it puts undue pressure to hit precise splits. I try to think more long-term. Cheers!

  2. Thanks for these tips and great encouragement. I’m convinced that track workouts are the main reason I’m running better than ever, but since school opened, it is especially hard to get on the track. I was going to attempt something similar to your recommendations above in the morning, and will now do so with much more passion!

    • Hi Jim, thanks for the comment! Even though I’m type-A when it comes to my running, I’d much rather prefer to do a time-based workout on the trails or roads based on feel. It leaves me feeling much more refreshed. Good luck on your next morning workout!

  3. I was a track and cross country runner in high school and restarted running competitively about 5 years ago in my late 30s. I remember doing intervals on trails and on the track and I still get nostalgic about track workouts. I don’t have access to a track where I live nor where I work; therefore, early this Spring, I bought an old Garmin 201 and make heavy use of the Training Assistant-Intervals feature for interval training. Having this enables me to easily do speed work where it was once a chore, and consequently the quality of my speed work has improved immensely. I’m not a big gadget guy, but I recommend picking up any GPS device that can help with intervals.

    • Hey Brian,

      Garmins can be useful for that purpose. I’ve never personally used one, but I tend to be a little more Type-A when it comes to knowing splits, distances, etc. (even though I’m trying not to be) so I can see how it would be so helpful. I’m a big believer in doing “what works for you” and it sounds like you’re dominating. Keep it up!

  4. I wanted to report back that I’ve done the off-track repeat workout twice now and love it! I clocked a half-mile and one mile run in between a corn field and a wheat field here in rural Virginia.

    Just had my best session ever! Thanks for your suggestion and for this excellent website. I’m 49 and 195 pounds — hoping to equal or better my 2002 marathon performance of sub-four in the November 13th Richmond Marathon.

    I wouldn’t even be thinking about it if I hadn’t embraced the philosophy of this site. Whether I make it or not, I’m in the best shape in years!

    • Awesome! That means a lot to me Jim. Let me know if there are any other topics that you’d like me to cover and I’ll be sure to do just that. Thanks so much for being a Strength Runner!

Trackbacks

  1. […] It’s important to do the tempo first otherwise your heart rate will be too high after the hills to run a successful threshold run.  A short tempo is also a great warm-up for a harder effort. The side benefit of this type of workout is that you can run it without a track (here are five more no track workouts). […]