I read an article last night from a coach that doesn't believe in track work outs unless his runners are going to race on the track. But, for runners that will only run road races on hard surfaces or trails, he said the track work outs are practically useless. This got me to thinking, which is quite dangerous as you all know :).
I only run road races and trail races so I was intrigued by this line of thinking. Here's what he had to say on the subject as it relates to runners focused on 5k racing (which is me of course but it can apply to other distances):
"Some runners bristle at leaving the security of the track. Let's face it, there's comfort in the perfect 400m oval and the equally perfect splits we can record while running around it. But, that's the problem. Road 5k's are not prefect ovals. We won't record perfect splits as we dodge runners, climb hills, and make 180-degree turns. Our goal is to become efficient at the race we're training to run, and training on trails and the road is the best way to make that happen."
This resonated with me so much that I ditched my group track session this morning and did my own speed work on the dirt trails and I loved it. After a 20 min. warm-up, I did 6x800 meter intervals at 5k pace with 2 min. recovery . . . it was awesome. I also had some thoughts while running which I think supports this approach. First, why train on a soft high energy return track which can give you a false sense of your capabilities (again, this doesn't apply if you actually race on the track). The track I run on is so soft and nice and you can run really fast splits but it doesn't relate to actual racing in terms of terrain. Also, it's harder to run fast on dirt so wouldn't you want to train on the hard stuff and race on the easy stuff as opposed to training on the really easy stuff then trying to race on the harder stuff (i.e., the track I run on is easier than roads).
I think Gordo and Tuck might agree that the last 5k we ran together, the track would have been useless to prepare you for that type of 5k and terrain. It had bends, curves, and a nightmare of a long gradual hill, with mixed hard surface and dirt.
And lastly, there very few things in life is as boring as running around the same oval track, over and over.