Track is the New Black

Monday-night-track-4

Track sessions are popular Serpie staples but can be nerve-wracking for newcomers. Nat and Tom explore the welcoming Monday night sessions.

Warm up:

Track.

To a new runner, this single syllable usually inspires nothing but fear. “I was quite nervous as I wasn’t sure what to expect,” recalls Lisa Rickwood, who is now a Monday night track regular.

So what changed?

Track running is associated with inspirational people and great performances. Tracks have optimum running surfaces and provide an accurately-measured distance, which is convenient for pace judgement (a modern running track is 400m long, which is just 2m short of a quarter of a mile). This is all very helpful for new runners who want to explore their potential, as beginner runners tend to develop their fitness quite quickly. However, after this buoyant start, a plateau is often reached and progress is slower.

Track sessions are popular Serpentine staples: Monday night sessions at Paddington Recreation Ground are aimed at post-beginner/intermediate runners who run 10K in over 48 minutes. Tuesday night sessions at Paddington are for those who run 10k between 33 to 46 minutes, and at Parliament Hill for those who run 10K under 37 minutes. Finally, Thursday evenings in Battersea Park alternate sessions between the track and the park.

Let’s set the tempo:

The Monday night sessions were established as a natural progression for new or returning runners who’d completed Sid ‘Running Is Magic’ Wills’ beginner course, and who needed to develop their fitness to a level to enable them to join the more established weekly club sessions aimed at intermediate-advanced runners.

The first session was held in October 2015, and attracted a crowd of about 19 Serpies, including myself. Since then, participation has grown and up to 30 people can be seen interval-sprinting their way round the track.

If you’re a new-to-track running athlete in our club, the two coaches will welcome you with open arms and a heart-pumping work out – both multi-year members of the club, they are there to inspire. Lisa believes it’s the two coaches’ attitude which make the sessions as great as they are, as they “are both very relaxed and approachable […]. It’s clear that they love what they do and they strive to make the session fun, whilst concurrently giving us the opportunity to push ourselves. They always say something positive when you run past on a lap, and this always gives you a little boost!”

Clare Freshwater and Scott Elliott underline: “with lots of speedy Serpies attending the session, the improver runner could be intimidated by Monday track, but the approachable and welcoming nature of the coaches always make the sessions enjoyable, while still ensuring all levels of attendees get a good workout”.

So who are the Monday coaches?

Laura Stewart has been running for almost 5 years, and has been a Serpie for 4 of those. A huge fan of cross country races, she also has run an ultra-marathon, 4 marathons, countless half marathons and even the Steeplechase. As a UKA qualified Coach in Running Fitness, she aims to inspire new and improving runners to continue to set and reach their goals.

At first used to only running 400 metres for the bus, amidst much panting and stopping, Laura Fountain has now completed 16 marathons, 2 ultra-marathons, several triathlons, and become a UKA Coach in Running Fitness and Level 3 Personal Trainer – she has a particular interest in helping beginner and intermediate runners fall in love with running and push their boundaries.

Oregon Circuits (it’s not just running):

And push your boundaries they will. As well as interval training on the track, sessions include running drills and strengthening exercises designed to improve running and endurance. By attending the sessions, you will get comfortable training on an athletics track, learn about track etiquette, improve your pacing, develop whole-body strength endurance at different running speeds and generally improve your running form, strength and mobility. Raj Nijjar believes the sessions have been a key enabler to allow her to progress from the ‘stuck-in-a-rut speed’ she had been locked in for years no matter how much she ran, which kept that Boston marathon qualifying time out of reach.

Oregon Circuits (invented at the University of Oregon) are a Monday night favourite, which involve fast running interspersed with circuit-type activities like press-ups, sit-ups and squat thrusts, allowing you to mix endurance work with resistance work, thereby toning and strengthening your muscles whilst getting a double whammy of aerobic and anaerobic activity. In fact, there’s infinite variation with track training sessions. “The format changes each week, so there is plenty of variety to keep you on your toes and outside of your comfort zone,” says Catherine Byrne: “it’s a nice change from regular road/park running, and definitely shakes the week up a bit”. Inger Brandsma agrees that “the sessions are tough, but not excessively; and because most of them are time-based, your actual running speed doesn’t necessarily matter”.

Whatever your current fitness level and running experience, I have learned that consistency, both during the reps and over the whole session, is key. The key aim should be to run all the reps at a consistent pace and in the same time, which usually gets hard by rep 7 and 8. This can also be a challenge if someone is casually walking their dog on a long lead in lane 1, or if smokers are stubbornly strolling on the effort lanes, oblivious to panting runners around them. Sometimes it feels much more like an obstacle race than a track session…

The coaches also include a number of fun sessions aimed at making track training less daunting and more entertaining, such as the Water Balloon relay, the Track or Treat relay, or the Xmas Cracker 4×400 relay held in December 2016, when teams of three competed against each other in a 1600m race. My team, made up with Lisa Rickwood and Jane Palmer, won the Xmas relay – a definite confidence-booster. “Splitting into teams meant you got to chat to Serpies you may not necessarily have met before, whilst doing what you all love,” says Lisa. “A dose of healthy competition is always positive, and it created a brilliant atmosphere with everyone cheering each other on. Then the atmosphere continued in the pub after, which made a lovely conclusion to the year of training, and allowed everyone to chat and get to know each other a little more, with the added benefit of doing so whilst not being out of breath at the same time!”

Cool down:

Sessions start at 7pm, and normally finish between 7.30-8pm. In terms of facilities, Paddington Track is a good location, close to the underground and with free access to lockers, showers and changing rooms. Even though there’s a nominal track fee of £1.05 per person, this hasn’t been enforced so far. Despite being primarily aimed at the post-beginner/improver runner, the sessions are in reality attended by a good mix of runners of all abilities and both sexes, with a rough 50-50 split between males and females, and also a rough 50-50 split between intermediate/advanced runners and post-beginners/improvers. Raj emphasises that what she finds particularly great about the Monday session is that there’s no need to book and you can just turn up, which fits in well with her busy work/personal schedule.

Training goals:

Thanks to Monday nights, Lisa has completed her first marathon on 9 April 2017 (Brighton), and Raj ran Boston on 17 April 2017, having qualified with a time of 3.50.04. Personally, I (Nat) have noticed a sharp difference in my running ability since that first time at the track in 2015: developing stamina and general fitness, winning ‘gold’ at the October 2016 Handicap, finishing the 10 Mile Cabbage Patch in October 2016, and deciding to run my first half marathon in Hackney on 30 April 2017. My next goal is to attempt to run the London Marathon once, hopefully in April 2018. After that, I’ll probably concentrate on short and sharp races like the Summer League or sprint triathlons – which I much prefer – and I am positive that Monday Nights are going to help me achieve these goals.

Where are Monday nights going to take you?

Useful links

More details about these sessions can be found on the club website, but please feel free to email the coaches or the Run Coaching committee lead Tom Poynton if you have any further questions. For more information on the Monday night coaches, check out: @ledavies, lifelauralondon.com@lazygirlrunning and www.lazygirlrunning.com.

Natalia Delfino has been a ‘relaxed’ runner for about ten years, joined Serpentine three years ago after googling Sid’s beginners course, and has in the last couple of years applied twice to the Serpie tri squad, but never actually joined.

Tom Poynton has been running since 2008 and a Serpentine member since December 2011. When not running, he enjoys food and drink and exploring the countryside.