Track Workout for Distance Runners – Reverse Ladder

Many people training for anything 5K up to Marathons have heard that they would benefit from getting out on the track and doing intervals – but most don’t know what to do when they get there. I will highlight some workouts here along with their benefits. Today: Reverse Ladder.

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Before starting any of these workouts, you should probably be running at least 20 to 25 miles per week already to get the full benefit. If you are doing less, chances are you would be better served spending the time building up more aerobic base. The rule of thumb is that anaerobic mileage (the hard and fast runs) should make up for no more than 20% of your overall weekly mileage for distance runners, the other 80% being easy miles.

That being said, track work has a number of benefits: Running fast intervals will invariably clean up your running form, making it more efficient and help you prevent injuries down the line. Your body will also start getting much more efficient at burning the sugar stores in your muscles, which complements the fat burning ability that you should be improving with your easy miles. A number of other physiological benefits are also associated with running hard intervals, such as improved lactic acid tolerance and VO2 max (your bodies ability to take in oxygen).

As for things you need: A good watch, ideally one that allows you to take splits is really the only “must have” piece of equipment here. If you don’t have access to a 400m track, you can improvise by finding a short loop in your neighborhood and measuring the distance. Check with your local high school about their policy of using their track – most are very accommodating as long as you don’t interfere with practice or class.

In this workout, we will focus on running hard on tired legs. First, you should warm up with an easy mile (4 laps on a 400m track). I’m not a big proponent of stretching, but if you want to stretch, the time would be now – after the warm-up and before getting into the workout. The workout itself consists of:

  1. 1600m: 4 times around the track. This should be run around the pace you would race a 5K at. You might feel like you could do it faster, but that will come back to hurt later on in the workout.
  2. Rest for half the time you ran – if you ran a 6 minute mile, you get 3 minutes of rest. Keep moving during this period, even if its just slowly walking; if you can, a light jog to keep the legs from tightening up is ideal.
  3. 1200m: 3 laps. This should be faster paced than the mile by a few seconds per lap.
  4. Rest for half the rime you ran.
  5. 800m: 2 laps. Again, try to run at a faster pace than the last interval.
  6. Rest for half the time you ran. You might notice that these rest periods are starting to get painfully short now – if they don’t, you need to run the intervals harder!
  7. 400m: 1 lap. You should be getting close to a sprint on this one.
  8. Rest for half the time you ran.
  9. 200m: 1/2 a lap. All you got now, all out sprint!

Of course, this workout can be extended and personalized quite well. If you would like more volume, add in a 1400m, 1000m and 600m. It is also possible to start at a longer distance, such as 2000m or more if you are so inclined. If it seems too hard, slow the pace down slightly below 5k pace for the mile. However, do not extend the rest segments to longer than half of the time you ran – the goal is to keep the heart rate up throughout the workout.

Finally, a 1 mile cool-down is probably a good idea. Keep it light and easy, but its not a good idea to just stop cold after a hard workout. The cool-down will help get some of the lactic acid you built up during the intervals out of your muscles. When you are done, also make sure that you rehydrate well, ideally with some sort of recovery drink such as Accelerade. If you plan to run the following day, it would be a good idea to make it a very light workout – never do two hard days in a row!

Here are a few examples on how to pace these based on your 5K performance:

Pace based on 20:00 5k Pace based on 25:00 5k
1600 6 min 30 sec 8 min
1200 4 min 45 sec (6:20/mile) 5 min 45 sec (7:40/mile)
800 3 min (6:00/mile) 3 min 40 sec (7:20/mile)
400 1 min 20 sec (5:20/mile) 1 min 40 sec (6:40/mile)
200 35 sec (4:40/mile) 42 sec (5:36/mile)
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1 Comment
  1. Aerial
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    as track season ended, i had acheived winning the eight hundred.
    while the most important thing to running, is running!
    other things such as strengthening your arms and legs,muscle is the key. as well as a well maintaned diet, but dont starve yourself.

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