If you want to improve your running times, you’ll need to do some speedwork such as intervals. Although having a nice cushy oval track may be a nice luxury, I don’t believe it is a necessity. There are probably a half dozen running tracks within a 2 mile radius of my house, but I have never made the effort to try and utilize them. They are usually only open to the public at certain times and often crowded. Also, I like to get my runs in very early in the morning when it may still be dark out and most tracks are not open or lighted at this time.
Instead, I’ve come up with my own version of a track, which is about a minute from my front door. I live across the street from a mall and there is a 1.15 mile road that circles the main shopping area. The road is lighted, relatively flat with a few rolling hills, with very little traffic. I actually like this better than the 400m track since it is not as monotonous and has more variation, but still provides consistency. I’ve also become very familiar with every inch of that road.
The treadmill is another great option for track interval work. Last year, I did most of my interval work on a treadmill prior to setting my marathon PR, so I know using a treadmill for speedwork is just as effective as running outdoors. The treadmill also has the advantage of the softer track surface, no crowds, no thinking about pace, and running at your convenience.
If you have a GPS watch, then any road can be your track if you know how to program intervals into it. I’ve had a GPS watch since 2009 and it has probably been my best running tool I’ve ever purchased. If you are planning to buy a GPS watch in the future, I would highly recommend the it have a programming function.
I’m sure there are other creative options to a traditional track, but these are the few I could think of. I’m sure almost everyone has access to a quiet neighborhood street or park where you can come up with your personal track. Not having access to a traditional high school oval track is a lousy excuse to avoid speedwork. Whether you love or hate speedwork, do it will improve your running by leaps and bounds if done properly and regardless of where it is actually performed.