With trendy HIT classes, 3D spin classes and increasingly imaginative park fitness sessions, the athletics track might seem behind the times.
But it’s making a comeback. Athletics is now the second most popular sport according to Sport England, with a big surge since the London Olympics. And who would blame anyone for wanting abs like Jessica Ennis?
There are more than forty running tracks in and around London. You don’t have to be a serious athlete to use them. There are plenty of track-based sessions open to recreational fitness fans and many running clubs offer taster sessions to non-members. Here are a few you can try, no sign-up required.
Mile End Stadium
This 400m all-weather track with eight lanes is popular as a training venue with corporate running clubs, from the City nearby. You can just turn up, and pay £3.50 and do your own thing. If you want an organised session, try Run-Fast’s Tuesday nights. It’s 45 minutes of short but fast intervals of mixed distances like 800m or 1200m, with a minute recovery between each. Expect extreme breathlessness.
Mile End Stadium. £3.50, be warmed up and ready to run at 7.30pm.
Regent’s Park track
Regent’s Park running track on the north side of the park is a cinder surface with six lanes. At 387m, it’s shorter than a professional track but on the plus side, it’s totally free. Turn up at any time to do your own circuits. For a structured session try a DASH Team London session on a Monday morning or evening. It’s a 30-minute run-based workout with drills for technique, sprints for speed, endurance intervals and core work.
£10. For a choice of start times visit: DashTeamLondon.co.uk
Battersea Park Stadium
This 400m, eight lane synthetic track is one of the most popular in London, and is open until 10pm on weekdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are best avoided unless you fancy joining one of the super serious running or triathlon club sessions. But if you want a gentle taster of track training try Athlefit on Wednesdays. It’s a fitness programme from England Athletics involving athletics-based fitness moves in a fun environment.
£2.50. 7.15pm – 8pm. Athlefit runs at other tracks too. Visit athlefit.org
Tooting Bec Athletics Stadium
A recently upgraded 400m eight lane synthetic track, which also has an on-site fitness studio and hammer cage. If you want to join the action, Herne Hill Harriers running club hosts a structured run session on Tuesdays, aimed at building endurance. Expect an hour of mixed distance intervals lasting 3 – 6 minutes, with a minute recovery between each. You don’t have to be a member the first time you turn up, but if you want to go more you’ll have to pay annual membership.
Tooting Bec Athletic Track. First session free. Have trainers ready by 7.15pm
Willesden Sports Centre
The outdoor six lane 400m track between Willesden Green and Kensal Rise is affiliated to the leisure centre next door so if you don’t like the cold or dark, you can always move to the indoor 60m track. But for the real deal try a Queens Park Harriers run club session on a Tuesday evening. Like most club sessions, it’s short but fast running intervals around the track lasting up to six minutes with a short break between each. Don’t worry about your ability. The better you are the faster you run, and vice versa.
Willesden Sports Centre. Free for the first couple of sessions, annual membership required after that. Be raring to go by 6.50pm.
Finsbury Park Track
This 400m, six lane synthetic track is floodlit but in the winter you’ll have to get to it by walking through the dark park. If that doesn’t make you run fast, the sessions will. Use it alone on a pay as you go rate if you fancy, but a recommended group session is Heathside Harriers' track session on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. No one needs to be a member for the first couple of visits, but if you like it you’ll need to cough up £65 for annual membership.
Have your trainers laced by 6.45pm.