Since I have been running on the track more and posting track photos, I have had more than one person ask me questions about the etiquette of running at a track. I thought I would break things up into two posts, one about basic track etiquette/running, and the other about some of my favorite track/speed workouts.
Distances: One lap around the track is 400 meters. Four laps around the track is one mile. When you hear terms such as “I ran 3 x’s 800” that means the person ran two laps around the track (800m) three times, for a total of 1.5 miles, or 6 laps.
Direction and lines: Unless stated otherwise, you should run in a counterclockwise direction around the track. You will see a lot of different markings and lines around the oval. First you will see a number in each lane for all 8 lanes, usually with some arrows. You may see a waterfall start (where the lane line for lane 2 is up a little further than lane 1, and lane 3 further than 2 and so forth.) That is because the people running in the outer lanes such as lanes 7 and 8 have much wider turns, and are covering more distance than lane one, so they start further up the track. As you run around the track you will see markings at each 100 meters. You will also see other little lines and arrows, don’t worry about those. They are exchange zones for when doing relay races.
Availability: I run at the local high school, and I called ahead to see when the best time for us to run would be. The receptionist told us mornings are best, and that there are certain evenings that are best because track clubs and school groups (when in session) use the track in the late afternoons, and it can be kind of crowded. However, I have run on the track when there is a lot going on and never had a problem. For instance, yesterday morning the football team was practicing on the infield and there were a couple of other runners sharing lanes with me. You may also want to ask about bathrooms. I know the facilities at our local track are locked in the summer, so I make sure to go before I leave the house.
Lane usage: This one really depends. If there is no one else on the track, I will use lanes one and two. However, if there are other people I stick to the middle or outer lanes to allow super fast runners and people doing speed work to have lane one. Just make sure if you start in an outer lane you use the waterfall start and start up where the number of that lane is, otherwise you will be running longer than 400 meters to go once around the track! (I really hope that makes sense, if it doesn’t please let me know and I will try to think of a better way to explain.)
In the above photo of me running, you will see I am in lane one, just behind the number one. If I was to start running a 400 (one lap) in lane one, I would start right at the little line above the number one. You can see how the number go up the track as the lanes go out. If you start in a further up lane you would finish where the lane one line is, not go all the way up to where the line is in the lane you started in.
Etiquette: You should pass someone on the right if you are both in lane one. As to not scare someone I say something like “on your right” or “coming up behind you”. If you hear someone yell “track!” look around you, because someone may be able to come barreling through in your lane and they want you to move over! This is why I typically stick to the middle or outer lanes unless I am the only one using the track. It is one of the reasons you should be mindful of wearing headphones to a track as well. Either don’t use them or keep one earpiece out for everyone’s safety.
Be aware of your surroundings, like a random hurdle in lane 3.
Also be careful to never step onto a track without looking. Someone could be sprinting in lane one and you could walk right into them. Another thing to remember is if you are say running a 400, don’t just stop completely as you cross the finish or change lanes/walk off the track at the finish without looking. Someone else could be coming through the line and you walk right into their lane. I always do my cool down and warm up in an outside lane just to be safe and sure I am out of other people’s way.
I know this sounds like a lot of information and kind of intimidating, but once you get out there and just DO IT you will realize that you are just fine! It takes practice just like everything else, but do not be afraid to workout at your local track! It’s a shared, big enough space that many people can enjoy it at the same time. Please let me know if you have any questions, I am happy to help answer the best I can.
QOTD: Do you run at a local track? Speed work somewhere else?
Dan Steadman says
I use the open track at a local school, it’s about a 20 minute drive and very quiet at 5 am…sometimes just to mix it up, I do speed work on a rail trail that is marked at .25 mile intervals.
I’m sure it’s very quiet at 5 am haha!
Patty @ Reach Your Peak says
Great tips! I was just at the track yesterday and these 2 women were walking in the first lane. I’m trying to do a speed workout and they wouldn’t move from lane one so each time I passed I had to go around. Kinda annoying…especially since they saw I was doing a workout since I was passing them multiple times!
oh no what a bummer!
Thanks so much for this post, so much good info! The whole “x 800” thing always confused me so I always avoided speed work plans that had that kind of lingo. Looking forward to Part 2!
no worries! Stay tuned for part 2!
Mindy @ Road Runner Girl says
I like the track for speed work but don’t go often. We use our local high school track when we are doing our Sole2Soul Sisters 5K training groups.
I used to never go, now I go all the time! It’s too hot to do long distance running so sprint workouts are where it’s at!
I used to do my speedwork at my employe’s track (I work at a college). I miss speedwork and need to get back into it. Thanks for the tips and I totally agree with all of them!!
Oh man reminds me of my one track season I ran for field hockey training! Thanks for sharing!
I use the running track at a park near my house… unfortunately so does everybody else from people pushing strollers, throwing balls for their dogs, practicing cricket, and kids on trikes its more like an obstacle race than running on track.
I wish more people understood track etiquette, but as its a public track and not used as seriously, I suppose I can’t complain and should be grateful for the place to practice. The earlier I go in the summer the better it is, more serious runners and all.
Hopefully I can start running earlier!
Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs says
Nice, concise explanation of track etiquette. Even though I coach high school cross country, I usually do my interval work on the road. I just walk out my door and I have a stretch of road that I can do 1/4, 1/2, or even 1 miles repeats. So convenient.
One thing I like to do on the track if I’m alone or for my team, is turn around about halfway through the workout. Running in a circle is tough after a while, and reversing directions reduces some of the stress.