Tackling Track Etiquette, Rules, and Benefits

Coach086-460x306Running coaches and experienced runners have a few weapons of choice for improving running. Luckily, some of these tools benefit all runners, veteran and novice alike. One of my favorite weapons of choice: track work.

Okay, so you may be assuming that only track athletes belong on the track. You know who they are. They are strong, powerful and confident. They make many of us look and feel like tortoises. You might think if you aren’t a sprinter that there is no reason to ever set foot on a track. You may not even know how to use a track, or wonder about track etiquette. Never fear, I have some basic track rules, tips, reasons why you should use the track, and more!

Regardless of running experience, reasons you run, or race goals (if any), running fast once per week benefits all runners. Running hard calls to action fast-twitch muscles, spikes metabolism, increases cardiovascular strength, and often improves running form. Running fast is also FUN. Yes, its hard, but feeling like you are flying, even if the track athlete next to you whizzes by with ease, will make you feel accomplished, strong, and badass at the end of your workout. Plus, over time you will see incredible improvement in running performance in every road distance from the mile to the marathon.

Hopefully I have peaked your curiosity, and you now want to know any rules for using the track. Great. Here are some basic tips:

  • Run counter-clockwise. Everyone on the track should be going in the same direction.
  • Share the space.
  • Most outdoor tracks are 400 meters once around, if run in Lane 1. Many indoor tracks are 200 meters.
  • Lane 1 (the inner lane), is often the speed lane. If you are running hard, feel free to hop in lane 1. If you are taking a recovery lap, warming up, or cooling down, be courteous and move into the outer-most lane. Just be sure to check over your shoulder before changing lanes.
  • If you are in Lane 1 and need to pass a runner who is also in Lane 1, you can choose to go around them by cutting into Lane 2, or you can try to stay in Lane 1 and yell “Lane 1″ or “Track!.” If the runner you are gaining on hears you and knows track etiquette, they will move out of your way and into Lane 2 so that you don’t have to work hard to pass them.
  • If you are in Lane 1 and hear someone shout “Track!” or “Lane 1″ behind you, glance over your shoulder and move out of their way into lane 2 so they can pass you. Then move back into Lane 1.
  • Do not walk or take recovery jogs in Lane 1, as you’ll probably be in the way of someone doing speedy repeats.
  • Do feel free to tell other runners that they look strong.
  • If your track doesn’t have a water fountain, bringing a water bottle and dropping it somewhere along the track is a good solution.
  • Many tracks have restroom facilities. Some may also have lockers.
  • If you prefer to be on the track when it’s least crowded, avoid “after school hours,” when many school teams will be using the track for practice.
  • Most tracks are open to the public. If you use a track on a school campus, look into if there are any hours the track is not open to the public.
  • Do go to the track with a workout plan. Going to the track and winging it will leave you without much focus.

Runners new to track workouts don’t know what they should be doing on the track. I suggest only going to the track once per week, for your speed session. If you go to the track for all of your training, you will feel like a mindless hamster. You will also fall into a rut. Keep the track for those hard workouts, where you leave all distractions behind and simply focus on the track.

As a coach, I tailor my track workouts to my runners and their race goals. However, you can certainly make up your own workouts! Some popular track workouts: 8X400, 8X800, 4X1200, 3X1600 – you can mix and match and combine all kinds of variations. A general guideline: if your goal is speed and shorter distances (for example, a 5K race), 400s are a great distance for repeats. If you are gearing up for a Half Marathon or Marathon, 800s-1600s will benefit your training.

What the above examples mean in non-track terms: 8X400 @ 5K race pace = run 400 meter repeats 8 times at your goal 5K race pace, with a recovery between each repeat. The recovery times are up to you, but it’s usually beneficial to recover for half the distance of the repeat (in this case, 200 meters), at a SUPER easy jog.

Or say you decide to run 2X400, 2X1200, 2X400 @10K race pace in a workout – that would mean you’d recover with 200s between the 400 repeats, and 600s between the 1200 repeats. Once again, you can mix and match as you choose, depending on your strengths, weaknesses, and goals.

It’s always important to warmup and cool down when hitting the track. While running hard is fun and great for your training, you need to be careful and make sure to not go from 0-60 without waking up your legs. Take your warmup and cool down at super easy paces, in the outside lane.

If you are still intimidated to try out the track, bring a running buddy. Not only will your nerves calm, but you will both probably work harder if you are running together and pushing each other. So find a buddy, bite the bullet, and head to your local track. You’ll realize after your first workout that it really isn’t so scary, and its a training weapon that just might lead to some big person bests this season!

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