Are All Track Lanes Created Equal?

Sooner or later, if you've been running for a while, you're probably going to end up on that big oval, doing track work, doing speed work, trying to get in some faster intervals so that you can get faster out of the road, out of the woods, wherever it is that you like to run and race.
Are All Track Lanes Created Equal?


Sooner or later, if you've been running for a while, you're probably going to end up on that big oval, doing track work, doing speed work, trying to get in some faster intervals so that you can get faster out of the road, out of the woods, wherever it is that you like to run and race. But you know that that track it's useful because it's accurate at measuring how far you go and what your pace is, how you are. This interval versus the next one. But the big question remains are all track lanes created equal?

I'm Jesse Funk, this is a show I call Runner's High, where we talk about everything running, including this week, it's track week. I'm going to do a couple of videos on the track and the things we can find on the track.


I don't really know there's not anything track related, particularly going on, but I like it. So because it is track week, we need to don our track gear and then we'll be ready to go. So let me put that on.

And now we're good to go.

Well, I guess I can't forget my trusty spikes. I've got them with me. Put them on my feet. It's off camera. So too bad there.

Anyway, so we want to talk about are all track lanes created equal. Well, the answer is obviously no, because I know if you've been on any number of tracks or if you've thought about going on tracks, you've probably seen, they're different.

Why are they different? How are they different? Aren't they supposed to be four hundred meters?

We're going to talk a little bit about the differences, what to look out for, things you might want to consider when you head to the track and we'll focus first on outdoor tracks. Indoor tracks are a whole other beast, and when it comes to indoor tracks, they are very, very hard to find, a very good quality indoor track. Most gyms don't produce what I would consider fully-fledged running tracks. They make these very tight, cornered, almost rounded rectangle kind of beasts. And they suck, basically.

So let's ignore indoor tracks for now, because that's just crazy talk and focus on what are the differences on outdoor tracks specifically.

So the first thing we want to talk about is that, in fact, yes, most tracks are going to be 400 meters. This isn't always the case, as 400 meters didn't use to be the de facto standard. So if you find a track like, you know, a kind of I'll call them a cheaper track, a chat track or something that's gravel or, you know, really old asphalt, something that's maybe in a park. It may not, in fact, be 400 meters, something that's been around for a while. Anything newer is likely going to be four hundred meters unless there's some kind of weird size constraint that made them not make it that way.

But the vast majority of things in lane one, that's the innermost lane. It's going to be four hundred meters. Now, the amount of lanes you get depends on the facility, and the texture and responsiveness of the track also varies depending on what the budget of the organization that put the track in is. There's all kinds of different textures and materials you can put onto a track.

Typically, we're going to be laying everything on a like a concrete bed and then building up from there. The more responsive tracks cost more money and often are going to be built by, you know, universities or international organizations that have a lot of dough to spend on a track.


Tracks really aren't profitable. Unfortunately for me, you know, tracks just don't really bring in the money. Similarly to how pools are expensive and don't typically bring in the money as far as like lane swimming goes, that's why gyms they have pools often costs more money because everybody subsidizes the people swimming.

So the surface is going to vary and you know that that inside lane is going to be 400 meters. But you also know if there is somebody else faster than you on the track, you often give way to lane one to them or if you follow the community rules, often there's going to be a sign posted that says stay out of lane one lane one's for the high school only or for the collegiate athletes or whatever the case is, because lane one gets the most where they're trying to keep the vast majority of people out of that lane.

So if you can't be in lane one, what do you do? Now this is going to vary by which track you're at and how many lanes they have. But if you're on a track that you have the ability to have 8 lanes. Some high school tracks maybe only have 6. Some nice tracks have 9 or 10, but 8 is kind of what I'll call standard often if you move all the way out into lane 8. That track lane is now no longer inward near 400 meters.

I'm going to skip the metrics of every single lane you can look those up, but roughly speaking, lane 8 is going to be about 453 around. Again, it depends a little bit depending on how wide each lane is, and we'll talk about that here in a second. But as just a guesstimate, which is kind of what we're doing, you know, 453 meters, which means a mile is about three and a half laps instead of four laps.

So that's good for your mental, you know, mental geography or your psychology to keep you going. You go, Wow, they need three and a half laps to finish a mile, then perfect. You're in a good situation in lane 8. That also helps, you know, keep lane 1 traffic down and the condition of the track better over time because less people are going to be running in lane 8 at any given time, especially during competition ever resembling one. That's why, you know, they try to keep people out of lane one when it's not competition or practice for the schools or the organizations. I guess if there's a nice place that has it and you go out into lane 8.

So what about that width? What happens to the width? Are they all the same?

The answer is no, they're not. Not quite.

Those lane widths are going to vary. Sometimes, as narrow as 36 inches, which makes things very, very tight when you're, you know, packing people shoulder to shoulder on sprint races. Now, if you're talking about a more standard track, often they're going to be about 42 inches wide, a little bit more breathing room, which is good.

But there is also the IAF, now known as World Athletics, and they set a standard for what a track should be if it's an IAF's certified track, which is the kind of track that's used in international competition. So if you're a pro or going to the Olympics or doing something big like that, you're probably going to be in on an IAF certified track.

Those tracks are going to be those lanes in those tracks are going to be 48t inches wide, roughly. So you're going to get the nicest conditions on those tracks. Most of us never going to be on those kind of tracks just because they cost too much money to make. They need a lot of space. All these factors involved.

Now, if you made it this far, I know you're interested in track, but I don't know whether you've actually run on a track before, because if you weren't fortunate enough like me to have run in high school and then run collegiately, it's something that isn't always afforded to us to compete on a track. Yeah, we can go and do those intervals. But actually running a race on a track is a little bit different, but there is a growing opportunity for you as an amateur to get the kind of pro or high level experience, even if you aren't at that speed.

So now I want to give kind of a not shameless but kind of shameless plug for the Smart Athlete Podcast. The other show that I do on this channel every single week comes out on Fridays. I actually talked to Louis Serafini, who is the community manager at the brand Tracksmith Track. Smith makes apparel for runners specifically. They're based out of Boston, or it's not Boston, exactly, but somewhere around the Boston area, and they hold a basically, it started out as free. I think it's maybe 5 dollars now to enter.

It's very, very, very affordable, obviously. On the track, 5000 called the Twilight 5000 where they give you the full fledged pro experience so they will start out in different waves of runners or different races, heats as we would call them, and track depending on your expected finish time. And then for those particular heats, they also have pacers, which is so nice because if you've not been on a track before you not race on a track, you may not be so familiar with the even pacing that you want to kind of stick with on a track.

And this experience, they're working on expanding it. So if you're in the Boston area, check out Tracksmith Twilight 5000. I'm working on trying to figure out how to bring a Twilight 5000 here. I'm still figuring out what track I can use, in part to Tracksmith and get things organized so I can bring them to the Kansas City area because I think running on the track is a really, really cool thing, especially in this environment. It sounds like a lot of fun.

So if you don't have those in your area and nobody does anything like that and you're fast enough, there are plenty of college open events. So if you look for your local colleges, community colleges, NAIA Division Two. Division One is going to be less so this case? But sometimes they'll have track meets and then on the name of the track beat, it'll say like, you know, like my school, it's the Darrel Gourley Open Invitational. What that means is it's named after Darrel Gourley, who was a coach at my college, and it's an open meaning anybody can come invitational. There are schools purposely invited.

So in the name of the event, it will tell you whether it is open, literally speaking to anybody to attend. So if you can run in that, I'll say for like NAIA Division 3 kind of events. If you can run 19 ish minutes or faster, you can probably enter the slow heat and then from there you'll get seated appropriately.

So that's kind of the long and short of our tracks created equal. The answer is obviously no. But there are some similarities in that. We're going to have that 400 meters on the inside, all the way to lane 8, roughly 453 meters or three and a half laps to finish that mile. And then from there, things vary.

So if you want to know more about running, you have questions about the track specifically. I'd love to answer those leave them in the comments below, and I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner's High.

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