Track Running Etiquette for Beginners

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Running on a track sometimes gets a bad rap for being boring or monotonous. But the truth is, it has a ton of advantages and shouldn’t be ignored in your workouts.

The track is low-impact and comfortable on your legs body. It has preset, easy-to-see distances, and is generally a lot safer than being on the road.

But if you’re new to running on a track, learning some track etiquette is a good place to start.

The track is a shared space, so you need to be prepared to have other people around when. Most of them will respect your space, but it’s up to you to respect theirs, too.

Here’s what you need to know about proper track etiquette for beginners.

running in tracks

Understanding the Track

To understand track etiquette, it’s a good idea to learn a bit about the track itself. Becoming familiar will help you with etiquette, as well as structure your workouts to avoid getting in the way of other runners.

Length of the Standard Track

The length of a normal track is ¼-mile—1,312 feet or 400 meters—but it’s important to note that that distance is on the inside track. It increases with each lane, and the final lane stretches 453 meters—1486 feet.

Each straightway is 100 meters—328 feet—and so are the curved sections on either end. One mile is equivalent to 4 laps around the track, so you can effectively plan your training session, which will help to streamline your track experience.

An indoor running track is usually half the length, 200 meters—⅛-mile—in total. High school outdoor tracks can also vary in size, with a 300-meter track becoming increasingly popular.

Track Layout

The standard track has eight lanes, but they can vary from 5 to 9 depending on what the track is designed for and what kind of runners use it—high school or professional, for example.

Most tracks, especially if they’re well-maintained, will have markings painted for track meets. Don’t worry about these marks while running unless you want to use them for for intervals or strides.

Distance and Laps

Knowing the distances and laps on a track makes it easier to structure your workout. You can do a time-based workout on a track, but it’s super easy if you want to do distance-based training.

  • 1 full lap: ¼-mile.
  • 2 full laps: ½-mile.
  • 4 full laps: 1 mile.

Knowing this, you can easily structure your workout to hit whatever mileage you want. You may need a watch with a lap function to monitor how many laps around the track you’ve done.

Track Etiquette to Be Aware Of

If you’re lucky enough to be on the track when nobody else is there, you can run how you wish. But it’s still a good idea to stick to the basic principles, so that when you happen to be training on a busy track, your etiquette is on point.

Priority of Lanes

The first lane—also the shortest lane—is reserved for the fastest runners. Nobody walks around with a sign saying they’re “lane 1 runners”, so you need to observe the other runners and see who’s the speediest.

If you are running noticeably faster than anyone else or you’re specifically doing speedwork, you can stick to lane 1. If others are running faster than you, opt for lane 2 or 3 instead.

It’s also good etiquette to stay in the outer lanes if you’re training at the same time as the school or club’s team—after all, you’re technically a guest on their track (and let’s face it, they are probably faster than you, too!.

During your workout, stay in the same lane as much as possible, unless you’re passing someone else or moving off the track.

If you are doing intervals, you may want to switch from an inner to an outer lane during recovery legs. Just make sure you look behind you to make sure no one is passing on you!

Run in the Right Direction

Most tracks operate in a counter-clockwise direction, but it’s not true for every single one. You can safely assume that counter-clockwise is the way to go, but if others are on the track, observe them first to ensure.

Some tracks also switch directions every week, which helps frequent runners balance out their workouts and be less prone to muscle imbalances.

In some cases, tracks have a sign that specifies their direction, but in most cases, follow the lead of others already on the track. If you’re the only one, stick to counter-clockwise so that if someone else joins you, you’re most likely going the right way.

Make Sure to Pass Runners Correctly

You’ll generally pass a runner to the outside of the track—in other words, on the right if you’re going counter-clockwise, on the left if you’re running clockwise.

But there’s more to it—remember, you’re sharing the track with others, so being courteous can go a long way towards lowering injury risk and making the experience more pleasant.

Notify Before Passing

It’s common track courtesy to call out to a runner if you’re passing them so they know you are coming up behind. As you approach the runner from behind, yell the word “track” loud enough for them to hear you.

After you’ve yelled, about two to three strides behind the runner, move out to the lane on the right. Pass them, maintain your speed, and move back into your lane once you’re ahead.

It’s worth noting that there’s conflicting information about whether YOU should move or whether the runner ahead of you should move when you yell.

In most cases, the faster runner will pass without the other runner moving at all. This is the safest way to do it because you can see exactly what’s going on from your vantage point.

But keep in mind that some people may hear you yell and move out of your way instead of waiting for you to pass. This is why you need to yell while you’re still a good bit behind, so you don’t end up having a collision if you both move into the next lane.

Look Over Your Shoulder When Changing Lanes

Whether pulling into the outside lane to pass someone or getting back into your lane after passing someone, throw a quick look over your shoulder to ensure nobody is coming up behind you.

This might seem like a small action, but there’s big potential for injury if you drift into the lane of someone who’s running fast. Take a split-second to check your blind spot to avoid someone crashing into you.

Step Off the Track If You Must Stop Moving

Don’t just stop on the track. If you have to stop moving, do your best to move to the side so you’re out of everyone’s way.

Whether you need to tie your shoelace, catch your breath, check your watch, or you have a sudden cramp, get out of the way to do it. It’s unfair to expect others to run around you!

Be careful how you do it, though. Don’t just cut across the track from lane 1 to the outside. Slow down, move from lane to lane safely, checking your blind spot as you go, until you reach the outside and can stop.

Don’t Wear Headphones On the Track

If you’re alone on the track, then by all means, listen to some music. But when you’re training around others, you must be aware of what’s happening around you.

If you can’t do without music, invest in a pair of bone conduction headphones for wearing at the track. They don’t go into your ears, which means you can listen to your music but still stay aware of the ambient noise around you.

Track Etiquette for Walkers

If you’re using the track for walking, there are still rules. Here’s how to be a respectful walker on the track.

Use the Outer Lanes

There may be 50 or so meters extra on the outer lane, but this is your space. Faster runners will dominate the inner lanes, moderate-paced runners will use the middle lanes, and slow runners and walkers should use lanes 7 and 8.

This prevents “traffic jams” where slower movers hold up runners doing speedwork or just running at a fast pace. It’s not just better for the faster runners, either—it helps the slower runners and walkers to stay safe from collisions that could cause injury.

Yield to Runners Who Are Trying to Pass You

If someone wants to pass you, stay in your lane and allow them to pass. You may hear them yell out from behind you, but don’t be tempted to move—simply stay put and they should pass you quickly.

If you’re in lane 7, it’s normal for a faster walker to pass you on the right. But even if you’re in lane 8, you might find that someone wants to get ahead of you, in which case they’ll have to pass you on the left. Just stay in your lane and let them pass safely.

Don’t Walk Against Traffic

Make sure you’re walking the right way around the track, even if you’re out of everyone’s way in the outer lanes. Follow the lead of others on the track to make sure you’ve got the right direction.

General Track Etiquette

Whether running, walking, or doing drills, you’re expected to follow general track etiquette. This is a shared space, so there’s no room for selfishness here!

Follow the Rules of the Track

Each track has its own rules, which are usually displayed on a board somewhere for all to see. Make sure you stick to them, for your own safety as well as for the safety and respect of others using the track.

These rules may include restrictions on what food and drink you can bring onto the track, whether or not dogs are allowed, and whether you can or can’t use it if school is in session.

Check the Hours of Use

Some tracks are open to the community but only at certain hours. They may be off-limits in the dark.

If school or club teams train on the track, then there may be some hours that are off-limits to other athletes. Make sure you know the hours you’re allowed to be on the track and respect them.

Dress Appropriately

Tracks may have dress codes or rules. If not, wear appropriate gear. Remember, this is a shared space, so make sure your attire is both respectful to the people around and won’t damage the track.

In most cases, your regular running gear will be perfectly fine. There’s no need to wear specific track running shoes, although you can wear spikes, but check the limitations on the track beforehand. Some restrict the use of large spikes as they can cause damage to the track surface.

Keep Your Gear Off the Track

Place your bag, water bottles, and other gear at least 3 feet away from the track. Leaving them on the track can create a hazard for other runners, and you don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s injury.

Tips for Running on a Track

Ready to hit the track? Follow these tips and keep in mind the track etiquette mentioned above, and you’ll have a good track running experience.

  • Pre-Plan Your Run: It’s a good idea to set your time/distance beforehand. You’ll be able to plan your run better if you have a goal, especially if it’s distance-based or you’re doing intervals.
  • Warm Up and Cool Down: Treat a track run like any other run. Warm up and cool down by jogging at an easy pace for 5 to 10 minutes. Make sure you do these in the outer lanes, even if you’re planning on doing speedwork after.
  • Pace Yourself: Maintain your goal pace on the track for the run you’re doing. When you don’t need to focus on distance, it can be easy to overdo it.
  • Stick To Your Lane: Don’t run across the lanes unless you’re leaving the track or slowing down. Check over your shoulder before crossing lanes!
  • Wear Comfortable Shoes: You don’t need track spikes. Your regular running shoes will do, but make sure they’re comfortable and offer the right kind of support for your arch if you want to maximize your training.
  • Set Goals: You can just hit the track and run to build up your fitness. But setting goals can help you maximize your workout, streamline your time on the track, and have a better experience overall.
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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.