Maybe you’ve done your fair share of urban or trail running. Or maybe you’re just starting your running journey.
Either way, running tracks can provide a safe and enjoyable way to run while improving your running performance.
Read on to learn more about running tracks and where to find them. We’ll also show you some of the best track workouts. Ready when you are.
What Is a Running Track?
An athletic track is a running surface designed for track and field athletics. It’s typically oval in shape and has 8 lanes. Many tracks are covered with a rubberized artificial surface that is resilient and provides good traction.
Running tracks may be part of parks, schools, colleges, sports complexes, or stadiums. They may often surround a soccer or football field. It’s also possible to find indoor tracks, often as part of health clubs.
According to the IAAF, a standard track is 400 meters long from the inside lane. Each lane has a width of 1.22 ± 0.01m. Some tracks may have only 4–6 lanes, but these are not usually used competitively.
Benefits of Running on the Track
At first, track running may seem reserved for professional athletes. But running on the track can have notable benefits for runners at any experience level.
- Flat running surface. Well-maintained running tracks are perfectly flat, which can make running as a beginner easier. This can also help you achieve a better finish.
- Provides cushioning. Running tracks covered in synthetic rubber are springy. They are easier on your joints than concrete. In other words, you can run faster on a track while reducing stress on your feet.
- Can increase safety. On a running track, you’re less likely to trip on obstacles, collide with bicycles, or get chased by a dog. Being able to run in a traffic-free environment can be liberating.
- Measure running distances with ease. Most tracks follow standard measurements, making them ideal for distance-specific and speed workouts. On a running track, you can track your pace and progress with less hassle.
- Meet other runners. If you’re open to meeting other runners, public running tracks are where you can readily find them.
- Run during bad weather. Indoor running tracks enable you to keep on running during winter and inclement weather. They’re also an option during intense heat.
Distance Around a Running Track
Standard running tracks are 400 meters long or approximately 0.248 miles long. To run a mile around a running track, you need to complete four laps.
The actual distance you run on a running track can vary depending on the lane. Outer lanes will add to your running distance.
For example, running in lane 4 adds almost 23 meters to your running distance compared to running in the first lane. Running in lane 8 further increases your running distance by 53.7 meters.
That’s why, when measuring your track running performance, it’s important to remember what lane you’re in.
You can use a track lane distance calculator to figure out what distance you run based on your lane number.
Most standard tracks have 8 lanes, ranging in length from 400 meters for lane 1 to 453.7 meters for lane 8.
A lap around a standard track consists of 2 straightaways and 2 curves. On a standard track, each of these is 100 meters.
To run a mile on a track, you would have to run 4 laps on lane 1. As we’ve seen, each lap is almost 0.25 of a mile.
Tracks may have numbers, arrows, lines, or curves painted on them. These markings help designate start and finish positions for 200-meter and 400-meter races and relays. As a recreational runner, the start and finish lines are what matter most to you.
When choosing a running track, it’s important to check whether it conforms to standard track measurements. Not all running tracks will have 8 lanes or be 400 meters long.
Track running has written and unwritten rules. The written rules should be available on-site or on the website of the provider of the track, e.g., college, fitness club, or sports complex. As to the unwritten rules, here are the ones you need to keep in mind:
- Use outer lanes if you run more slowly or inner lanes if you run faster. Lanes 1–4 are for faster runners, so if you’re new to the track, you may want to avoid getting in the way. The slower you are as a runner, the higher the lane you should take. For cool-downs, use lanes 7–8.
- Walk or run on lane one if nobody is on it. Otherwise, respect the people already on it and their pace. Just starting out as a runner? Don’t get in the way of a more experienced runner on the first lane.
- Run counterclockwise unless a sign tells you to run clockwise. Counterclockwise is the standard directional rule for most tracks.
- Stick to the lane you’ve chosen. Other runners will assume that you’re sticking to your lane and will do the same.
- Allow faster runners to pass on your right side if running counterclockwise or on your left if you’re running clockwise. For example, if you’re in lane 2, move to lane 4 and then return to lane 2. Runners behind you will usually say “on your right” when overtaking you. Do the same when overtaking another runner. Note that different tracks may have different passing rules.
- As a beginner, start in a lane other than lane 1 if it’s already taken. At this stage, you’re probably trying to build a running habit rather than improve your 400-meter record. So keeping on running is more important than your performance.
- Avoid using headphones if there are other runners on the track. You may not hear when another runner is trying to pass you.
- Use clean track running shoes. It can help you run more smoothly. But avoid running shoes with large spikes that may damage the track surface. Standard running shoes are also a good choice.
- Don’t stop on the track if there are other runners on it. At worst, you may become an obstacle. At best, a nuisance. To take a phone call, tie a shoelace, or rest, move off the track.
Track running comes with its own lingo. You may hear other runners mention “spikes,” talking “drills,” or planning “splits.” So, what do these things mean?
- Drills. Pre-run warm-up exercises such as walking lunges, butt kicks, or high knees.
- Intervals. Running workouts that alternate fast running with short recovery periods.
- Speedwork. Increasing running intensity according to a training schedule to improve as a runner.
- Spikes. Lightweight tracking running shoes with spikes on the soles for traction.
- Splits. How long it takes to complete a defined distance, for example, 1 track lap in a 4-lap race.
- Strides. Bursts of high-intensity running at the end of a run, often done as part of a warm-up or drills.
- Rabbit. A runner who leads a race for a specific distance to set the pace and take pressure off race leaders.
- Recovery. Jogging or walking to reduce your heart rate before running at speed. Or as a way to cool down after training.
- Repeats. Fast running intervals that you repeat during a longer run.
How to Get Started on the Running Track
First and foremost, get a pair of comfortable running shoes and clothes if you don’t already have them. This will make running easier.
Next, you will want to check the rules of the track, including the hours it is open. Don’t skip this part.
Getting started on the running track gets easier if you:
- Choose a free lane if there are other runners on the track. Outer lanes are fine at this point.
- Plan your run. Know how far, how fast, and how long you want to run.
- Start with a warm-up such as high knees, walking lunges, and light running for at least 15 minutes.
- Run at a comfortable pace. Don’t go full out.
- Increase your pace and speed gradually once you get a feel for the track. But remember that in the beginning, it’s best to stick to a steady pace. Try to finish strong.
- Measure and track your runs. The data you log will help you better understand your pace, set goals, and assess your progress.
Trying running tracks isn’t just safe and convenient. It can be plenty of fun. That’s because you can try out a variety of workouts. Here are some ideas to get you started, including track workouts for beginners.
- 2-mile straights and curves. Run the straightaways of the track at a moderate to intense pace and walk the curves for a total of 8 laps. It’s that simple – and fun!
- Run 300 meters, walk 100 meters. Balance your pace so that you run the entire 300 meters. Repeat for at least 4 laps.
- Run 50 meters easy, 150 meters hard. Run continuously, and repeat 8 times for a total running distance of 1 mile.
- Run 200 meters easy, 400 meters hard. Repeat 6 times for a total of 3,600 meters.
- Lane progression. Run a lap in lane 1 at a moderate pace while timing yourself. Without stopping, move to lane 2 and try to beat your previous lane time. Continue this progression until you reach lane 8. This is a challenging workout best tried on an empty track.
Important: Remember to warm up before trying any of these workouts. And to cool down with some easy jogging.
How to Find a Running Track Near Me?
From city parks to fitness clubs, running tracks are sometimes easier to find than you may think. If you’re looking for a “public running track near me” or “running tracks near me,” you may find them in the locations below.
Where to find running tracks?
Depending on where you live, the nearest running track may be within walking distance – or a drive or train ride away. You can start your search in these places:
- City parks. Often, when looking for a “track near me to run,” a large park will be the obvious answer. And that means you can enjoy the greenery even as you prepare for a run.
- Local schools and colleges. Make sure to check whether they are accessible to you (if you’re not part of the educational institution).
- Football fields. Many football fields have a running track. But bear in mind that local football teams may use the track for practice, so you may have to access it during off-hours.
- Fitness clubs. Local fitness clubs, and especially running clubs, may offer indoor tracks to their members. If you’re looking for an “indoor running track near me,” maybe it’s time to join one?
Before you head out to the nearest running track, here are the things to remember:
- Not all running tracks follow standard dimensions, so make sure to check what distances you’re running.
- Following running track etiquette, like sticking to the outer lanes in the beginning, isn’t only considerate but can keep you safe.
- Always warm up before doing a track workout.
- Running on a track doesn’t have to be repetitive – you can play with distance, pace, duration, and other factors.
- Try out different track workouts to make the most of your time on the track – and have fun in the process.