Track Etiquette I

I realize that most anyone who reads this will not be the intended audience. I’m writing it anyway.

There are accepted practices and etiquette on tracks. It doesn’t matter if it is your local dirt track at a middle school, community, high school or college track.

Here they are:

1. If you are alone on the track it really doesn’t matter which direction you run or what lane you are in. Go for it.

In the presence of others the following applies.

2. Run counter clockwise. If you decide to run clockwise, run on the outer most lanes. Stay out of the way of runners who are working out and running in the accepted direction.

3. Stay alert and don’t use ear phones. Look both ways before entering onto a track. Even the most sesasoned tracksters have been caught by surprise.

4. Bicycles, scooters, roller blades, etc. are not allowed on tracks. For the most part animals are restricted from tracks. Even if they aren’t, it is wise not to allow them for safety reasons. If you do bring a pet, be sure it is secured away from the running surface and of course clean up after it. Tracks are designed for humans to run and walk on. Just try dodging a straying dog while running full tilt! The fact is that even leashes aren’t secure enough nor short enough. Just last week there was a dog fight between 3 dogs at a local track I was working out at. The pet owners stood there yelling and blaming each other! While those working out had to avoid the mess! 

5. The faster the runner, the more inside the lane reserved for him or her. Tracks with lanes are numbered from inside (nearest the infield) to the outside (usually near stands). Most commonly they are from 1-8 or 1-9. Lanes 1 & 2 are reserved for the fastest runners on the track at the time. Lanes 3-5 are for the next faster runners with the slower joggers. Walking is reserved for the outside most lanes. 

6. It’s ok for slower runners to run further inside but be alert to move when faster runners approach from behind. It is far more dangerous for a fast runner to change lanes and pass.

7. If you are the faster runner and you are approaching from behind, give ample notice and call-out (just like with cycling). The traditional phrase to use it “track”. Which means move over someone faster is coming through. You can alternatively use “on your left” or “on the inside” to indicate you are coming by on the inside. Do not go whizzing by an inch from someone’s shoulder as if to non-verbally say “get out of my way”. This is rude! It can also startle someone who then may in fact move into your path causing a full collision.

8. If you hear “track” or “on your left” or “on the inside” either move directly off to the infield (in the case of just walking or having just stopped from your run) or move out to lane 2 or 3 or so. If there are no lanes, move out about 4-6 feet.

9. It’s ok to politely mention to someone on the inside lane that you will be doing a workout in lane 1 and would they mind moving out a lane. 

10. If a track team is working out on the track – they take precedence over individuals. If you can workout on the farthest outside lanes without interfering and the coaches allow you, then do so. Otherwise, come back another time. This of course is very frustrating.

 11. I have always encouraged responsible children (and parents) to come out to workouts. It’s good parental role modeling for the kids even if they aren’t running or walking. It’s also something that many single parents have to resort to. (I did many years ago.) Bring balls and activities to keep them busy. The long jump sand pits provide a good play area. Often you can even get them to run some laps. However, not all children have the self-control necessary. You know your child best. Please consider all the others on the track.  


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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6 Responses to Track Etiquette I

  1. Pingback: Track Etiquette Take II « The Runner’s World According to Dean

  2. Pingback: Community Tracks - A Nationwide Issue « The Running World According to Dean

  3. PP says:

    I am 56 years old and do a fast walk on the track — about 5 miles per hour. We have three tracks at the military base that I work out at — one outside 1/4 mile track, and two inside tracks — one 1/10 mile and the other 1/12 mile track. All three tracks have four lanes. The rules for usage at all three tracks are walkers must use the outside two lanes. and the two inside lanes are reserved for runners. When I was in high school I distinctly remember that we followed the opposite. Slower people used the inside lanes and faster people would either run on the outside lanes or if they were on the innermost lane, they would pass in the next, outer lane, allowing the slower person to stay in his/her lane. To me this makes sense as runners have difficulty on small tracks (like our indoor 1/10 mile and even smaller 1/12 mile track) in running and staying in the inside lane — in other words, they tend to way overshoot the turn and go from the inner lane at the start of the curve and swing out to the outer lane.. For the outside track of 1/4 mile , fast runners have no trouble staying in the much more gradual turn. To me the old way seems to make sense on the smaller tracks — runners on the outside and walkers on the inside. I did a search on the internet and noticed that perhaps 267% to 75% of the places with running tracks (i.e., the majority) agree with what you say — runners on the inside and walkers on the outside. The remainder are the way I remember. Can you tell me the logic for runners on the inner lanes? The only think I can think of is the distance (be it 1/4 mile or whatever) is only accurate if you run the inner lane and this is important for serious workouts (people who are timing themselves — like fast runners would be and want to know just how far they run).

    • Dean Hebert says:

      We are the same age. I started running in the early 70s. Back east (New England) we always had faster runners on the inside. When I moved to AZ (late 70s) it was the same. I’m sure there are differences just based on the rules that were posted on any given track. (Honestly, I cannot remember an actual sign saying “walkers to the inside” but I have seen many saying “walkers to the outside”.)

      But to your point, of why. First you are right it is about being more important for a 5 minute miler than a 12 minute miler to be more accurate. Those few seconds are proportionately far more dramatic the faster you go.

      One other thing is that faster runners will get to the inside as soon as they can after passing someone leading to the next point.
      There is actually even a more important issue – safety. Especially with the many people who use tracks now as opposed to 30-40 years ago. To weave OUT to pass someone and back then OUT again going around slower runners is more dangerous for everyone. The smaller the track the more true this becomes because it increases the weaving. To illustrate this even with track teams when you warm up and do your slow jogging – you run on the outside – never inside (unless it is on the infield grass).

      Regardless of how it may have been in the past; virtually ALL tracks nowadays request walkers and slower runners to the outside and so all runners and track facility people I know – faster gets the nod to the inside.

      There is no federal or state mandate on this. It is a custom that has developed. So my advice is that unless it is posted otherwise, faster get inside, slower get outside.

  4. Ryan says:

    What is the ettiquette with running on a near empty track? I have a bad knee and so don’t run as fast as I used to. I like to use the “6th” lane to both stay out of the way of the faster guys and to make sure each lap is at least a 1/4 mile or more.

    Often I see walkers arrive and pay no attention to the lane I’m in. As I weave around them, they continue to stay in the lane (or worse wander between 2 lanes). It’s very frustrating.

    Am I in the wrong to be in these outside lanes? My top speed at this point is probably a 9min mile. Thanks.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Generally you are correct in staying outside and walkers should be even further out from joggers. Fastest to slowest – inside to outside. However, other than lane one, there is not really a fully “assigned” lane to someone running. In other words you wouldn’t “own” lane 6. So to move out of the lane and go around (inside or outside) of someone moving slower is not unusual. And no worries on your lap distance, each lane out will add approximately 10 meters of distance to each lap… going in to pass or out to pass will not change your distance by more than a foot or two. You’re well over 1/4 mile each lap.

      I agree that those wandering between laps is inconsiderate. People should be paying attention to what’s going on if others are present on the track.

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