Thursday, June 2, 2011

Track Etiquette

I've spent years of my life on tracks - playing in the "sand box" or "trampoline" (aka the long jump and high jump pits), watching meets and workouts, and eventually running. I've been running track interval workouts for over 12 years now, so I think I'm at least a little qualified to educate the world about track etiquette. (Like Miss Manners...running style! Feel free to add anything I missed in the comments.)

Community tracks are awesome – anyone can use them, pretty much any time, for free. YAY running! 

This does, however, open up the possibilities of who you might find yourself running next to. It could be a group of beginner run-walk-runners doing a couple laps, or a professional marathoner doing an intense interval workout. The pro probably knows the ins and outs of track etiquette, while the track tyros* are less likely to be aware. 

No matter which category you fall into, an etiquette reminder never hurt anyone, so read on!

The track is a shared space so consideration for others is key. Runners can get really intense about their workouts, but remember it’s just a run…it’s supposed to be fun!

What lane should you use?

Every runner has the right to use lane 1, no matter how fast or slow they are. However, if you’re running a workout, it’s a bit questionable to do your between-interval shuffle/jog recoveries in the first lane. 

Walkers and run-walkers should use the outside lanes.
Who yields to whom?

If someone is in your way and does not belong in lane 1 (i.e. a walker, or a stray soccer/lacrosse/ultimate frisbee player wandering off the infield), call Track! to let them know you’re coming and they should move to the second lane.

In an ideal world, the person moves to lane 2, you gasp a thank you, and everyone continues on their way - happy and unscathed.

Unfortunately, more often you call Track! Track! TRACK!!!! and nobody moves. Hopefully they get the idea as you blow by them…but maybe they won’t. Clearly they haven’t read about track etiquette, so try not to vituperate* anyone - be polite. If you see them as you’re jogging your recovery, try a, “Excuse me, if you’re walking, do you mind moving to lane 2?” But use your best judgment here…it could be a lost cause.

How to pass someone you don’t know:

Take this scenario for example. You’re running fast and catching up to someone running in lane 1 (remember, they have a right to be there – do not yell Track!). To pass, move to lane 2 and give them plenty of space. Don’t move into lane 1 immediately after passing (i.e. don’t cut people off). If you’re feeling particularly polite, you could call out an On your right! in a non-strident* tone of voice (but you don’t have to).
Funny story: My mama used to say “Excuse me!” every time she passed someone. In races!
Never pass on the inside. Ever. (Unless the person you’re passing is in lane 2.)

How to workout with another person:

I could write a novel on this subject…but I’ll keep it brief for now. It can be summed up pretty easily: workouts are not races. Don’t sprint at the end to beat your workout partner by a nose. Don’t run wide to prevent them from passing. Don’t sprint to pass them and then slow down.

The beauty of having a teammate/running buddy is that you can work together. It’s easier to follow than lead, so don’t make your friend do all the work. Take turns leading each interval, and in tempo runs, switch leads every couple laps.

Starting and stopping:

Wait until there's a break in the flow of running traffic to jump in and start your run. If someone is running fast and you know you'll be slower, wait until they pass to start.

As you approach the finish line of your run/repeat/tempo, try to be aware of those around you. When you cross the line, don’t just stop (or sit, or pass out, or lie down in the middle of the track). Move out of the way immediately (your best bet is usually to jump to the infield), in case there’s someone behind you who plans to continue running.

Miscellaneous etiquette:

Look before you spit. 

Run counter-clockwise. If you're running clockwise, use the far outside lanes.

Don't use earphones on the track. There are too many people in a small area with too many opportunities for should be aware.

It's never a bad idea to support your fellow runners - say "good job!" as you pass/are passed. Everyone needs some encouragement!

*Tyro - n. a beginner in learning anything; novice.
*Vituperate - v. address with harsh or abusive language
*Strident - adj. having a shrill, irritating quality or character


  1. Great post! The soccer, frisbee, lacrosse interference is the most frustrating, especially when they use lane 1 as a locker room with bags strewn all around.

  2. I'd add that, in addition to not racing your running partner, you shouldn't jump in and race random strangers doing their own workouts. Nothing makes me crazier than someone switching from a comfortable jog to a sprint in order to stay ahead of me while I try to do my own workout.

  3. Haha love the dictionary at the end! This is good stuff!!! And totally agree with Kate's comment above me :)

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  5. uhh...or when a giant group gets together to work-out and takes up the ENTIRE TRACK disregarding their differences in speed or others on the track! :P blah!

  6. You missed the part about getting in people's faces when they CLEARLY don't belong on the track (tricycles, strolling hand in hand in lane 1, using starting blocks). Yelling is part of the fun!

  7. "Look before you spit." Best one line of advice ever.

  8. Good post. I am new to running and have yet to do any track workouts (hope to by fall). And while I think I would have done all of these things, thanks for the pointers. Deb

  9. I have nothing to add, save that I think I fit the profile of at least 3 of your crazy characters...

  10. Good information. I get really frustrated when parents don't watch their kids at the local track- they let them ride scooters and run every which way. Grr...

  11. When I was in high school my mom and I were using the local community track to run. One night there was a team spread out over the entire track stretching... my mom was in the far outside lane and instead of moving off the track to pass the team as they clearly wanted her to do, she simply stepped over the legs of the guy stretching on the track and continued running. The "coach" of the team got so mad at her he assaulted her with a two-by-four, swinging it at her shins. We had to call the police and file an assault charge, but because I was the only outside party besides the "team" that witnessed it, and because the "team" backed their coach and stated it didn't happen, the police elected to not pursue charges. So frustrating and it has made it so that 20 years later, I STILL will not run on a community track.