9 Unwritten Rules of Track Running

Paul L. Underwood
by Paul L. Underwood
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9 Unwritten Rules of Track Running

You might think running on a track is simple enough. There’s a track. There’s you. Put the two together, add speed and voila: You’re running on a track.

But as anyone who spends time on a track can attest, there are people who could use some reminders on track etiquette. Even seasoned runners can benefit from the tips below, which are meant to ensure you’re working out properly.

Here, then, are the nine unwritten rules of track.

1. RESPECT THE TRACK

Don’t wear spikes. Don’t hog the lanes. Though this is a list of unwritten rules, start by following the written rules — many tracks post their own guidelines for use.

2. LEARN THE TRACK’S HOURS AND DON’T RUN IF A TEAM IS PRACTICING

Most tracks are closed when it’s dark outside and if a track belongs to (or is used by) a school, there maybe hours when it’s closed to non-team members. Respect those rules by planning around them or finding another track.

3. RUN CLOCKWISE AND COUNTERCLOCKWISE IF AT ALL POSSIBLE

This tip comes from Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, CEO and run coach at iRunTons, who notes that running the same direction every time means you’re constantly turning the same direction, which can have an impact on your body. “It’s important for the hips,” she says. “If you’re always turning left, you’re shortening the left obliques, and that’s where a lot of [injuries] can happen.” Which brings us to …

4. RUN THE CORRECT DIRECTION

Here are the three conditions that will dictate what’s correct:

  • There’s a sign posted. Follow it. (And if you’re concerned re: rule 3, know that most tracks alternate days — clockwise on Saturday followed by counterclockwise on Sunday, for example.)
  • There’s no sign posted, and the track isn’t particularly busy. In that case, you can (and per rule 3, should!) run whichever direction you want.
  • iii. There’s no sign posted, and the track is particularly busy. Then you’ll want to follow the flow of traffic, which is likely counterclockwise.

5. STAY IN YOUR LANE

There’s a reason this is cliched advice — staying in one lane for your entire run gives you an accurate sense of how far you went, and is courteous to fellow runners. Generally, faster runners have right of way on the inside, though I tend to pass on whichever side feels most courteous in the moment. Feel free to holler “on your right!” or “on your left!” if it’s necessary.

6. WARM UP!

We could go into more detail, though we already have right here. Tracks aren’t magical injury-free playgrounds, so proceed accordingly.

7. BRING A PARTNER BUT DON’T BRING A GROUP

What do you call a pack of runners at a track? Unwelcome. An obvious point, perhaps, but this isn’t the place for your run club — one partner is probably the limit. (And, if your running partner is your dog, you’ll want to bring Fido elsewhere.)


READ MORE > 5 REASONS TRACK RUNNING IS THE BEST


8. KNOW THE TRACK

Not all tracks are created equal. Some are shorter, some are longer. Some have longer straightaways than others. Assuming you want to have an accurate record of what you’ve accomplished, you’ll want to investigate the course ahead of time. Because while the track might not lie, you need to know its details for it to tell you the truth.

9. FEEL FREE TO BRING YOUR BUDS

Some folks frown on listening to music at the track because it can inhibit self-awareness and cause accidents. That said, I’ve never been on a track so busy that this seemed like an issue, so feel welcome to bring your run mix with you, so long as you’re able to hear people around you (and many modern earbuds are designed so you can). Suffice it to say, it’s always better to err on the side of safety and courtesy. That actually applies everywhere, though, not just the track.

About the Author

Paul L. Underwood
Paul L. Underwood

Paul is a writer based in Austin, Texas. He tweets here, he Instagrams there and he posts the occasional deep thought at plunderwood.com. He’s probably working on a run mix as you read this.

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