Health & Fitness | December 30, 2020 8:08 am

10 Important Rules for When You’re Running at the Local Track

"Track etiquette" is very much a thing, folks

trac etiquette
Tomek Baginski/Unsplash

Your local track is going to be more crowded than usual in 2021.

We’re still in the midst of a nationwide running boom, gyms are months from fully opening, and according to Strava, “outdoor walking” was actually the top activity of the year. If this winter looks anything like last year’s — which included the warmest first two months of meteorological winter in American history — people will rely on the track early and often next year.

It’s probable that many of these people, as they’re walking or running around the oval, will unwittingly stomp all over certain tenets of track etiquette. Yes, that’s a thing. There is a right way to behave at the track, and a wrong way, and I see the wrong way at least three times a week.

To that end, a helpful (albeit crabby) guide: 10 important rules to keep in mind when running at your local track. From the correct lane to be in when someone’s having a workout, to a definitive answer on whether you can bring your bike, find the full list below.

rules of running at track
Andrew McElroy/Unsplash

Run counterclockwise

Why do we run counterclockwise around a track? The internet has some ideas: it’s easier for right-handed people to lead with their left foreleg, the Ancient Romans had chariots race in that direction, all sorts of mumbo jumbo about centrifugal force and gravitational pull. Whatever it is, counter-clockwise is the status quo at tracks. Don’t be the person — there’s always one — running directly into oncoming traffic. Turning in one direction won’t over-stress your body (unless this track is less than 400 meters), and even then, just mix in some road-work with your track session.

Carve a little spot for yourself

This is especially relevant now in the COVID era. Track-goers have a tendency to pile their belongings on the turf just to the left of the start line, where they begin their runs. They like to stretch in this general area too. Try to find a different spot, say, 150 meters along the fence, in lane eight. It’s a short walk back to the start line, trust.

Don’t subject others to your tunes

This one’s a bit subjective. Not everyone has a fancy pair of wireless, Bluetooth headphones to wear to the track. If that’s the case for you, feel free to listen to your music or podcast from your phone while making your way around the oval. Just try to keep your pace at at least a brisk walk or jog; people shouldn’t have to listen to your audio if you’re coming up on them slowly. Oh, and no speaker systems. This is a rare half-hour that people found time to come down, get their act together, and sweat. Spare them your power hour.

Drift into the second lane

Easily the biggest gripe you will hear from serious runners on the topic of track etiquette. It’s understandable that most people, regardless of ability or pace, would prefer to be in the first lane at all times. But when someone — let alone a full group — is holding a workout or time trial, it’s your responsibility to momentarily cede the primary lane. To be clear, few runners will actually expect you to follow through on this, so you’ll be a hero for your decency. Just don’t wait until the last second; they may have already committed, annoyed, to passing in the second lane. It helps to take stock of who’s at the track, and what their intentions seem to be, before you begin your run.

No racing

Plus, in that vein, never abruptly change your pace to try and compete with someone in the midst of a workout or time trial. I could see a couple runners possibly embracing the challenge, but for most, it’s disruptive and could prove completely destabilizing. Either they have to dust you in response, compelling them to burn energy earlier than intended, or you dust them, which wasn’t really fair, considering you were only halfway through jogging your first lap. It’s a workout/day-ruiner, regardless.

You’re not a spectator

Don’t cheer for people, ask them what time they just ran, or stop to watch every time someone whizzes on by. If you did any of that anytime someone squatted something at a gym, people would be freaked out. That’s not to say the track isn’t a place for community. I’ve chatted about the weather with people at my track. I’ve also shared the details of my workouts. But just remember that for many, the grind is personal. Save your vibes for Marathon Sunday. People deserve to feel anonymous at a track, if that’s what they’re looking for.

Mind the PK’s

This could just be my local track, where there’s always a group of guys taking endless rounds of penalty kicks on the soccer net, and the ball often soars past the goal, bouncing directly into the track. Watch out for that. In fact, be mindful of any funny business going on on the field. Think: kites, drones, rogue toddlers. It’s in your best interest to look up from your feet once in a while.

Wardrobe accordingly

You’re probably on school property. Keep your shirt on, if you can.

Leave the bike at home

Tracks take a pretty big beating throughout the year, from snowstorms to thousands of metal spikes during meets each spring. Top-line ones can handle it. But adding bikes to the picture won’t do the polyurethane any favors. Try to keep the track a place for walking, running, and HIIT workouts. In fairness, it’s a pretty great place to teach a little one how to ride a bike. As long as that’s contained to the outside lanes, that’s okay. But there’s no good reason for an adult to bring his or her bike to the track.

Hands off the school equipment

I’m no narc. If you want to flop around on the pole vaulting mat after running a mile, do you. But keep in mind that track and field coaches are generally insane, and some 30-something may come sprinting out of the adjacent school to attack you with a javelin.