Lingo, Terms, & Etiquette Oh My! – Stay On Track

Photo by Morrhigan on

One of the many benefits to the Twin City Track Club is the availability of a track that’s open to the public. Unless you ran in high school or college, you may not know the ins and outs of how to formally use a track. If you’ve had a chance to visit the track, you know that it can be quite busy and challenging to maneuver around. What many don’t know is that there are a lot of unwritten rules to using a track. Keep reading to learn more about track etiquette.


We’ll kick this article off by actually breaking down some of the basics of the track. If you’ve never really used a track before, there is a bit of a learning curve. Unfortunately, the difference between the metric and imperial system brings a small inequity in running distances, meaning it doesn’t always have a perfect conversion. A general track is measured in meters so remember that.


A full lap around a track is 400 meters, this is roughly equal to ¼ mile. A 400 meter track has lines on the corners to mark 100 meters. In competitive track, the starting line is different based on the distance you’re running, however, every distance finishes at the same line which will be on one of the corners that starts a curve (at Hanes park it’s the corner that’s under the big tree with the stairs). Another thing you may notice is that there may be staggered lines from a starting line on the curve. In track the farther out in lanes you are from the innermost lane, the farther out in front you start. If every person starts on the exact same line with no stagger, those running on the outer lanes would be running more then the distance they’re supposed to because there’s more ground to cover. You may also notice that with the main start, there may still be a small curve on the line. This is called a waterfall line, this has the same intention as the staggered lines. It allows runners on the outside line a direct path to lane 1 for those running races 800m or longer.  Keep this in mind when you start workouts and you’re not in lane 1. Continuing with the distances, 1 lap is 400 meters, 2 laps is 800 meters, 3 laps is 1200 meters, 4 laps is 1600. So if 400 meters is ¼ mile then 1600 is a full mile right? Wrong, remember again we’re dealing with the metric system over the imperial system. If you want to run a full mile on the track, you have to put in a teensy bit more work. If you look on the track behind the start/finish (for the 400m and up runners), you’ll notice another start line. That is where you start if you want a full imperial mile. A mile is 1609 meters, so it’s not a perfect conversion. This is more of a formality if you get into the true competitive nature of the sport or if you’re trying to avoid the dreaded Strava tax.


Another hint of track etiquette that is a bit specific to Hanes park. The donor of the Hanes Park Track (Bob Sosnik) did specify that the high schoolers are given priority for their practices during the school year. Which means during the typical track seasons, it can get pretty busy when the track overlaps the High School practice time and other clubs’ meeting times. Please be aware of this and be courteous of the youngsters when using the track during the school year. With this in mind, be especially wary of where you are on the track around the 300m mark as this is where the actual school hurdles are used, the start/finish line as sprinters are often practicing starts or doing different distances, and then the 100m mark as this is common for sprint and hurdling drills to take place. This does make use of the track challenging as with all the activity, there are runners whizzing by in almost every lane. On the up note, it’s the tail end of their practice so the highschoolers clear the track a little after TCTC starts our track night.


So now that we’ve given a tour of what you see on a track as well as the distance break downs, let’s move on to the good stuff, the general rules of track.


  1. One of the first things to know about a track is that unless otherwise noted, runners are to run workouts counterclockwise on the track. The inside of the track should always be to your left. There is a slight caveat to this, stick around to find out about it.
  2. If you are walking or running very slowly, it is courtesy to stick to the outer lanes. Faster runners should stay in the inner lanes when the track is busy.
  3. In competitive track, you always pass on the right, you run a risk of getting DQ’ed otherwise. It doesn’t matter as much since we’re more recreational. However, do have a feel for the runners around you to know what method of passing is best at the moment.
  4. This rule kind of depends on the track and culture you’re in. Some say that if you are going to get lapped, you should move to the outer lane, however, this could cause issues of bumping into them, so it may be best to try to stay as close to the inside as possible to minimize any extra running the upcoming runner has to do.
  5. Treat crossing the track when it is in use like crossing a busy highway, make sure you have plenty of time to get across without interfering with another runner
  6. When you are finished with a distance and taking a rest or you’re finished with your workout, either move to the outer lanes or clear the track immediately. Lingering in the lane could impede another runner behind you. Some, when they are approaching the finish, will move to outside lanes so they can finish in the outside lanes, this is acceptable.
  7. If you ever hear “Track!” shouted, it is a call out from active runners to let bystanders know that runners are coming in hot and to move out of the way, if you don’t, be prepared to get trampled and literally run over.
  8. Bringing back rule 1 for this. The exception to this rule is if you are remaining on the track for a cooldown. If you didn’t pick up on this, on a track you are always running to the left, this can create a bit of a left lean bias and some muscular issues if you don’t do anything to counter it. Runners will often use the outer lanes and go clockwise to combat this. Use caution for this method when the track is really busy and all lanes are actively being used.


There you have it! Contrary to popular belief a track isn’t so scary. The folks that show up regularly to Hanes Park for Tuesday Night Track Night can also always give you a pointer if you’re looking for advice. If you’d like to read more about Tuesday Night Track Night and what it has to offer, you can read about it here.