With a limited number of lanes, dozens of athletes working out, and different events practicing all at once, the track can seem like a busy highway during rush hour. And just as traffic laws govern what happens on the road, there also exists a code of written (and unwritten) rules concerning appropriate activity around the track (and field). Read this list and save yourself from drawing dirty looks from other athletes... or worse.
Even when a meet isn’t going on, it’s important to understand that there are still some rules that you’re expected to follow. Most of them are pretty basic and rely on nothing more than common sense, but they should still be mentioned. Here are some things to keep in mind when practicing on a track:
Run counter-clockwise on a track: This is one of the most basic rules of the track, and most athletes should do this automatically. However, if you are the only one there, feel free to run or walk whichever direction you want.
Know the pace associated with the different lanes: lanes 1 and 2 are for the fastest runners, and the middle lanes are for moderately fast runners. Stay out of these lanes if you are walking or jogging, and don’t stand in these lanes either. The outer three lanes are for joggers and walkers. Think of the track like a highway where the leftmost lanes are for the faster drivers.
If you hear someone yell, ‘Track!’ move to your right: This usually means a faster runner is coming up behind you. Etiquette dictates that you don’t prevent a faster runner from, well, running faster. Briefly move out of the way, then move back to your original place.
Look left and right: Just like when you are crossing the street, look both ways when you are crossing the track. Do not cross if a runner is close. Also, when you are done with a run, take a look around to make sure you are not in another runner’s away. It is better to move to your right when you are done, but always be aware of any runners coming up behind you.
Do not wear headphones on the track: You need to know if other runners may be trying to get your attention and you always want to be aware of flying objects (discuss, javelins, etc.) that might be coming your way.
Respect other people on the track: Though sometimes the track isn’t being used for its intended purpose, when other people are involved it’s best to keep things as simple as possible. For example, don’t let animals and children run freely on the track during a practice or workout. It’s disruptive and disrespectful, not to mention potentially harmful.
Hot Tip: Stay Sharp
Failure to always be aware of your surroundings can lead to some very unfortunate consequences. Here are some examples:
- June 2005: A shot put official is killed during a throwing practice right before the U.S. track and field championships in Los Angeles, California. Paul Suzuki, 77, was struck in the head by a 16-pound shot. He had been an official at track meets for decades.
- May 2009: A thrower from Long Beach State suffers a season-ending injury after getting hit in the chest by a hammer. Senior Jennifer Onyeagbako was resting before her hammer event when another athlete accidently threw the hammer over the throwers’ safety net. Onyeagbako could not get out of the way in time. The hammer hit her in the chest, breaking her clavicle and bruising her lungs.
Track meets are fun to watch, but require actively paying attention at all times.
Though most tracks will have a list or rules posted nearby, please remember that not all rules for using the track and field are written down. Some of these are more guidelines than rules, but you’ll still be expected to follow them. Always use common sense and be aware of your surroundings to stay safe and capable of training another day.
At a Track & Field Meet
While the same guidelines for practice also apply at track meets, there are some additional things you should keep in mind during competitions:
Walk around the infield: When a jumping or throwing event is going on, walk around the infield in the out-of-bounds area. This will save you from getting run over or hit by an implement.
Noise can be distracting: The starting line is very close to the stands. If you are a spectator, please do not make any noise at the start of any event. Whether a runner is at the blocks or a hammer thrower is winding up, noises are distracting and rude. But once the athlete starts, feel free to cheer as loud as you want.
Move to the outer lanes: If you are being lapped in a distance race, move to Lanes 3 or 4. This is a courtesy to the faster runners.
Stay away from the finish line: if you aren’t involved in the current event, or are not an official, it’s a good idea to stay clear of the finish line. Walking across the finish line during a race will disrupt the electronic timing device, so walk around the official’s tent if you are in the area. Also, do not hang around the official's tent or anywhere near the starting line if you are not in the event.
Stay down on the infield: For races like the 200 M or 3000 M, the starting line is located on another part of the track. Sit down on the edge of the infield if you are waiting for your heat. This is so the officials on the other side of the track can see the starting line.
Be mindful of the order of events: sometimes a track meet may run behind and you may think your event will run late. But be careful with this assumption because a meet can quickly get back on schedule. The best thing to do is watch the order of events and gauge it by how many heats there are. The last thing you need is to show up late or miss the event all together.
Whether this is your first meet or your hundredth, every athlete in the competition will be expected to know and abide by these rules. Not doing so can have negative (though hopefully unintended) consequences, ranging from scowls to bodily injury.
Following Rules is Important & Easy
Do not stress out about remembering these rules. Most of it is common sense and just being courteous to other athletes and officials. They will do the same for you.
One last thing to remember: have fun and always support your teammates. You are there to be part of a team so, cheer for each other at meets, encourage each other at practice and enjoy your experience as a track and field athlete!