Olive’s Guide to Not Being an A-hole on the Track

Whether it’s Yasso 800s, mile repeats, drills or ladders, sooner or later a runner who wants to improve her speed eventually finds her way to the track. This summer, I’ve spent a lot of time on the oval working to improve shorter distance speeds, and I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with the track. I hate it during the workout, love it during the cool-down, hate thinking about having to go back, but love the results.

While I’ve been working at my speed game, I’ve also developed some…er, strong feelings about track etiquette, and further research has shown that I’m not alone when I groan and grumble when others break the rules. Read on, track stars; veterans will commiserate and neophytes may learn a thing or two!


Before we start, here’s a quick overview of track vocab you might hear runners mention:

Lane: as in “stay in yours.” A lane is a section of the track separated by white lines and marked by numbers, like lanes on a road. Most tracks have 8 lanes, and the closer you get to the inside of the track (i.e., lane 1), the shorter the distance and the quicker the time. That means if you’re jogging or walking, take it to the outside two lanes.

Spikes: fancy shoes that literally have spikes screwed into the soles. Some runners wear them on the track. They make you look cool and fast and also minimize slipping.

“Track!”: what a runner behind you will yell as they’re getting ready to pass you. May also sound like “behind!” “move!” or “urrrgggh!” This is also often shouted at the uninitiated, if they happen to be milling about or walking in the inner lanes. Please do not mill about in the inner lanes!

Yassos: Shorthand for Yasso 800s. Runner and Runner’s World contributor Bart Yasso invented this workout as a predictor for marathon times. Essentially, if a runner runs 10×800 in the time in minutes that they hope to run in hours, with equal rest, they are in shape to run that marathon time. For example, a runner hoping to run a 3:30 marathon should run 10×800 in 3:30. Some, including me, doubt the accuracy of the Yassos; I once ran 10×800 in 2:59 and then ran a 3:25marathon a few weeks later.

Quarters: 400 meters, or 1 lap around the track.

The 5 Commandments

1. Know Thy Lane

2. Stay in Thy Lane

3. Don’t be a Passhole

4. Take Your Burpees Elsewhere.

5. You Can Run With a Buddy but Not Next To Six of Your Buddies Side-by-Side Across the First Six Lanes

Let’s discuss each of these in greater depth:

Know Thy Lane

Warm up, cool down, or recover in an outside lane. In general, inside lanes should be reserved for runners who are doing speed work. You can usually tell that the runner is doing speed work because they are:

  1. constantly peeking at their watches
  2. spitting, blowing snot rockets or expelling other bodily fluids
  3. looking like they’re in a great amount of pain
  4. breathing like a dying water buffalo as they fly around the oval

If you’re running easy, stay in an outside lane where they don’t have to dodge you. I polled my running group about their track pet peeves, and people walking or jogging slowly in lane one was far and away the most annoying pet peeve. So, although one is a great number and it must possess some magnet force to those beastly looking white walking shoes, lane one is not the lane to walk in.

Stay in Thy Lane

Know your surroundings, people. Yes, I’m talking to you, Captain Headphones. If you can’t hear me yell track, and then scream and jump and give me a dirty look as I pass, I can’t really make myself feel for you. Just like running on the road or the trail, you’re sharing the track with other people. It’s important for their safety and yours that you know what’s happening around you.

Don’t Be a Passhole

Don’t cut too close. Don’t draft off a shoulder while heavy breathing, make a move, cut back in right in front of someone and then slow down (true story). Don’t dart in front of someone trying to hit their interval split. These are basics. But here’s something else I want you to think about: pass on the left. That’s right, pass on the inside.

This is a much contested subject that I’m going to offer my opinion on because this is Olive’s Guide to Not Being an A-Hole on the Track, afterall: pass on the left like on the highway. I’ve been told by a coach that faster runners should do the work of going into the outer lanes, but I disagree. Passing etiquette is as follows:

  • The runner getting ready to pass yells “track!”
  • The runner being passed moves slightly to the right, while making sure there is no one in the lane next to them.
  • The passer moves around them and everyone goes back to what they were doing.

I didn’t run track in high school or college, but I’m told stepping on the inner line of lane 1 could get you disqualified, so stay inside the lane one boundaries. If you care to disagree with my rule, please share your reasons in the comments and I might be able to accept you as a non-A-hole — maybe.

Take Your Burpees Elsewhere

The track is for running and walking. Not lunges, push-ups, burpees, squat jumps or whatever new calisthenic you feel like trying today. Is coming to a dead stop in front of other runners and doing a pushup some new Crossfit WOD? If so, it sucks. Take that, and stretching, to the field in the middle of the track. Also acceptable is the straight (off the oval) part of the home stretch, as long as nobody is practicing their dashes or strides there.

Once — and you’re not going to f’ing believe this — on a very crowded track, a guy took a sandbag onto lane one and would leave it there, run a lap and get it and do weird Crossfit shit with it, then put it back down on the track and run another lap. This. Is. A. Trip. Hazard. For. Others. Please don’t do that!

Also it is bad form to bring onto the track bicycles, dogs, roller skates, ball sports, soccer nets, unattended toddlers, and Italian Ice vendor carts (seriously happened).

You Can Run With a Buddy but Not Next To Six of Your Buddies Side-by-Side Across the First Six Lanes

If you’re running with a pace partner, run one behind the other. This is easier for both of you anyway (less distance to cover plus one of you is blocking the wind) and it lets other runners pass you. Remember that viral pic at the Boston finish line where a group of women crossed holding hands and no one could pass them? Jerks. Don’t be those ladies.

Friends don’t let friends turn the track into a game of Red Rover.

The track can be intimidating, but it’s a great place to work on pacing and make some speed gains. You just have to follow a few simple etiquette rules.

What’s your biggest pet peeve at the track? And what’s your take on passing-right versus passing left?

I am a stay at home mom and group fitness instructor from South Texas. I love reading, wine, and travel. I write about trends, injury prevention and maintenance, and satire. I am training to break 1:30 in the half marathon sometime soon, and for the 2017 Boston Marathon.

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  1. I am slow even when I am doing the workout. Most people’s warm up/cool down are faster than my sprints. Ergo I live in the outside lane. I know that’s where I belong. But when everybody stops at the start live to bitch/hurl/drink/talk to coach they block the outside 2-3 lanes…yo, I’m still running there and my times matter to me.

    1. I say you get the inside lane. If you’re doing a workout where split times matter you get lane 1. And I also disagree about passing. I think faster runners pass on the outside. So if you’re slower than others doing workouts, hug the line. It’s fine!

      1. The problem with passing on the inside is that not everyone understands the rules of the track (hence, the big white shoes walking in lane 1) and your casual walker/runners aren’t looking up track etiquette online. So when you yell “track” at them, they aren’t going to understand and get out of the way. It’s better to just run around them on the outside. In a perfect world, it would work as you say – at least for workouts, in a track race no one is going to yield the inside 🙂

        1. I think you can pass on the inside IF you’re in a group where the other people know what’s going on. If you’re trying to pass some clueless “night jogger” (obligatory Once A Runner reference), they’re going to jump a foot into the air and move to the wrong side when you yell anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

          But that said, when I’m on the track and can hear someone faster approaching, I drift to the outside of lane 1 and let them have the inside.

          And to Rose’s point … I don’t think anyone should feel the need to do their workout farther out than lane 3-4. Use lanes 5-8 for jogging, walking, whatever. (Then again our tracks are never super full so this theory may work less well if you’ve got huge groups … but I’ve seen it work with 50-ish people.)

          1. Yes, I agree that many people aren’t going to do what you want if you yell at them from behind! Also…I don’t really have the lung capacity for yelling when I’m doing intervals. Fortunately the track is rarely all that busy around here.

            Olive, I would like to nominate “that guy who decides you’re now his pacer and hangs on your shoulder breathing heavily for the duration of your tempo run” for a lifetime achievement award in Track Awkwardness. Can this be arranged?

        2. I think the safest way to pass on the inside is to yell “passing on your left” or similar before going by. I don’t do much track work, but when I do it’s 5:30 a.m. so it’s certainly not crowded, and I am thankful for that.

      2. Oh, and I agree with Salty that you should still run on lane 1, Rose. If you are really uncomfortable about being there, you could pay attention to when the faster runners are coming around and move to lane 2. But you don’t have to … I’ll admit to being a passhole when it comes to walkers being in my lane, but I’ve never felt angry about having to go around someone else running intervals.

        1. Last time I was on the track everyone else was gone before I finished my last interval…and coach was yelling something but it was allergy season and I couldn’t hear sh$t. Apparently he was yelling for me to move in from the outside…gave me poop about making things harder than necessary (which is my MO anyway).

  2. Ha! I’ve seen a lot of bicycles and rollerblades in my day. I’ve also narrowly missed a large number of wayward soccer balls and baseballs, since the baseball field sits by a track I use and they frequently warm-up/practice at about the 200m mark. (They always move out of my way, but it’s still scary AF.) One time during a hot summer day, some A-hole punk kids stole my partially-consumed Gatorade, which is the most A-hole-y thing I can think of, not to mention gross.

    For warm-ups and cool-downs, I jog in the outside lanes the opposite direction (typically you run counter-clockwise on the track, so I’ll go clockwise on the outside so that I’m a little more balanced). When I went to a bigger, organized track night, the clockwise system helped identify who was still doing the workout (and ergo warranted having the inside lanes and extra cheers on their final reps). Sort of to what Rose also said, it got the faster people out of the inside lanes when they had moved to the cool down and freed those lanes up for people still going.

    Also important note on the Yasso 800s — if you’re using them as a “predictor” for the marathon, you should do 10 of them with EQUAL TIME recovery. Fewer reps or different recovery time doesn’t “work” for the prediction aspect. (Like any predictor, take it with a grain of salt.)

    Great tips, Olive!

    1. I agree on the Yasso format – you are supposed to do 10 reps with equal recovery time (typically taken while jogging 400). But I also think they are not intended to be a predictor, but instead a quality workout with an easily calculated split time. I read an article to that effect once that I believe was by Bart Yasso; if I can find it I’ll link it!

  3. Interesting! I always learnt, in my totally amateur track groups, that you pass on the right, and it’s the faster runner’s responsibility. Sort of like skiing; the skier uphill takes the responsibility of looking out and avoiding those downhill, as the downhill person obviously can’t see you coming! Same with track, so that’s what I do (though I am more frequently the passed than the pass-er, but no one has ever yelled ‘track!’ at me from behind anyway).

  4. I don’t mind going around any single person who is on the track doing their work at whatever pace. And I’ll pass on whichever side looks like it will work best.
    Now, oblivious people abreast … they get my ire. (And don’t get me started on pace group blockades in races!)