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:
- constantly peeking at their watches
- spitting, blowing snot rockets or expelling other bodily fluids
- looking like they’re in a great amount of pain
- 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?