You don’t have to be “fast” to hit the track. In fact, it’s the perfect place for new runners to feel out their training paces in a controlled environment. It’s flat and traffic-free—and the distance is measured for you.

You just have to learn the basics—like how many laps is a mile—and the etiquette that allows everyone to use a track properly. Here’s what you need to know the first time you hit the oval.

Follow the rules

Many colleges and high schools open their tracks to the public during times when school isn’t in session. Always look for rules before going onto a public track—they might instruct you to run a certain direction on specific days of the week or keep you out of specific lanes, for example. Always plan your workout around open hours, and make sure you don’t interfere with special events. You don’t want to be on a track when the field hockey team is practicing!

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Go counterclockwise

Most runners travel counterclockwise on the track. To avoid collisions, you should, too. Again, you may want to check to see if the track has specific rules about what directions you should run on specific days. But keep this track idiom in your back pocket in case you forget the standard direction: “Run fast, turn left.”

Leave the headphones at home

Solo track workouts are one of running’s great joys. You have a completely flat and soft running surface all to yourself. But oftentimes, others will be on the track with you.

If you are by yourself, feel feel to get into the zone with your running headphones and favorite playlist to hopefully achieve a runner’s high. But take the headphones out if others are also on the track. When multiple runners are hitting different paces in the same space, you need to tune in to what’s going on around you. Listen for callouts such as “TRACK!”, “ON YOUR LEFT!”, OR “LANE 1!” as it’s an indication that you should clear the way. If you have headphones cranking, you’ll never hear somebody else coming.

Clear lane one

The innermost lane of the track is typically for the fastest runners. If you’re warming up, cooling down, or running slower, move to an outer lane. (Note: Also, schools sometimes bar the public from using multiple inside lanes—e.g. lanes 1 through 3—to preserve them for their athletes.)

How many laps is a mile?

The track is a great tool for fast running. You can sprint, run intervals, or perform tempo efforts. And the best part is, if you know how many laps are in a mile, breaking down each of these types of workouts becomes easier to understand.

Most outdoor tracks are 400 meters around, as measured in Lane 1; that’s slightly less than one-quarter of a mile. Here are some other measurements that are helpful to know:

  • 100 meters: the length of one straightaway
  • 800 meters: roughly ½ mile or 2 laps around the track
  • 1600 meters: roughly 1 mile or 4 laps around the track

So if you use those numbers to calculate how many laps in a mile, you can calculate further distances: If you have a tempo workout that calls for two miles at half marathon pace, all you need to do is run eight laps around the track at that harder effort. (Of course, you would want to warm up beforehand.)

If you have all lanes available to you, you should know the outside lane is 40 to 50 meters longer than the inside lane. If you have to stay out of the first four lanes for a specific reason, you would reach a mile earlier in your lap than you would in Lane 1.


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