Now that you know the local high school’s running track is (probably) available for you to use, you might want a few tips on how, exactly, to coexist with other runners when you use it. Here are the rules of running track etiquette that thou shalt not break.
Stay in your lane
This is the very first thing I taught my kids when they were old enough to run on the track with me: Tracks have marked lanes, and in running, as in life, it’s important to stay in yours.
You can change lanes as needed, for example to pass somebody or to move to a lane that’s more appropriate for your workout (more about that in a sec). When you change lanes, look around and behind you, just like you do when you’re changing lanes on the highway.
The inside lane is for the fastest runners
The innermost lane, called lane 1, is the one that runs 400 meters, or about a quarter mile; the others cover a bit more distance, because that’s how geometry works. If you’re trying to run your fastest lap, you’ll want to do it in this inner lane so that you aren’t giving yourself extra distance to run.
Note that you don’t have to be the fastest person at the track to use lane 1, just that it’s for the people who are running the fastest at any given moment. So if you’re walking or slowly jogging, stick to the outer lanes. But if you’re timing yourself for a fast 400, say, feel free to use that inner lane.
Go the correct direction
On most outdoor tracks, everybody will be running counterclockwise. (In other words, you’re turning left.) Sometimes, if the track isn’t too busy, you might see a few weirdos going the other way, keeping to themselves in the outermost lanes, being careful not to get in anybody’s way. This is acceptable if you’re polite about it. If it’s a busy day, though, forget that idea and just go the same direction as everybody else.
Smaller indoor tracks, like the kind you might find in a gym, often alternate directions depending on the day. If the sign says on Mondays we jog clockwise, then you’ll be going clockwise today.
Don’t block the lanes
Finished your interval? Step off the track if you’re going to stand around catching your breath.
Want to sit down and stretch? Find a spot off the track where you aren’t in anybody’s way.
Need to set your water and towel down somewhere? You got it—find a spot for them on a bench, or the field, or anywhere that isn’t a lane where somebody might want to run.
Don’t spit on the track
I shouldn’t have to say this, but: Please don’t spit on the track. Or leave any other bodily fluids in a place where bodily fluids should not be.
Read the posted rules
This should also go without saying, but I’ve seen too many people ignore this obvious bit of etiquette. If there are rules posted, read them.
Often these relate to when you can use the track. As I’ve previously written, school tracks are usually open to the public outside of school hours. But the exact details vary, and you’ll want to check the sign to see if it declares certain days or times to be off-limits.
There may also be rules about the direction you should run, whether or not pets or strollers are allowed, whether it’s OK to use the football field or if guests should stay on the track, and other important stuff. Be a good citizen, OK?
Can I wear headphones on a track?
You’ll often hear the “rule” that you shouldn’t wear headphones if you’re running on a track. I wouldn’t count this among one of the unbreakable rules, though. What this really means is that you should stay aware of your surroundings at all time.
If you’re drifting out of your lane and someone yells “on your left,” that means that they are on your left, and you should step to the right. If you’re blasting music, you might not hear them, and a collision would be more likely.