Want to take your training onto the oval? Many runners get their start in running on the roads. They were not on the high school track team, and have never even set foot on a track.

But lots of training plans for road races include workouts that are most easily run on a track. I think every runner should at least know the basics about track running so they can confidently use the oval if and when they want to.

Here are the BASICS!

DirectionOn tracks we turn left. Running is done in a counter-clockwise direction.

DistanceA standard outdoor track oval is 400 meters in distance for a single lap in LANE 1.

One lap is approximately a quarter-mile, and often a the 400m distance is also called “a quarter.” However, 400m is slightly short of a full quarter mile. (A full mile is 1609 meters.)

An older outdoor track is sometimes slightly longer than 400 meters around. This is because older tracks were often designed to measure perfectly 4 laps to a mile. These tracks measure 440 yards to a lap which is equivalent to 402.3 meters. In general this won’t make a significant difference in training times and goal paces.

A standard indoor track is half the size of an outdoor track at 200 meters around in LANE 1. However, it is quite common to have custom sizes of indoor tracks anywhere between 200m - 400m per lap.

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LanesA standard outdoor track has 8 lanes around, and the outer lanes are all longer than 400 meters to a lap. The lanes are each marked with their own start line which is 400 meters away from the common finish line. The lanes are marked with additional start lines on the far side of the track, at 200 meters back from the common finish line.

The distance between the common finish line and the start lines in each respective lane are referred to as the “stagger.”

The OvalAlthough there is a standard track size of 400m, there is no standard shape to a track oval. Instead, the shape of the oval is often designed to accommodate a field on the infield (the grass or turf area inside the track).

This means that some tracks have tighter turns with longer straightaways, and others have large turns with shorter straights.

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The ovals will look different - the former being “pill shaped” and the latter being more circular, but they will both be a standard distance of 400 m in lane 1.