World Athletics ( formerly the International Amateur Athletic Federation) has established global standards for sporting events since 1913 and the running track distance is one of their mandates. So, all running tracks are built in compliance with World Athletics guidelines. However, since the running tracks are oval in shape, are all the tracks of equal length?
Calculating the length of running lanes
To be compliant with World Athletics guidelines, the inside lane must be 400m in length and the standardised lane width is 1.2m. So, by knowing the distance measurements of the straight and the radius of the turn, you can actually calculate the length of the other lanes as well, using the following formula:
Lane Distance = 2 x Straight Distance + Pi (Radius of Turn + (Lane Number – 1) Lane Width)
Using this formula if we knew the Straight distance =84.4m and the Radius of the turn = 36.8m we could calculate that the distance of lane 1 is 400m, lane 2 is 407.7m, lane 3 is 415.3m, lane 4 is 423.0m, lane 5 is 430.7m, lane 6 is 438.3m, lane 7 is 446.0m and lane 8 is 453.7m. These calculations mean that the further you are from lane 1, the longer the distance of your run!
Track curves and straights can vary
It’s an interesting fact that some tracks have a straightway that seem longer and turns that feel tighter, whilst others have a shorter straightway and more rounded turns. In fact, the World Athletics allows three non-standard shapes to make allowance for multi-use tracks. For example, the same facility might be used for football or rugby, so they need a track that accommodates these different sports. This is why when you hit the home straight, it may be much longer or shorter than you anticipated!
Customised and asymmetric tracks
We have mentioned non-standard tracks above, where multi-use sports facilities need to adjust the shape of the track but within World Athletics guidelines. There are other tracks designs that might be impacted from external factors, mainly due to space limitations. One such example is Wallace Field track In Seattle which has four lanes that reduce to two, then back out to four. This odd design is due to the severely restricted space that was available when the track was built, so it was squeezed into a narrow area between two neighbouring street boundaries.
Running tracks have not always been 400m
Another interesting fact is that tracks have not always been 400m, notably in the US where the imperial standard measurement for tracks had been 440 yards. Most tracks are now 400m, which means that the old One Mile race is now 4 laps plus an additional 9.3m! Then there’s New Zealander Peter Snell, the 3-time Olympic Gold Medallist, who won the 800m on a 500m track in Christchurch in 1962 and the Mile in Auckland in 1964.
So, whilst you may expect most tracks to be a standard size, some are non-standard tracks due to limited space and logistics, whilst a few others are simply weird!
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