Monday, September 1, 2014

Tread-iquette alt. Tr-etiquette

Yeah, I just made up a word; it's etiquette for treading the track.

With the recent addition of a real 400m track and synthetic soccer pitch to the lakefront (between Wilson and Montrose) I thought it might be helpful to write a blog about track etiquette.

Isn't it pretty?
Thanks for the photo, Jeff Fine!

I wanted to start by defining etiquette as it helps inform the full purpose of this blog (which probably started with fear that this new facility would be overwhelmed with track n00bs, but has grown in to something more).

Etiquette is a set of expectations for behavior based on a group's norms. It changes and shifts over time, however it provides structure for interactions. This structure helps facilitate interactions among the group, curbing misunderstanding and conflict. On a more positive note, knowledge of this structure is empowering as it builds of foundation for consistency and comfort particularly for new group members.

After working out on one of the only public 400m facilities on the Northside for over a decade, I have come away with my fair share of stories of misunderstanding and conflict around the oval. Emotions run high when runners focused on hitting goal paces collide with kids running wild, soccer players on the infield, and fitness runners. Since this new facility is in a higher profile location than the North Park/River Park track, it is my fear that it might become a pain point instead of the training asset that it should be.

Beyond minimizing conflict between existing facility users, I believe it is in our best interests as track clients for many people to feel comfortable about using this new facility. If usage is good, perhaps the CPD will see the value of such public facilities. Doing a workout on the track could be a foreign, uncomfortable concept for some runners. Exposing as many clients and potential clients to track etiquette basics creates a more comfortable environment making Chicago an even better place to run for everyone.

Tread-iquette for n00bs and Veterans Alike

1. Be Cognizant that the Facility is Public
Conflict arises when competing parties assume more ownership of a facility than is reality. It can be difficult to share a space however as long as the other parties are abiding by the law and following posted signage, they have just as much right to use the facility as you do.

In other words, your ability to perform your key workout on the track has as much validity as the pickup game of soccer that is occurring on the infield of a public facility.

2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings at All Times
Treat the track like you would a busy street; look both ways before crossing, move with traffic (counter-clockwise), and if you're slowing or stopping, move out of the way. 

Assume objects (human bodies) will be moving at high velocities around the oval and unless you want to experience the effects of Newton's first law (objects in motion stay in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force) make sure you're aware of what is happening around you. This can be particularly difficult after a hard repeat, when it feels like your head is going to explode and you're trying to catch your breath, but if you don't have enough awareness to move to the infield or outer lanes, I would suggest reevaluating the intensity of your workouts (you're probably working too hard).

3. Stay in Your Lane
The inner lane is typically reserved for faster running (for distances longer than 400m). If you plan on warming up or simply running easily on the track, tread-iquette dictates you must use an unoccupied outer lane. If there is a significantly faster party using the inner lane, consider using another lane and the marked staggered start lines for your workout. 

Unlike on a road or path, runners pass on the right instead of the left. Wait until you are clear of the person you are passing before merging back into your original lane. The person being passed should not have to break their stride.

Keep in mind that it is probably safer and more efficient to pass on the straightaways.

There are lots more rules and regulations codified by the sport's international governing body, IAAF, but those principles are the basis for a safe, productive time on and around the track.

What tips do you have for track newbies?

Also, anyone have a nice photo or two of the new facility that you'd like shared? I'm looking for a photo to add to this blog.


  1. Nice post, I will have to read the IAFF rules. I have a couple as well: Please don't ride your bike on the track. The wear and tear isn't good for the track surface. Also lighting fireworks on the track causes permanent burn marks and sometimes deep holes that can't be easily fixed.

    1. Hey Pete, I've certainly run into both situations you've described here. Nothing like a couple seven year old punks with no adult supervision lighting off bottle rockets while you try to run 400s!