Eli5 What makes a running track ‘fast’ , in caparison to a ‘normal’ track? Heard this term a few times at the World Athletic Championship in Eugene, OR


Eli5 What makes a running track ‘fast’ , in caparison to a ‘normal’ track? Heard this term a few times at the World Athletic Championship in Eugene, OR

In: 15

Old tracks used to be cinders (effectively small gravel), which was slow because the cinders would slide around and runners would lose power to lost traction. Then we moved to asphalt tracks, which were faster because they were very hard, which meant that runners got much better traction. The modern tracks are essentially a manufactured rubber, which means both good traction and significant energy return because runners get a bounce off of the surface as it compresses and rebounds.

Most of it is just the surface of the track.

Think about two things: running on concrete and running on a pillow. One of those is more forgiving on the ankles and knees (the pillow). However, it isn’t very fast. A lot of the power will be wasted because of the surface.

Concrete will be tough on your legs. It will also be significantly faster to run on, because the surface is wasting less of your effort.

Fast tracks are (as a general rule) harder than slow tracks. They may also have more grip. The reason this happens is that many tracks aren’t designed for peak performance. They’re designed for good performance across a variety of runner types. This makes them softer and easier on the legs, but also not quite as fast as possible.

It is important to note that there is a tradeoff between sprinters and distance runners. Because of the leg strain, a distance runner would prefer a slightly softer track than a sprinter. This makes some tracks (Atlanta has been mentioned in some articles I’ve read) more preferable to sprinters versus distance runners.

There have also been some improvements in the material used. A “bouncy” material will return more energy than concrete. This makes a large difference in performance.

How hard the ground is.

When you push against the ground either you move or the ground does. Softer grounds will move more and apply less force to you from each stride.

Ex. Imagine full sprinting on a sandy beach The sand would eat all the power you’re trying to push off with and you’d hardly get a step.

Obviously these small differences don’t matter much for our day-to-day life but at the thousanth of a second mark it can matter

I see a lot of people talking about track materials, and while that can/does play a major role there is another factor: elevation. Depending on how high from sea level a track is located can influence how runners perform due to the amount of oxygen present.

**Running at high altitudes decreases the amount of oxygen getting to the muscles.**

This actually doesn’t affect sprinters as significantly as long distance runners though! Sprinters actually benefit from higher altitudes as there is less air resistance, leading to faster sprints.

Fun fact about elevation is that it affects many other sports, and in more ways than ones endurance/performance! In baseball, the stadiums with the highest amount of homeruns are always at higher elevations. The thinner air makes it easier for the ball to travel further!