Question MarkRachel in Wisconsin began running this Winter to lose some weight and get healthier. She was working out at her local gym, and was wondering whether she should always go counter-clockwise on the indoor track there. The track is only 67 meters around, so the turns are very tight.

My general advice on any track, especially smaller tracks that you find indoors, is to switch your direction of travel on a regular basis if at all possible. If you aren’t sure what is available, then by default you should be running counter-clockwise (making left turns) as that is the standard direction that most people will expect you to be running in. There are a few things to bear in mind, though.

Indoor Track

  1. There may be rules about which way you go – make sure that you follow them. Some tracks have clockwise on even days and counter clockwise on odd days or something similar, but not all do so be sure to check ahead of time.
  2. If nobody is on the track, then feel free to do whatever you want – be ready to conform to the rules if somebody else wants to use it at the same time as you though.
  3. Know which lanes you can walk in and which ones you can run in – also be aware that some tracks may have walking lanes that go in the opposite directions as the running lanes. No matter which direction they go, be sure you know which lanes are which. On an outdoor track, the walking lanes are usually to the outside, but on an indoor track (especially small ones like the one that Rachel is using) the walking lanes are usually to the inside. The smaller the track, the more difficult it is to take the turns at the corners when you are running.
  4. At low mileage and speeds there probably is nothing to worry about – so if the track you use has rules about always going in one direction then there probably isn’t a lot to worry about if you are just walking a few miles at a time. As you get into better shape or if you spend more time walking or running on an indoor track, you can stress your legs in an unnatural way and cause an overuse injury by always making tight turns in the same direction, and at that point you will want to look for alternatives.

I got a few good track workouts in this Winter on a local 200 meter indoor track. Last year I did some repeats running clockwise, but this year I only ran my intervals in the inside lanes and in one direction as I was always sharing the track with others. I did my warm up and my cool down laps in the opposite direction of my intervals as I was going a lot slower and was using the outside lanes, which gave me more warning when I went around turns that somebody was coming. The track that I use had tennis players on the infield so they kept the sides down to prevent the tennis balls from hitting the runners too often.

Tracks are a good way to supplement your workouts and can provide a little variety if you are used to only running on a treadmill. Whenever possible, I recommend getting outside if you can. Another option is to find a sports arena such as a hockey rink and run around the outside of the stands if there is a clear path. Running on the concrete above the ice rink in college beat up our legs, but some days there was just no getting outside and it provided a welcome change from the tiny odd-shaped track that we had available at the time.

(Photo Credit: Isaac and Aaron Goldberg)