After my article last week about How To Race Faster by Running Tangents, I got an email from my friend and fellow Trail Monster Alan Morrison about how similar running tangents are to running near the inside of your lane on a track, which I’ve copied here (with permission):

Hi Blaine

I’ve been thinking about this a lot!

My son runs indoor track, and I’ve been talking with him about the related subject of lane choice and when to pass. For the small indoor track this makes a huge difference since they make so many laps.

Running TrackAssuming each lane is two feet wide, then the difference between running in lane 1 vs. lane 2 is that lane 2 is 12.6 feet longer for each lap. Lane 3 is 25.2 feet longer than lane 1 for each lap, and lane 4 is 37.8 feet longer than lane one per lap. Each lap that you are in lane 2 instead of lane one costs you 0.9 seconds per per lap at a 6 minute per mile pace.

Suppose you were struggling to pass someone on a 130 yard indoor track. If you ran at the exact same pace as them (using 6:00.0/mile as an example), if you had to be in lane 2 for even one lap, you would lose by 0.9 seconds. If you were forced to stay in lane 2 for the entire race, which is just over 13 laps, then you would be running 163.8 feet further. You would have to run a 5:49.2 pace compared to their 6 minute pace, just to tie.

If there is a staggered start and you are required to stay in your lane, then stay as close to the inside edge of your lane as you can. Even a matter of six inches closer to the line could save you over 0.2 seconds per lap. In a close race, this could be a huge difference. But be careful, because if you step on or over the line, you could be disqualified.

So the moral to the story is: if you have to pass in a race, save your strength and draft your competetor, then when you get to the straight away, use your momentum from the turn to blow by them and don’t look back. Use that energy that you saved by drafting, which might amount to something like the difference between running a 10 second per mile difference in pace, and get far enough ahead that they can’t start drafting you.

Interestingly, the size of the circle makes no difference.

Kids on the Track For example, say you and two friends are running side by side around Back Cove together. Back Cove has a diameter of just about one mile, or 5280 feet (assuming it’s a circle). Assuming you are running even two feet apart, your friends will have to run a diameter of 5284 feet and 5288 feet. That means the friend next to you will have to run 12.6 feet further than you, and the one on the far side of him will have to run 25.2 feet further than you.

If your pace is 7:00/mile, it will take you 21:59.5 to complete the loop. Assuming your friends arrive at the same time, then your first friend will have to run a pace of 6:59.7 to keep up, and your second friend will have to run a pace of 6:59.4 to keep up. Maybe that’s not a big deal. But if it was a race, and you all ran at the same pace, you would win by 0.9 seconds.

For trail running, even without laps and lanes, each bend in the trail adds distance if you are farther away from the corner than you need to be. Each 45 degree bend in the trail means you run an extra 1.6 feet in length if you are running two feet further out from the center of the curve than you need to be. Each 90 degree bend is 3.15 feet further, and each hairpin 180 degree bend is 6.1 feet further. Each 12.6 feet extra costs 0.9 seconds at 6 minutes/mile. This can really add up.


Have you ever just been beaten by a short amount after running on the outside in a track race? Share your stories in the comments!

(Photo Credits: HKmPUAMark Zimmermann – More Info: Running Tangents)