How to build a running track for a high school or college?

How to build a running track for a high school or college?

high school running track

The oval office. From the ancient Greeks to coaches and athletics directors across the country, the running track is the centerpiece of athletics facilities. Even if the football field gets more fans and the soccer field gets more usage, the track has a 2,500 year head start on being the place to go for sport, athleticism and fitness. 

We’re here to help schools and clubs get started on building new running tracks. Let’s take a few laps around the construction process, handing the baton off between design, construction and finance.

If you want to get an instant and accurate cost estimate for your track building project, try our running track cost calculator

Construction process for a new running track

Before any dirt is moved, you’ll need a survey of the proposed site. This will not only demarcate the boundaries of the track and site the locations for the field events, but also determine the amount of grading and leveling you’ll need to do. 

A four-lane, 400m track has a 26,000 square foot footprint. An eight-lane track takes up 49,500 square feet. 

This is a much larger footprint than other sports fields. Indeed, many times the track surrounds a football or soccer field. This increases the possibility of the track & field facilities butting up against existing buildings or infrastructure. In many cases, this results in some of the field event facilities like throws circles or pole vault pits being far away from the track itself. If you end up putting a runway or throw circle away from the track, you’ll need to account for that in the survey and design.

Once the survey is complete and the ground is level, the construction team will start building the sublayers. The sublayers of a running track are very similar to what you’ll find in any outdoor sports field, as are the major steps in preparation and construction. Your soil characteristics will influence the subbase and base you need, and these, in turn, will shape the drainage considerations. The main consideration in drainage, though, is whether you choose a porous or non-porous track surface (more on that below).

Plan for 10-12 weeks from breaking ground to running the first lap. 

Running track surface material options

Choosing the right surface for your running track is a pivotal decision for your project. The surface of your track is the foundation of your entire track and field system. It has a direct impact on factors such as the performance, speed, longevity, maintenance costs, and environmental impact of your facility. Therefore it is important to have a strong understanding of surface types before designing or building one.

There are many different varieties, brands, and types of surfaces on the market. It can be overwhelming if you are new to the industry or are exploring your options for the first time. But with a little bit of knowledge and insight, you will be more prepared to make an informed decision for your new track.

To help make your decision a little easier, we’ll discuss the most common types of surfaces and the benefits of each.

Running track surfaces can be categorized into 3 main classes:

  1. Synthetic surfaces
  2. All-weather surfaces
  3. Natural surfaces

Each has its own set of use cases and particular budgetary impacts. We’ll dive into each but, first, you’ll want need to know a few facts about your needs:

  • Consider the climate in your area. Will your track be installed in an indoor facility or outside in the elements? Your answer will change the recommended choice. 
  • What types of events and what level of athlete will you be hosting? Of course, you want the best for your teams and users. But if you are creating a community leisure track, you may be able to go with a cheaper option than if you are looking to create a venue that can host Olympic trials. 

Alright, ready to explore surface types? Let’s do it.


Synthetic Running Track Surfaces

As with everything in our lives, technology has improved the types of materials we have available for running track surfaces. Synthetic materials are now the perfect solution for both indoor and outdoor tracks, giving venues the best mix of durability, cost-effectiveness, and safety. 

For synthetic surfaces there are two main types:

  1. Polyurethane running tracks
  2. Latex running tracks 

Polyurethane Running Tracks

What we call “full-pour” polyurethane tracks are the best you can install for your facility. Poly tracks are porous, meaning water from rain and spills easily passes through the materials and enters the drainage system. 

They are durable, provide a low-impact experience for runners, and offer some of the best speeds available. It can be an expensive option, but the longevity you receive outweighs the upfront costs.

Latex Running Tracks

Springy, great cushion, and fast for athletes of all ages. These are usually built on an asphalt subsystem, and layers of latex and synthetic binder (often polyurethane) are placed on top. The binders can be expensive, so if you are on a tight budget, latex can be difficult to accommodate. 

Synthetic running track surface type Competition level
Polyurethane mat system: paved in place
Entry-level / Middle School
Polyurethane mat system: covered by porpus layer coated in a texture spray
Entry-level / Middle School
Basemat structural spray system with impermeable seal layer
Entry-level / Middle School
Permeable sandwich polyurethane surface
Intermediate level / High School
Full-pour, impermeable, polyurethane surface
Professional level / College & Pro
All-weather Running Track Surfaces
Also referred to as “asphalt bound,” these more modern solutions are less common now that synthetic materials have become more affordable. 

However, the concepts introduced by “all-weather” surfaces can still make them a viable option for some fringe use cases:

  • Durable and weather-resistant
  • Very fast speeds for athletes

But there’s a reason new running tracks keep away from “asphalt bound all-weather” surfaces:

  • Manufacturing costs are high
  • Easily affected by temperature, which changes the hardness depending on the season
  • As time passes these surfaces become harder, which increases risk of injury and decreases the pleasure of running
Natural Running Track Surfaces

The first common running track surface choice will be natural materials. Cinder, ash, and to a much lesser extent grass, can be used to build the running surface at your venue. 

For the most part, natural surfaces are relegated to outdoor use cases. 

Some of the benefits of natural surfaces:

  • Cost-effective
  • Well-cushioned and low-impact 
  • Reduce injuries 

While they come with some great benefits, natural surfaces aren’t the most perfect solution.

Some of the drawbacks of natural surfaces:

  • Slower than other modern materials
  • Prone to flooding and are easily impacted by weather
  • Require more maintenance than other surfaces 

How to choose the best running track surface for my sports facility?

So you think you’re ready to make a decision? Here’s a simple checklist you can use to decide on the best running track surface:

  • Who are the main users?
  • What level of competition will you host?
  • What volume of users per week? Month? Year?
  • Will it be indoors or outdoors?
  • What is your overall budget?
  • Do you want upfront savings or better long-term ROI?
  • Are you looking to generate revenue with events?
  • Are you trying to attract top talent to your athletic program? 

Armed with this information, making your decision will be easy, especially when engaging a professional to plan your project. 

running track design

Running track design

While some sports allow for variation in the dimensions of their playing surface, competitive tracks have a hard-and-fast rule: lane 1 is 400 meters. 

The main question for athletic directors or facility managers is how many lanes to have. Tracks that intend to host international or national level meets need to have at least 8 lanes, and some will have 9 or 10. As you work down the competitive levels, tracks can have 6-8 lanes for colleges and high schools; and as few as 4 for schools and recreational facilities.

Not all 400m ovals have the same dimensions, though. Some will have longer straightaways and narrower turns, others will approach a circle. A more rounded track will need a longer lane extension to facilitate the 100m sprint and 110m hurdles. 

World Athletics, the governing body for track & field, lays out the standards for what has to fit inside Type A, B, C and D running tracks. Part of their consideration is whether the field event facilities have to be within or adjacent to the oval. Part of your consideration is whether the track will need to fit a football or soccer field within it.

Running track construction specifications

The specifications of your track and the level of competitions you plan on holding will also determine the details you will need. Relays and hurdles require a complex series of lane markings; and the steeplechase is defined by the water trap between the third and fourth turns. Competition-grade tracks also need to have a rail or curb along the inside of the curves to ensure athletes do not step off the track and into the infield during a race. 

Finally, there’s the aesthetic aspect. Most tracks are red, but blue tracks are not uncommon across the sport. However, every once in a while you’ll see a track in school colors, whether that’s green, blue, black or gold. Aside from visuals, you’ll want to determine how the color of the track will affect the amount of heat it absorbs and releases, and how that will affect the track’s longevity and the athlete experience. 

Running track construction layout and specifications
Type Dimensions (length x width) Track length No. of lanes Certification
Type A: International & national competitions
176,91m x 93,08m
IAAF Class 2
Type B: Regional and inter-regional competitions
172,03m x 90,08m
Type C: Schools & Rec
167,18m x 85,20m
Type D: Schools & Rec

Important considerations for high school running tracks

High school athletics directors will most likely go for Type C or D running tracks. However, if you are in a large state and hope to host regional or state championship meets, you may need to consider going up to a Type B. Hosting those meets will require you to have facilities or markings for events you might not otherwise accommodate, such as the full range of throws or the steeplechase.

Your ambitions for the track will also shape your surface selection. Even if hosting the state meet is not on your to-do list, a higher quality surface may allow you to attract clubs and events to rent your track to increase your program’s revenue. Of course, the better surfaces will cost more money, so you need to assess the impact of the surface on gains in revenue or reputation.

From a 4-lane track with all the least expensive options to a 9-lane World Athletics Type A track, the price range is $50,000 – $1 million. That’s likely the widest price range of any sports venue we have cost calculators for! 

Read more:

Running track construction companies

It’s definitely worth your time to pull together your specs, your “must haves” and “nice to haves,” and your working budget, plug the info into our running track cost calculator and get a more focused idea of what a new track will cost. 

As part of the estimate, you’ll also have the option to be placed in contact with companies that specialize in running track construction so you can see how each details affects the price of the overall project.

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