Many details regarding your runs can come down to the type of running you are doing and the surfaces you are running on. Many people say that their times on a running track are faster than running on the road. While it may not seem obvious at first, there are a few reasons for this.
It’s easier to run faster on a running track because running tracks are much more level and the materials are designed for different types of running shoes.
That is a short answer. However, I want to look at a few of the main reasons why your times are most likely better on a running track than they are on the road. After that, I want to answer some essential questions you might not have known you had, so let’s jump into it.
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7 Reasons Why You Might Be Faster On The Track
Look, there can be 100 different reasons why you are getting faster times while running on the track. Perhaps, it is where you feel most comfortable. However, because we cannot list hundreds of reasons in this article, I will talk about six reasons that I think could be the reason why.
No Obstacles On The Track
Sometimes you might not notice how many obstacles you actively avoid when running on the road or trail. Obstacles can range between minor inconveniences and larger objects that eat into your time every time you avoid them. Some of these obstacles include:
- Large stones
The longer you run, the more time you will lose to these obstacles, and although they do seem like minor inconveniences, it all adds up by the end of your run.
If you are looking at getting the best times possible while running on a trail or the road, you might need to plan your route strictly in advance so you can repeat it and improve on your times. You’ll probably best be served by picking a consistent time of the day to run so you have the same traffic from day to day.
Running Tracks Are Softer Than Roads
It is safe to say that the foundation of a running track is usually made from cement. The foundation can be asphalt in some cases, but that is rare. However, the track itself is made from various materials that are much softer than tar or cement.
There is an ideal balance of stiffness for a running track that optimizes running speed (source). The trick is finding that balance.
Running tracks are typically made from synthetic rubber. This provides various benefits, most notably more cushioning with every stride that you take. When you combine that cushioning with your running shoes, you have a much more comfortable run.
Because each stride is less taxing on your body, specifically your joints, you can push harder for longer, and therefore you might notice that your times are faster on the track than they are elsewhere. The difference could be negligible, or it could be significant depending on the distance.
Not all tracks are built equally–mind you. Some tracks are falling apart and don’t have the ideal stiffness.
When you run on the road, you often have to rely on a GPS to tell you how many miles you have run or have left. However, you know that each lap is 400 meters on a track. This means that four laps equal approximately 1 mile; there is very little room for error.
When you have to measure the distance yourself, there is much room for error, even for the best GPSs out there. So, you might run an extra 50 meters with every mile, which doesn’t seem so bad, but over 10 miles, that becomes 500 meters, so your time will be longer. Remember, this is not always the case, but often runners will comment on how their iPhones will measure a different distances than their running GPS watches–you can read more about that here.
Are You Wearing Spikes?
This point applies primarily to sprinters. If you are wearing spikes, you are unlikely to run longer distances or run on the road. However, athletes that race on tracks will often use spikes because it helps them achieve better times.
If you use them on a track, your time will automatically be better. Spikes work by giving you more grip on the front of your foot. The added grip and its placement allow for a more significant transfer of energy. All of this means you should theoretically run faster.
To be fair, if you put spikes on me, I probably won’t run remarkably faster–really this only applies to those on the cutting edge of their running capabilities.
It’s a rare thing to find a road that’s completely level. Even in a relatively flat area there are slight changes in elevation–even steps or curbs or things like that add up over time.
This may be one of the most crucial reasons why your running times are better on the track than they are on the open road.
In my experience, traffic is one of the biggest reasons why your time on a road is not as fast as it would be on track. If you are running in urban areas, the time you lose to traffic can be more significant than you think. Here’s why traffic is such a big issue:
- You have to actively void vehicles.
- In urban areas, you might have to stop at traffic lights.
- In most areas, you will need to yield for stop signs.
Competition and Mental Space
The mental aspect is something that might get overlooked. However, it is something that can play a role in why your times are faster on the track.
I know when I would run on a track for exercise I felt much more competitive with the other runners. I’m not sure why but I felt like getting passed was painful so I would reach down and run faster than I would normally.
Secondly, because it’s so easy to count your times when you’re on a track, it’s easier to push yourself to beat your previous times.
So, when you get on a running track, you could subconsciously be pushing yourself to go faster without realizing it.
Is Running On A Track Better Than The Road? Pros And Cons
If your goal is running performance, if you can choose between running on the road, pavement, or track every day, the track is the best place to focus on running performance.
However, not everybody has that luxury, and the putting off running because you don’t have the ideal running space isn’t the best idea.
Secondly, if your goal for running is exercise, than running on a trail or on the road will work wonderfully.
Also, if you start to get bored from running around an oval course constantly, it is a good idea to switch back to the road for a while to keep things interesting for yourself. With all of that said, here are a few pros and cons of running on a track:
|Running tracks are softer than roads||Not as accessible as the road|
|Your times could be better on a track.||Without a change in scenery, it can get boring.|
|With no traffic, tracks are safer than roads.||Sometimes getting competitive with other runners when you don’t want to be is demotivating.|
|More accurate mileage|
|They are less taxing on your body|
Can Running On A Track Make You Faster On The Road?
Running on a track will not directly make you faster on the road. However, running anywhere will continuously increase your fitness, so if you keep running regardless of whether you are on a road, trail, or track, you will get faster times until you hit a plateau.
Once you hit that plateau, it will become more about perseverance than anything else. You would need to work on your running technique, and a track might help you with that a little bit, but I wouldn’t say that the track directly helps you achieve faster times when transitioning back to the road.