4 Reasons Why Synthetic Running Tracks Are the Standard Today
Running is an ancient competitive sport, with the first Olympic Games hosted in 776 BC that included nothing but the stadion foot-race ran over one length (a stadion) of the stadium track, equivalent to about 600 feet.
In fact, for the first 12 Olympics, the stadion foot-race was the only event and it remained the most prestigious event throughout the history of the Games.
In these early days of track and field, running track surfaces were made of natural earth materials like cinder, grass, and clay. These natural materials are still in use today, but while they’re inexpensive to install, they’re costly to both owners and runners in many other ways.
That is, maintaining a natural surface track is expensive and time-consuming, as natural materials would start to lose their filling and require owners to constantly add filler material, level the running surface, and remark the lanes.
If the track is not well-maintained, holes and irregularities in the surface may result in serious injuries. Besides, rain often renders a natural track unusable. Depending on the weather, it could be days or weeks before these tracks can be used again. These factors make it costly for both owners and athletes, and clearly, natural surface tracks are far from ideal.
And so, enter synthetic rubber tracks. Synthetic all-weather surface tracks took center stage at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics, and since then, synthetic tracks have totally changed the game and are now a standard for all major events.
In essence, these are built with synthetic rubber particles bound with latex or polyurethane. The surface is usually installed to a depth of around half an inch on top of an asphalt or concrete base. It is possible to design the running track surfacing in layers and use different textures for the optimal amount of traction and athletic performance.
Here are four solid reasons why a synthetic running track surface is the standard today.
More Forgiving on Your Joints and Muscles
Unlike running on asphalt or concrete, a synthetic surface provides excellent shock absorption and cushioning, protecting runners from impact-related joint injuries.
The soft surface not only absorbs impact and decreases muscle stress but is also grippy enough so runners don’t slip or stumble due to a bad stride.
In fact, “tuned tracks” made of polyurethane have been shown to improve running speeds by 2-3% and decrease running injuries by 50%, compared with track surfaces made with other materials.
So, synthetic tracks are great not just for the athlete’s health but also result in an…
Enhanced Running Performance
The celebrated Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt clocked his world-record-setting times of 9.58 seconds in the 100-meter run and 19.19 seconds in the 200-meter run on a polyurethane track in Berlin.
Think of the synthetic surface as a springboard, channeling the energy exerted to the ground back to the leg, giving runners more energy in their next stride and boosting their speed.
Lower Maintenance and Expenses in the Long Run
As mentioned earlier, natural materials like cinder, grass, and clay are cheap when it comes to the initial construction. The real expenses start racking up once the real usage of the track begins, such as for fixing holes, adding filler material, repainting lines, or re-leveling the surface.
Not to mention natural tracks are easily and adversely affected by rain, becoming soggy and unusable.
On the other hand, the initial cost of a quality polyurethane-based synthetic running surface is higher. However, a synthetic track is remarkably more durable, lasting up to 20 years or more with little-to-no maintenance. Plus, it is almost immune to weather-related (rain, snow, etc.) adversaries.
In most cases, a well-constructed rubber or polyurethane running track surface remains in great condition for 20 years or even more. And once the track is showing signs of wear and tear, resurfacing it can extend its useful life for another 10 to 15 years — with a much lower expense than building a completely new track.
Bonus: Environmentally Friendly
Last but not least, most rubber and polyurethane running track surfaces make use of recycled materials, such as old athletic shoes. This also makes them an eco-friendly option for track construction.
For the athletes, a running or sprint track surface shouldn’t be too soft nor too hard (so athletes don’t damage their legs). It should provide adequate shock absorption and traction so the odds of slipping or stumbling are minimal. The same qualities are required in a HIIT training surface or a CrossFit training surface, for indoor workouts.
For the owners, track and field surfaces should be durable and attractive, while also being easy to maintain and cost-effective in the long run. As outlined above, all these requirements are best met by synthetic rubber surfaces, and so, you should certainly consider it for your current or future speed training surface needs.