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5 Different Types of Running Track Surfaces for Athletics

Whether you’re a competitive runner or enjoy leisurely jogs, your choice of running track surfaces can significantly impact your running experience. The type of surface you run on can affect your speed, balance, and overall technique.

Various types of running track surfaces are available, each with its unique advantages and disadvantages. However, regardless of the surface type, safety and performance should always be your top priorities when running.

An ideal athletic track strikes a balance between hardness and softness, providing stability while minimizing the risk of injuries. Achieving this balance requires the use of specific materials in track construction.

In this article, we will explore the common materials used in athletic running tracks and address some frequently asked questions to help you make informed choices about running surfaces. Let’s dive into the details!

Clay and Cinder

Before the advent of modern running tracks, clay and cinder surfaces were widely used for athletic tracks. These natural surfaces were composed of fine ash, carbon, and rock, resulting in a softer and more comfortable running experience.

One of the key advantages of clay and cinder tracks is their minimal impact on joint health. They offer excellent cushioning, reducing the risk of injuries during runs. Additionally, these surfaces provide greater resistance compared to other track types, helping to improve running techniques and strengthen foot muscles effectively.

However, there are notable drawbacks to clay and cinder athletic surfaces. They are highly susceptible to weather conditions. After heavy rain, these surfaces become soggy and unusable, while strong winds can lead to surface irregularities and holes. Consequently, clay and cinder tracks demand ongoing maintenance, which can be costly depending on the location and climate.

Furthermore, the cost of building clay and cinder tracks has increased in recent years. Modern versions incorporate advanced technology to better manage water, reducing maintenance requirements. However, this technological integration and the transportation of materials have driven up the overall cost of these tracks. As a result, clay and cinder tracks are now less common and can be challenging to find.

Grass and Turf

Grass is another natural surface used for running tracks, offering distinct advantages and disadvantages.

A grass track provides a soft surface that reduces the pressure on your feet and minimizes the risk of overuse injuries, making it a low-impact option. Despite its softness, running on grass can actually engage your leg muscles more intensely, aiding in strength development. When the terrain is flat, it facilitates faster running.

Moreover, a slightly uneven grass track challenges smaller muscles in the ankles, legs, and hips, making it an effective training ground for enhancing balance.

Running on a grass athletic track can be a refreshing change from the usual flat, hard surfaces, providing both mental and physical benefits.

However, there are drawbacks to consider. The softer terrain of grass doesn’t offer the same stability as harder surfaces, potentially causing inward rolling of the feet and increasing the risk of muscle and joint strain.

Additionally, like cinder tracks, grass surfaces are susceptible to adverse weather conditions. Rain can make the track slippery and hazardous for runners.

While running on grass can be gentler on the body, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks of injury associated with this surface.


Asphalt surfaces, known as all-weather tracks, represent the first generation of modern running tracks used in professional competitions. These tracks are composed of a mixture of asphalt, rubber, and sand, rendering them durable and resilient against adverse weather conditions.

One significant advantage of asphalt tracks is their exceptional speed, making them ideal for high-speed running and sprint training. They offer runners the opportunity to maintain a consistent pace, contributing to improved strength and endurance.

Despite their advantages, asphalt tracks are gradually being replaced by more modern alternatives due to certain drawbacks. Temperature fluctuations have a notable impact on these surfaces. Hot weather can soften the material, while cold winters can lead to asphalt hardening. As asphalt ages, it loses its elasticity, becoming less forgiving and increasing the risk of injuries for runners.

Moreover, the manufacturing process for asphalt tracks is complex and costly, which contributes to their higher price tag. Overhead expenses, including rent and equipment, further add to the overall cost. These factors, coupled with surface unpredictability, have led to the gradual decline of asphalt tracks in favor of newer, more reliable track surfaces.


Modern running tracks predominantly utilize synthetic rubber surfaces to offer exceptional traction and optimal running performance. These synthetic surfaces are crafted from rubber particles bound together with latex or polyurethane, typically laid over an asphalt or concrete base. They often incorporate multiple layers and various textures to enhance their quality and functionality.

There are two prevalent subtypes of synthetic rubber tracks that deserve attention:

Latex track surfaces

What is the best type of track surface to run on?Latex-bound athletic tracks offer a soft and forgiving surface that enhances running ease while prioritizing safety. Their latex surfacing material also promotes greater speed and durability, improving overall athletic performance.

Furthermore, these tracks are permeable, allowing efficient water drainage. This feature ensures their resilience even in adverse weather conditions, a stark contrast to natural running tracks.

Latex tracks come in three distinct color systems, making them an excellent choice for competitive use. However, it’s worth noting a couple of downsides associated with latex materials.

The use of colored rubber and binder can increase the overall cost. Still, depending on your specific requirements, this investment may be justified.

Over time, latex tracks may exhibit signs of wear and tear, potentially leading to cracks that expose the underlying asphalt base, requiring eventual replacement.

Polyurethane track surfaces

For a durable and versatile option, the polyurethane track stands out. This track surface is elastic and capable of withstanding extreme temperatures, including freezing winters, making it a popular choice for outdoor tracks in various athletic facilities and schools.

In contrast to latex tracks, polyurethane tracks are less prone to surface cracks and maintain their texture over time. They can even be resurfaced after the initial installation.

Additionally, these tracks are impermeable and effectively drain water through the polyurethane surface. Most importantly, they strike the right balance between softness and firmness, ensuring a comfortable run that reduces the risk of injuries while providing stability and speed.

It’s worth noting that the benefits of a polyurethane track come with a higher initial cost. However, this investment can potentially save you money in the long run by minimizing the need for costly repairs and maintenance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best type of track surface to run on?

Choosing the right running track surface depends on a variety of factors, including your individual needs, preferences, and running style. Consider elements such as budget, location, intended use, frequency of use, and maintenance capabilities when making your decision. Additionally, the type of running shoes you use can also impact the effectiveness of the surface you choose.

Today, synthetic rubber tracks are a popular choice for outdoor running, as they can withstand harsh weather conditions and offer optimal performance for professional athletes. However, if you are a casual runner or have budget constraints, natural tracks like cinder or grass may be more suitable options.

In general, incorporating a variety of running surfaces into your training routine can help improve your balance and strength while providing a well-rounded running experience.

Why are running tracks color red?

You might be curious about why athletic tracks are often red in color. The primary reason for this choice is that the color red is highly stable when exposed to harmful UV rays. It does not react to sunlight and fade as quickly as other colors might. Consequently, a red running track tends to have a longer lifespan compared to surfaces with different colors.

However, it’s important to note that running tracks can also incorporate other colors aside from red. Blue and green are popular alternatives, as they are similarly resistant to wear and fading, making them durable choices for athletic tracks.

What are indoor running tracks made of?

Indoor tracks, despite being smaller and designed for various types of running, commonly employ the same synthetic surface materials as outdoor tracks. This includes the use of polyurethane and rubber to provide an ideal running experience.

The primary distinction lies in the base material, as indoor tracks typically feature a composite wood base instead of asphalt, which is commonly found on outdoor tracks.

What is the hardest surface to run on?

Concrete is renowned for its exceptional rigidity, surpassing asphalt’s sturdiness by several times over. Certain individuals favor running on concrete due to its even, flat surface, which can reduce the risk of injuries. However, the disadvantages of running on concrete tend to outweigh its benefits, as it places additional strain on your feet and knees. Over time, this can lead to severe joint damage, particularly if you consistently run on the same side of the surface.

What is the difference between permeable and impermeable surfaces?

Running track surfaces are categorized not only by the materials used but also by their sealing systems. These systems can be classified into two main types: permeable and impermeable.

Permeable tracks are sealed systems that permit water to pass through the surface. Examples of permeable tracks include those made of asphalt and synthetic rubber.

Conversely, impermeable tracks do not allow water to infiltrate the surface. Instead, they facilitate water drainage or evaporation from the surface. Clay and turf tracks are examples of impermeable track surfaces.


The next time you plan to run, make sure to keep these types of running surfaces in mind. It helps you adjust your goals, speed, and even your running shoes for a safer sprint.

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