Track and Field Defined

Track and Field Defined

Acceleration Zone

Used in the 4x100m and the 4x200m relays, these are 10m sections of each lane prior to the beginning of a baton exchange zone where the second, third and fourth relay leg runners may begin accelerating to match the speed of the previous runner preparing to pass the baton. Acceleration zones are typically denoted by a small triangle, pointing in the running direction.

Advanced Polymer Technology Corporation

A manufacturing company based outside Pittsburgh, PA. APT has manufacturing facilities in the United States, West Germany, Australia and China. APT has been in business for twenty years.


Larger particles of construction material, usually referring to crushed or natural stone, as found in stone base, asphalt or concrete.

Back Straightaway

The straight section of a running track between PC (Point of curve) 2 and PC3, usually on the visitor’s side of a stadium, commonly abbreviated to “back straight."

Base Mat

A surfacing designation used to describe the combination of polyurethane binders with rubber granules. The mat is either premanufactured or applied (paved) using a screed machine specifically designed to place the mixture.

Bituminous Asphalt Mixture

A mixture of liquid asphalt and aggregate, commonly abbreviated to “asphalt.”

Box Alley Start

A curved start line for two separate groups of runners, with one group sharing lanes one through four, and another group sharing lanes five through eight. An alternate method involves three separate groups of runners, sharing lanes one through four, lanes five and six, and lanes seven and eight. This start is sometimes used for the 800m race, and is sometimes called “California Start."

Broken Back Track

Also referred to as a “Double Bend Track.” A method of design for a track that utilizes three radius points to form three intersecting arcs (typically two shorter of equal dimension, and one longer), forming one complete complex curve of the track. This design is rarely utilized, but is one way to fit a track around a wide soccer infield.

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Blanking Board

A component of a “takeoff board system” used in the long and triple jump and serves as an off-season replacement for the wooden takeoff and scratch boards used during a track meet, to prevent trip hazards and can also be used for practice jumps. The blanking board is typically covered with rubber, matching the elevation of the runway surface.

Break Line

The marking at end of a curve (usually PC2) denoting the location where runners may depart, or break, from their respective lanes and move to the inside lane of the track to complete a race.

Catch Basin

A ground level water collection structure that has a grate on top and one or more discharge pipes, that exit to an outfall point. Catch basin type, sizing and placement are critical components for infield drainage and proper track design.

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The extension of a straightaway beyond a PC providing the added straight distance to run the 100m and 110m events, with sufficient room to position starting blocks and warm up room for runners behind the start lines. The typical placement for a single required chute is on the home straightaway at PC4, enabling the runners to utilize the common finish line at, or near PC1. Optional chute placement(s) can be made at other PCs, to take advantage of wind direction or to accommodate other site specific requirements.

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D Area

Also referred to as the “D Zone.” The area of the infield which is made up of all or part of the semicircle inside the curve of the running track, typically beyond the backline or end zone of the playing field.


A term used to describe the discharge of a storm water outfall system that does not require treatment, lower in elevation than the collection point(s), but not below surface grade, typically a ditch or swale, directing surface flow away from desired areas of drainage (i.e., tracks and infields.)


A field event involving the throwing of a heavy disc for distance from within a 2.5m circle. The discus landing sector is now universally an area 34.92 degrees such that, if extended, the angle would close at the center of the circle, opening wider into the landing sector. A safe landing sector distance depends on the level of competition. High school competition landing sector distances are typically a minimum of 200 feet. The world record discus throw is more than 243 feet.

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Double Bend Track

Another name for "Broken Back Track." A method of design for a track that utilizes three radius points to form three intersecting arcs (typically two shorter of equal dimension, and one longer,) forming one complete complex curve of the track. This design is rarely utilized, but is one way to fit a track around a wide soccer infield.


Properly designed and executed drainage controls are the most important investment a track owner can make. Without adequate drainage, all other aspects of the construction of a track and field facility are jeopardized. Drainage control is often an under-emphasized aspect of running track and field event construction. Track and field facilities are a large, long term investment for an owner. The construction effort required to properly build a quality facility is a time-consuming and disruptive process. It is imperative to build it right the first time. If drainage issues are not adequately addressed up front, it will, at a minimum, lead to costly repairs, and additional disruption to the owner. If the problems are severe enough, it can result in total failure, and an unusable facility.

Drainage controls must be made to eliminate surface water from puddling on, flowing across, or ponding adjacent to, the track and field event facilities. The grades on both the hard-paved surfaces and the adjacent ground must be shaped to drain readily. Site selection is critical, as some areas cannot be expected to drain, regardless of the most aggressive drainage efforts. This is particularly true in low lying areas, with shallow ground water. Excessively wet subsoil cannot be compacted, and cannot be paved over successfully. If the subsoil, stone base course, and asphalt layers constantly remain wet, it WILL result in settling, asphalt deterioration and rubberized surface de-lamination.

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Acronym for ethylene-propylene-diene-M class rubber. An elastomer which is characterized by wide range of applications. The M refers to its classification in ASTM standard D-1418. The “M” class includes rubbers having a saturated chain of the polymethylene type. EPDM granules are commonly used in the construction of running tracks. The EPDM rubber produced by Melos is known to be the best available on the planet. This is the product Precision Sports Surfaces, Inc. uses in their systems.

Equal Quadrant Track

A track design which features four sections of equal length. A 400-meter equal quadrant track has a distance of 328.083 feet (100m) between radius points, and a single radius distance to the measure line of 104.43 feet, therefore each straight and curve measure 100m.

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Exchange Zone

Used for the relay race events, these are 20m sections of each lane, centered at quarter marks for each race, where runners must successfully pass the baton. Exchange Zones are typically denoted by large triangles, color-coded for specific races.

Finish Grade

A construction term used to define the finished design elevation of construction features, such as paved track and field event surfaces, playing fields, and drainage structures.

Flush Curb

Primarily a cosmetic track design feature, typically built with concrete, which has no dimensional bearing on the track measure line, as opposed to a “Raised Curb”. Flush curbs serve a viable function where they are needed as an edging anchor for artificial turf installations, and/or as encasement for a pre-manufactured channel drain system.

French Drain

A subsurface drainage system that consists of an excavated ditch that is backfilled with a porous stone, with or without a bedded pipe. Proper installation of this type of drainage system usually incorporates the use of the ditch liner with porous geo-textile fabric to prevent silt infiltration. Discharge from this system typically “day lights” to the surface at an elevation below the area requiring drainage.

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Full Pour

A surfacing designation generally referring to a non-porous poured-in-place polyurethane track surface installation. This is the longest-lasting, best-performing track surface available.


Acronym for “Global Positioning System.” A U.S. space-based radio navigation system that provides reliable positioning to users on a continuous worldwide basis. In construction, GPS provides accurate location and grading equipment control.

Hammer Throw

A collegiate field event involving the throwing of a heavy ball attached to a wire handle for distance from within a seven foot circle (the same circle used for shot put). The hammer throw event requires a safety cage similar to a discus cage. The hammer landing area is the same as the shot put landing area, but requires a greater distance. The world record hammer throw is more than 284 feet.

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High Jump

A field event involving the jumping over a horizontal bar and a cushioned landing pad, also called a pit, for safety. The event requires a relatively large surface area for the running approach to the bar. This area is typically surfaced with the same material as used on the track. The modern approach path taken by most high jumpers is longer and more direct, enabling the jumper to gain greater speed. This technique, called the straddle approach, has made the made the old 50 foot radius high jump pad obsolete, which was made popular after the 1968 Olympics, when Dick Fosbury took the gold medal, using a short, curving approach, ending with a jump commonly called the “Fosbury Flop.” The world record high jump is over eight feet.

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Home Straightaway

The straight section of a running track between PC4 and PC1, usually on the home side of a stadium, commonly abbreviated to “home straight.” This straight is typically where the 100m and 110m sprints are run.


Acronym for the International Association of Athletics Federations; the governing body for international athletic competition. website:

International Standard Track

A track design recommended by the IAAF; a non-equal quadrant track with straightaway of 84.39m and measure line radii of 36.8m. This design accommodates the dimensions of an International soccer layout within the infield.

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The flow line of a pipe. The elevation shown on a set of plans for an invert is the elevation above sea level at the bottom of the drainage pipe.

Interceptor Drain

A feature that collects and disperses storm water from outlying areas, thereby preventing adverse impacts to the designed facility. Common examples would be flush-mounted drain channels at the base of stadium bleachers, or diversion swales at the base of slopes outside the track perimeter.


A component of polyurethane.


A field event involving running and throwing a spear-like implement for distance. The javelin runway is typically 110 feet long and approximately 14 feet wide. A javelin runway is usually surfaced with the same material as the track. The landing sector is approximately 29 degrees. The current world record javelin throw is over 323 feet.

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Laser Grading

A precise method of fine-grading materials where the machine is controlled by sensors on the machine that read a consistent beam of light that is emitted from a laser-generating device.

Long Jump

A field event involving running and jumping from a set point for distance. The long jump event incorporates both a sprint approach runway and sand pit landing area. A clean jump is measured from the set point on the runway (take off line, or board) to the closest impression made by the athletes’ landing in the sand. The typical minimum length of the runway is 40m behind the take off point, or approximately 150 feet from the back end to the sand pit. Long jump runways are typically surfaced with the same material used for the running track. The minimum recommended width of the runway is four feet. The world record long jump is over 29 feet.

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Lynx System Developers, Inc

The company that produces the automatic timing systems that are most commonly used at track and field meets.

Measure Line

An imaginary hairline that defines the length of a track. The theory of this line is to establish a measuring point where runners are placing their feet while runner in competition. The standard for this measure line is 20cm from the inner lane line for a track without a raised curb, or 30cm for lane one for a track with a “raised curb”. This theoretical line should never be shown on a set of construction plans, as nothing is ever built to it. The presence of this dimension on construction plans has caused major problems. The measure line is used to ascertain the proper offset construction dimensions for paving limits, curb construction and perimeter drain placement. Once these offset dimensions are established, relative to the proper geometric 400m measure line, denote only measurements for tangible features on construction drawings.


A hazardous heavy metal contaminant that is found in some track surfacing materials. Precision Sports Surfaces, Inc. does not use any materials that contain mercury. Design professionals and track owners should insist that any potential track surfacing suppliers provide certification that their products are “mercury-free.”


A European manufacturer of the finest quality EPDM rubber granules.


A unit of measure which is currently used in track and field. A meter is 3.28083 feet.


Acronym for the yellowish polyurethane that is used to bind rubber particles together for what is commonly referred to as a base mat. Pigments and colored rubber particles can also be blended with this type of material to create a coating that is commonly sprayed over base mats.


Acronym for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body for track and field at the collegiate level.


Acronym for the National Federation of State High School Associations, the governing body for high school track and field. website:


Acronym for “point-of-curve." The four points on a running track that form the departure from the straightaways to the curved portion of the oval.

Pavement Extension

An added width of pavement to the required width of the running track, most commonly placed around the outside edge, to eliminate the need to mow grass between an outside perimeter fence and the track edge. This extension, if made wide enough beyond the fence line, can also serve as a spectator walkway to prevent crossing traffic on the track. This term is also used to describe a stone base that is slightly wider that the asphalt that is placed over the stone base.

Pole Vault

A field event involving running with, and using a long pole as a fulcrum, to launch an athlete over a raised bar for height. The event incorporates a sprint runway, a pole plant box, vertical standards and a relatively large landing pad area, equipped with a large, cushioned landing pad for the safety of the competitors. The size of the landing pad, which is also called a pit, is mandated by the governing bodies for each level of competition. The pole vault runway is typically surfaced with the same material used for the running track. The recommended minimum length of the pole vault runway is 40 meters, with a width of four feet. The world record pole vault is over 20 feet.

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Pre-cast Polymer Concrete

A very hard, non-porous material used for casting sectional channel, or slot, drains and drainage catch basins for flush-mounted perimeter drains on the inside edge of a running track. A common assumption that athletic surfacing can adhere to this type of material is erroneous. The slick, non-porous surface of this material does not permit a lasting bond, and any design utilizing this type of material should keep this fact in mind.

Radius Points

A point used to locate and create a uniform curve of the track. A standard track utilizes two radius points, one at each end. A broken back, or double bend track, uses six radius points, three at each end to form both complex curves. Because of their importance, permanent radius monuments are often installed at these points.

Raised Curb

A permanent, or semi-permanent curb, two inches high by two inches wide, secured to the track surface, used to denote the inside edge of lane one. When a track incorporates a raised curb, the 400 meter “measure line” distance is 30cm into lane one from the curb edge, as opposed to 20cm for a track without a raised curb. This “measure line” distance only applies to lane one.

Rotating Laser

A machine that features a rotating laser beam that can assist in the accurate layout and quality control of close-tolerance construction grades.

Sand Pit

The landing area for the long jump and triple jump events. There are numerous ways to construct this feature.

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Acronym for styrene-butadiene rubber.

Shot Put

A field event involving the throwing of a heavy, round ball for distance from within a seven foot circle. A raised “shot put toe board” is used to denote the point from which the thrower cannot step beyond, and from where a clean throw is measured. The thrower may swing a leg beyond, and above, the toe board, but not touch the surface, or step beyond the front edge, which matches the inside edge of the circle. The shot put landing sector is the same (34.92 degrees) as the discus sector. The world record shot put is more than 75 feet.

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Markings on a track designed to equalize the distance that competitors run a race, regardless of which lane they are assigned to. Staggers relate to the number of curves in a race, not the total length; i.e., a one turn stagger means the runner will round one curve before finishing the race or breaking to lane one. Staggers are used not only for start lines, but also for hurdle placement, acceleration and exchange zones for relay races, to ensure that the distances to those features are equal for all contestants.


A collegiate distance running event that involves the hurdling of both solid horizontal barriers and a “steeplechase water jump.” The standard distances for the steeplechase course are 2000 and 3000 meters.

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A construction term referring to features that are found below the “finish grade” elevations, usually regarding rough grade work of existing, or imported earth fill material. It also can refer to features such as drain lines, base course construction materials placed in lifts below “finish grade” and special construction such as sand or water jump pits.

Takeoff Board System

A unique “sub-grade” equipment feature used for the long and triple jump events to serve as a clearly defined launch, or take off, point to initiate the jump. The best systems incorporate removable, wooden competition boards, including a contrasting color “scratch board”, which can be replaced with a flush-mounted “blanking board” except during a track meet. The takeoff system incorporates a tray, which is permanently installed at specific points within the runway. Proper installation of the takeoff board tray is critical both in lateral placement to meet varying levels of competition requirements, and elevation placement to match the track surfacing, to prevent a trip hazard.

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A surveying instrument that allows the precise measurement of angles. In track construction, it is used to accurately locate points of curve (PCs), and start lines, exchange zones, etc. in the curves sections of the running lanes.

Timing Systems

This term refers to the automatic timing systems that are used to measure the results during a track and field competition. The systems have grown in sophistication and integrate computer software and hardware with a digital finish-line camera.

Track Specifications

All track and field governing bodies have their own detailed specifications for each event. Some are shared, or rather, are the same, but in some cases vary significantly from one governing body to the next, particularly from the collegiate to the high school level. These specifications, or rules, are subject to revision from year to year. For the current rules for all governing bodies, please refer to the Track Rules and Specifications documentation on this website.

Triple Jump

A field event similar to long jump, but involving three total elements after the jumper reaches the takeoff position, commonly referred to a hop, skip or step, then jump. In the triple jump, a contestant takes one stride from the takeoff board and lands on the same leg once (hop), then immediately launches again from the same leg again, landing on the opposite leg (skip/step,) then launches from this opposite leg to land in the sand (jump,) completing the jump. This is all accomplished in one continuous motion, after reaching maximum speed prior to takeoff. The jump is measured the same as long jump, from the takeoff board to the nearest impression in the sand. The world record triple jump is over 59 feet.


USA Track & Field is the National Governing Body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States.

Waterfall Start

A curved start line for distance races of 800m or greater, not requiring lane staggers. Competitors line up, shoulder-to-shoulder, as close to the inside as possible at the start of the race. Each runner may break to lane one as quickly as an opening permits, without disrupting, or fouling, another competitor.