Getting that track installed took outright heroics on your part: meetings with higher-ups, sitting through numerous and endless bid appointments, looking over documents until your eyes bled.

Well, you wanted a great track and you got one.

Now you need it marked. And suddenly there’s another battle on your hands as you’re being told “anyone” can follow the directions and mark the track.

Oh, so not true.

Necessary addition

The markings on any track are the most important feature when the track is used for competition. They represent distances that are crucial, both to competitors and to the governing bodies who certify records.

Many marking errors have been made because of a misinterpretation of rules or drawings, or even because of poor workmanship. In many cases, poor workmanship doesn’t denote a lack of attention; it simply means the person doing the marking isn’t skilled in the measurement of tracks. In addition, facility owners often don’t realize the importance of accuracy in track marking and don’t place enough emphasis on selecting appropriate guidance.

It pays to be accurate

Accuracy, however, is of paramount importance. No governing body permits any minus tolerance, no matter how small, and some have a maximum-plus tolerance. An error of any kind will result in costly corrective work, in unfair competition or in uncertifiable records.

Think about that for a moment – nobody really wants to be the person to tell an athlete that his or her record-breaking performance is going to be nullified because the track, and by extension, the school, fell short of its promises.

Inaccurate markings prevent athletes from winning the true and real recognition they’ve earned and may even affect opportunities for scholarships or future competition.

Inaccurate markings prevent athletes from winning the true and real recognition they’ve earned and may even affect opportunities for scholarships or future competition.

Finding the right professional

Just as you’d want an attorney in good standing with the state bar association to take your legal case, you want a knowledgeable specialist to perform all track measuring and marking functions. In searching for a qualified professional, you’ll want to ask about the following:

  • Credentials
  • Past performance
  • Proof of ability
  • References
  • Experience
  • A full understanding of track geometry

The person you choose should be able to demonstrate a complete understanding of tracks, markings, measurements and more. They should ask about the level(s) of competition the track is expected to host, the national governing bodies the facility should be in compliance with, and whether or not the track will host regional or national level competitions. If, for example, you expect to host events where records might be broken (and need to be certified), this should be also be considered.

Qualified and experienced specialists are not necessarily licensed design professionals, such as architects or engineers, although those professionals have a level of expertise that goes far beyond many individuals with whom you may consult regarding various aspects of your track. However, a track marking and lining specialist usually has a comprehensive knowledge of track construction, track geometry and more, and will understand how to mark your track as needed. His or her body of knowledge will also include prescribed paths of runners, break-line compensation requirements and the number of laps run for any given race.

Getting into the specifics

Before any calculations are made, the specialist under consideration should meet with the track owner or the owner’s representative to discuss options and unique requirements. These may include the following:

  • Color code
  • Design of the markings
  • Any special events to be marked

When planning markings, it’s essential for the professional to recognize their location. It’s recommended that, whenever possible, the design includes a common finish line located at the end of the main straightaway.

There are five classes of certification, depending upon the level of competition a track is expected to host:

  • Class 1 (the highest level) is for international championship or cup meets
  • Class 2 is required for other international meets or meets authorized for foreign athlete participation
  • Class 3 is recommended for any track needing assurance of accuracy on which national collegiate or NCAA records may be set
  • Class 4 is recommended for any track needing assurance of accuracy, on which state or national high school records may be set
  • Class 5 is recommended for any track needing assurance of general accuracy

In short, the calculation, layout and marking of a running track for competition is a complex, highly specialized function – it’s not something to be left to chance. When seeking out a specialist for this function, ask all the questions noted previously (experience, knowledge, references, etc.) but also check to see whether the person is keeping up to date with the latest versions of the rules of each national governing body. In addition, find out whether they are a member of trade or professional associations, and whether their membership is kept up to date.

The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) offers its voluntary Certified Track Builder program, which requires builders to demonstrate a specific amount of experience, in addition to passing a comprehensive exam and completing a full application regarding their time in the industry. In addition, ASBA offers a comprehensive publication on the subject, “Running Tracks: A Construction and Maintenance Manual.”

So, no, calculations, lining and striping are not a job for just “anyone.” But given the right guidance, it is possible to identify a qualified expert to make your track into the highest-caliber competition facility it can be.