Considering adding a track to your facility? Here’s what you need to know

Adding a track to a field facility can exponentially increase the facility’s value to the school and the community.

Historically, it has been the epicenter of a lot of school history: the jubilant victories and bitter defeats, the seniors’ final moments in front of their classmates, and the alumni homecomings. Now the school’s sports field is in your hands as a manager, and the school is adding a track.

Adding a track to a field facility can exponentially increase the facility’s value to the school and the community. It allows for greater opportunities for fitness for existing programs, and it creates the opportunity for new programs, namely a track team.

That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that many athletic facility managers discover that trying to balance the needs of the sports field users with the needs of the track users is a bit like trying to referee the Hatfields and the McCoys. The soccer coach wants to stand on the track and watch his athletes practice. The track athletes want to practice their hurdles, but the community members who use the track want to run without impediment. The maintenance crew can’t get in to do the work they need, and everyone complains when rain throws off the schedule, and then jostles for make-up time at the facility.

The various user groups can open the door to extra wear and tear on the facility. So the question is: How do you incorporate the needs of your track users with the needs of the sports programs, not to mention the non-sport uses – pep rallies, festivals, etc. – of the field and still keep the facility in good shape?

“Between the coaches and staff for football, band, PE, soccer, lacrosse and any other activities using the field, there are ample opportunities for mismanagement of the running track and field event areas,” notes Lee Murray of Competition Athletic Surfaces in Chattanooga, Tenn. “If the track coach doesn’t have a good rapport with the football coach and athletic director, problems can develop. In many cases there is no one person who embraces the typical manager responsibilities for the entire stadium facility. If there is not a strong manager who can communicate with all the various groups using the stadium, the track can often get abused and misused.”

The abuse, he notes, is unintentional.

“It’s not that the sport of track and field is disliked, it’s that most folks using the facility simply don’t think about the track. They don’t realize that resilient surfaces have certain limitations and they treat it like a road.”

Driving mowers or other maintenance equipment over the track en route to the field is just one activity that causes trauma to the surface; however, there are plenty of others:

  • Team members will stand on the track while wearing their cleats.
  • Team personnel will drag goals, hurdles and other equipment across the track (and across the field, in some cases) in order to take it to and from the storage sheds.
  • Cheerleaders will set up their sideline performance areas in the same areas on the track game after game.
  • Spectators will spill drinks and grind food into the surface.
  • Maintenance staff allows overspray from field fertilizing and weed treatments to soak the rubber surface; grass seed will make its way into the track and take root.
  • Community members allow children to use tricycles, strollers or other equipment on the surface.

Many of these incidents can be addressed with proper signage, but that’s not the point. These are all things that happen throughout the season and when combined lead to a breakdown of the track surface.

Jonnie Deremo, president of General Acrylics, Inc. in Phoenix, Ariz., says that sometimes the best solutions can be the easiest and most inexpensive.

Seamless integration of a track and field facility also means protecting the field.

“We already know that unprotected foot traffic at the crossover areas of the track causes premature surface wear. The cure is to place some kind of crossover mats on the surface at all openings where people are allowed on and off of the field.”

A protective covering should also be put in place when vehicles of any kind are brought onto the track, adds Dan Wright, vice president of Sports Turf Co. in Whitesburg, Ga. This includes mowers, homecoming vehicles, or any kind of transport that is used either in maintenance or during the course of a game or halftime event.

“I see mowing equipment that uses the track to turn around to start mowing in another direction,” he adds. “This turning of equipment on the track damages the track, especially when they use a pivot steer-type piece of equipment.”

Keeping any debris off the track, such as grass clippings, sand (from sandpits), leaves, sticks and so forth, will also help keep the surface intact.

Seamless integration of a track and field facility also means protecting the field. Synthetic field builders caution against allowing marching bands to practice on the turf, since the precise, repetitious movement has been shown to damage the surface over time.

Oddly enough, the thing that’s hardest on a track surface is also one of the least expected, according to Chris Chisam, a senior project manager for Beals Alliance in Folsom, Calif.

“Water is one of the biggest problems relating to longevity of a track surface, whether irrigating a living turf field or a synthetic turf field. Infiltrating water from the edge of the track where the edge has begun to chip or peel away and through gashes in the surface will compromise areas of the surface. Pooling water between the track surfacing and the asphalt leads to delamination of the surface and bubbling over time,” Chisam says.

Properly sloping the track and effectively built drains are key to moving water away once it hits the track. It is far better, though, to be proactive, and to ascertain that nothing falls onto the track except rain. Sprinklers should be set to spray away from track edges, and water should not be draining onto the track after running off bleachers, benches, dugouts or any other structures. These are issues that can be addressed with proper perimeter drainage systems.

However, sometimes the best way to integrate all the components of the track and field facility, says Murray, is to forget about the mechanics of it all and bring the people together.

“You can’t do everything to protect the surface of the track or the field, but you can be proactive in educating and communicating to the rest of the groups using the stadium,” Murray says. “Communication and education don’t require money, just time. You don’t need funds to improve the management.”

Mary Helen Sprecher is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association (