100-meter run: The outdoor straight sprint is one of track and field’s glamour events. As with the 60 meters, runners remain in assigned lanes, with the fastest runners given the middle lanes of a multi-heat event. While some runners have favorite spots, lane placement isn’t as vital in a race with no curves. While a fast start is important, a runner who’s beaten out of the blocks does have some time to recover.
200-meter run: Because runners must negotiate a curve in this event, the competitors’ assigned lanes are staggered, so each runs the same distance. Running a curve is different from dashing down a straight lane: competitors will try to remain as close to the inside line as possible without stepping on the line, with is cause for disqualification. Endurance begins to come into play, as 200-meter runners must not only be fast, but must maintain their speed.
400-meter run: One full lap around an outdoor track. Runners remain in their assigned lanes and receive staggered starts. Although competitors begin in starting blocks – and the 400 is technically considered a sprint – the runners must pace themselves a bit. Come-from-behind victories on the final straight are not unusual.
Read more about how to conserve energy in multi-heat sprint events.
Middle Distance Races:
1500-meter run/mile run: Approximately four laps around a standard outdoor track (the 1500 runs a bit less than four full laps, the mile just a touch more), these races are tactical affairs in which the eventual winner generally establishes position in the middle, or even the back of the pack in the early laps. The runners begin along a curved line, then almost immediately break out of their lane and move toward the inside of the track.
Long Distance Races:
5000-meter run: Competitors start on a curved line and can immediately run anywhere on the track, leading to a large initial pack typically stretching three four lanes wide, depending on how many runners are racing. While all distance races are tactical events to some degree, competitors at this distance and above are to a large extent running to their own pace most of the way, rather than responding to their opponents. Runners must know how fast they can go at different stages of the race to achieve the best possible time. Tactics come to the fore in the final laps, as runners position themselves for the race to the finish. While it’s advantageous to run an inside line – on which a runner travels a shorter distance around the curves – running too far inside can result in a competitor being boxed in by slower runners and not being able to break out at the crucial moment.
10,000-meter run: The longest track event, it also begins with a curved starting line but is run without lanes. Jockeying for position at the start isn’t as important because of the greater distance. As with the 5,000, each competitor must know his own pace. Running along an inside line is less hazardous for premier runners because slower runners will drop off the pace as the longer event progresses, leaving a smaller number of runners jockeying for position in the final laps. Most great long distance racers rely on a strong finishing kick to win.
Marathon run: This is generally a stand-alone event, but is part of major meets such as the Olympics and the World Championships, where it often starts and ends inside of the stadium. Originally measuring 26 miles, 385 yards, it’s now 42.195 kilometers. Runners begin in a pack, but the start is inconsequential. Competitors go at their own pace, with the primary goal for many being simply to finish. Top competitors will pace themselves and try to run consistent splits from beginning to end.
Read more about Olympic distance running highlights.