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Outdoor Facilities Layout

Tony Dziepak, October 1997, last modified 8Aug05


Here are some recommendations to make your track and field facility great for athletes and spectators. First, the best situation for a track & field outdoor facility would be to have a facility which is dedicated solely to track & field; i.e. the infield does not have to be shared with soccer, or other field sports. In this case, no extra outfield hammer sector is required. This allows the shot landing areas and javelin runways to be extended into the infield. The hammer throw practice can occur in the infield.

For safety, the long throws practice (hammer, discus, javelin) should take place at a separate time from the jumps and track practice. During meets, hammer competition should finish before the start of any other track or infield event, except pole vault and high jump, which can be done in the infield on the other side of the hammer circle. Discus and javelin infield competition can occur concurrently with track event, but not concurrently with infield horizontal jumps.

In terms of meet presentation, having all field events in the infield is the best for spectators. When you place the horizontal jumps runways on the outside of the track, you are pushing the bleachers further back, making it more difficult to see the action.

I am in favor of an intimate facility, where the stands are as close as possible. Ideally, you have the outside lane, a 36" fence, and then stands starting immediately behind the fence. No pedestrian circulation in front of the stands; they should come down from aisles behind the stands.

I also recommend exactly 8 lanes for the full track and exactly 9 lanes for the straightaway for new construction. There is no use for any more than this; additional lanes are just going to push the stands further back.

For an old track rennovation, you have to decide about track reconfiguration. Many old high school tracks are narrower, with 100-meter straits and 100-meter curves. This fits well around the narrower football field (360'x160'). Some of these tracks are 1/4 mile tracks, which are slightly bigger (additional 2.34 meters per lap). Newer tracks and most college tracks have 80-meter straits with 120-meter curves, which fit nicely around a wider, not as long, soccer-size field (345'x210').

My advice: it depends on what you expect to get out of the track. I think that the wisest way for a school district to maximize track and field opportuity is for schools to specialize. If the budget is limited, each county or school district should pick one high school that is going to have a mondo-surfaced track, with 80-meter straights and 120-meter curves. This will be a magnet school. The top sprinters and jumpers throughout the county will be eligible to attend school here, or they can train here after school. This school could also be the one school for which any student in the district can compete in pole vault and hammer. And it will also host the district championships and occasionally regionals or states.

However, the county may choose another high school to be the cross-country/distance magnet school. The optimal track for this would be an old 1/4 mile track with longer straightaways. This track may only have 4 lanes, and it may be a cinder surface. If you have such a track in the district, make it a distance magnet. Hire a good cross-country/distance coach, invest in a steeple water pit. Maybe this is a school with access to a close cross country course.

If the infield is to be shared with another field sport (soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, etc., then an outfield hammer sector is required. The infield sector can still be used for big meets, but practice must be done on the outfield. Such is the case in Florida and Virginia Tech. In addition, if the additional sport is soccer, only one horizontal-jumps runway may be placed inside the track; additional runways must be placed outside the track. If the additional runways are placed between the track and the stands, this increases the distance of the spectators. Schedule permitting, discus can still be thrown in the infield sector without disturbing the quality of the field for the other sport, but hammer cannot be practiced. Hammer can still be thrown in the infield sector during top meets and conference championships.

The external hammer/discus sector should be placed somewhat adjacent to the track. When orienting the sector, it is recommended that there is at least 30 feet of foul space parallel, on both sides of the 40-degree sector. Also, if the facility wants to effectively host high school or masters meets, there must be room enough for a 60-degree sector. Foul space is less critical for masters and HS meets. Also, less foul space is necessary for discus-only sectors. It should be kept in mind that cages were not designed to catch all foul throws. It is impossible to catch all throws that would have landed foul without catching some throws that would have landed in the sector. 30 feet/ 9 meters is the minimum, with 60 feet/18 meters preferred.

For HS-master meets, or a Div. II/III-only facility, it is recommended to have at least 60 meters for discus only, and 70 meters for hammer. For Div. I college facilities, you need at least 70 meters for discus only and 80 meters for hammer.

An outfield hammer area can often be fitted in a triangular area with the track straight or curve adjacent to one of the foul lines.

Ground sloping of landing sectors: the rulebooks (NCAA, USATF, IAAF) allow the ground to slope downhill from the direction of the throw, a maximum of 1/1000. This means that the landing point of a throw must be no more than 1/1000 lower than the circle surface inside the ring. For example, for a 10-meter shot put, the surface landing area (not counting the divot) must be no lower than one centimeter below the surface inside the ring.

Now, these are ideals for a new facility. Many sectors slope downhill more than this. It is all right to have a competition in one of these sectors; however, a record will not be certified.

For water runoff, the ground can be sloped off to one or both sides of the sector (perpendicular to the direction of the throw) Up to 1/100. Also, you don't need flat surface between the throwing area and the landing area. You can be throwing over a hill, or over a grand canyon. For example, Florida State infield sectors.

Shot put landing sector material: A grass sector is OK, but it can get muddy and get sloppy with lots of divots. Instead, you can use dirt, coarse packed sand, clay, or cinder. Either can be raked smooth; no compacting is necessary. If you're going to do a sand or cinder landing area, I have two recommendations: First, extend the sand area one foot beyond the sides of the sector area. Don't have the foul lines right on the edge of the sand/grass boundary. That way, the foul lines can clearly be drawn inside the landing area. A good person to consult is a head grounds keeper for a good baseball field. How does he produce the ideal infield surface?

PLEASE don't extend the sand all the way to the edge of the ring. Start the sand at 10 feet to accomodate the shortest throws. Shorter warmup throws won't leave much of a divot on grass anyway. You want grass or track surface around the circle so that the circle can be kept free from sand/gravel. Athletes walking from the sand will get the sand off their shoes when walking through the grass/track surface on their way to the circle.

Figure 5a, shows my recommended configuration for high school. Grass is represented by green, concrete in grey, and dirt in tan. The sector lines are in white. In high school, the sector landing area would go out to exactly 60 feet. You would usually mark lines every five feet from as low as 20' to as far as 55', depending on the competition entries. The 20- 30-, 40-, and 50-foot lines are painted solid, and the 25-, 35-, 45-, and 55-foot lines are dashed. This makes it easier to determine which lines are which.

The far edge of the sector landing area serves as the 60-foot line; no white line necessary. Of course, you will mark 60'+ throws on the grass, and the divots left by such marks will be reminders of the impressive performances!

One final recommendation: any landscaping beams, old high jump mats, railroad ties, or netting that is used to stop the rolling shots should be temporary, removeable, and adjustable. The positioning for these stop boards should be set adjusted according to the distance range of the competition, but should be set for the entire flight. In other words, you can set up the boards at 50' for a low caliber girls competition, and move them out to 70' if necessary for the boys competition. Otherwise, the occasional outstanding thrower ends up hitting, throwing over, or bouncing over these beams.

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