Local considerations: Track or Oval?

Victoria is a state with a generous allocation of athletics tracks, however depending on your locality – the classic footy oval might be closest.

Resist any desires to overcomplicate you running – neither venue is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. 

In deciding between which training venue might suit you best, there are five factors to consider.

1. Distance 

Most runners will select a local oval or track for interval training – which can at times depend on distance. Whilst your local athletics track will reliably be 400m – your local oval poses a different set of problems. With suburban or regional ovals being squeezed in where required, ovals can differ dramatically in size. With the increased use of GPS watches, the distance measured per lap can be less than reliable. GPS watches measure based on satellite’s tracking latitude and longitude – both of which rely on straight lines. When a runner completes a lap around an area with many bends, proprietary software attempts to smooth out a series of ‘best estimates’.

The lesson from running around an oval or track? Don’t get too concerned with specific distances, unless you are on a reliably measured athletics track. When at a local oval where distances are an estimate, run for time instead of distance.

2. Surface

An athletics track can be a new sensation to some, with surfaces relatively firm. Such a surface prioritises grip and a stiffer surface built for spiked footwear. If you are new to using a track, save a visit for an interval session or faster running. If lap running is your bread and butter, a grass oval could be a softer more forgiving option.

3. Pace

Runners of all abilities enjoy a visit to a track as distances, and subsequent paces, remain accurate and reliable. When visiting a track, a series of lines and marks will indicate 100 metre segments from bends to straights – a total of 400 metres. GPS software will take a best estimate of pace at an oval or a track, however a measured track allows a runner to time pace per lap or kilometre accurately. A common example might involve a 400 metre athletics track requiring 12.5 laps to complete 5000m – yet a GPS watch might suggest you have finished those 5000m earlier than 12.5 laps. As mentioned earlier, this is due to GPS software struggling to measure curves or bends. The reliability of distances on a track can be helpful depending on a runner’s training for the day.

4. Other sports

A consideration depending on the season – your local oval might be booked by the local footy or cricket club. In the summer, this is where your local athletics track can come into its own as a resource – a space with dedicated running lanes free from airborne sporting projectiles. On a first visit to a track, be sure to familiarise yourself with any club throws groups, as running across the grassy middle of the section of a track can be dangerous.

5. Variety 

Where lap swimming is an activity as old as pools themselves – tracks and ovals can become a touch repetitive. If you find your local oval or track are becoming a bit tiresome, investigate your local park or running trails to keep your routine interesting. When you find yourself with a faster run planned either venue could suit. A nearby oval could provide a softer surface for managing an injury, whereas the accuracy of a track may be more suitable for your fastest runs.