5 Different Types of Running Track Surfaces for Athletics

Female athletes readying to race each other on a synthetic running track.

Whether you run competitively or leisurely, you must carefully consider the type of running track surfaces to sprint on.

The surface type makes all the difference when you are running. It can affect your speed, enhance your balance, and even impact your technique.

There are several types of running track surfaces available. Each of them comes with its advantages and disadvantages.

But in general, you need to prioritize your safety and performance when running on a particular surface.

Athletic tracks must have the right balance between hard and soft. It should be sturdy enough to encourage stability. At the same time, it must be smooth to prevent injuries.

For a running track to be both soft and firm, it should use the right kind of materials.

Today, we listed the common materials used for athletic running tracks. We also answered some of your most frequently asked questions about running tracks below.

Let’s get on with the article!

Clay and Cinder

A man wearing sports attire running on a clay track.

Before modern running tracks existed, clay and cinder were among the most commonly used track surfaces.

These natural running tracks use a combination of fine ash, carbon, and rock. The composition results in a softer surface, making them comfortable to run on.

Clay and cinder also have a minimal force impact on your joints. They offer excellent cushioning and prevent injuries.

Moreover, clay and cinder running surfaces provide more resistance compared to other athletics tracks. Thus, they can improve running techniques and strengthen your foot muscles much better than other track surfaces.

Despite these advantages, clay and cinder athletic surfaces have significant drawbacks.

First, bad weather often renders these natural tracks useless. This is because clay and cinder quickly become soggy after heavy rain. The strong wind also proves to be a problem, which can lead to holes and irregularities in the surface.

Therefore, clay and cinder tracks require constant maintenance to continue serving their purpose. This preservation can be costly, depending on the location and weather.

And speaking of cost, clay and cinder surfaces are more expensive to build in recent years. Today, these natural surface tracks integrate advanced technology to hold water better, so they wouldn’t need as much maintenance.

Unfortunately, incorporating the latest technology and transportation of the material increased the price of clay and cinder tracks. Thus, you might have difficulties finding these surfaces because they are rarely constructed today.

Grass and Turf

A female runner standing on a field of grass.

Similar to clay and cinder, the grass is another natural running track.

This soft track surface makes it easier to run because it puts less pressure on your foot. It is also low-impact, reducing the risk of injuries from overuse.

Despite turf being soft, it actually pushes your leg muscles to work harder, which helps build your strength. When it is flat, it allows you to run faster.

On the other hand, a slightly uneven grass track engages your smaller muscles on the ankles, legs, and hips. Therefore, the grass is also a great training ground for improving your balance.

Furthermore, a turf athletic track is an excellent way to mix up your running game. It gives you a much-needed mental and physical break from the usual flat, hard surfaces.

However, there are a couple of disadvantages to a grass running surface. 

The softer terrain does not provide the same stability as a harder surface. It can lead to your feet rolling inward, which can increase muscle and joint strain. 

And similar to cinder running tracks, grass surfaces are vulnerable to bad weather. Rain can make the trail slippery, proving to be dangerous for runners.

So while running on turf might be more comfortable for your body, there are still risks for injury. 


This is a close look at the asphalt running track with numbers and lines.

Asphalt surfaces, also known as all-weather surfaces, are the first modern running tracks used in professional competitions.

They consist of a composition of asphalt with rubber and sand. These materials make the tracks durable and relatively unaffected by bad weather.

Asphalt tracks are also very fast, ideal for excellent running speed training. They even allow runners to keep up a steady rhythm. This helps build your strength and endurance when sprinting.

Due to these benefits, there are still many asphalt surfaces in use today. However, more modern tracks are slowly replacing them because of higher material cost and surface unpredictability.

Temperature changes can easily affect asphalt-bound surfaces. Heat during the summer months results in softer surfacing material. In contrast, cold winters lead to the hardening of the asphalt.

And as asphalt ages, it loses its resilience and becomes more rigid. The material’s surfacing instability can make it harder to run, which increases the risks of injuries.

Moreover, asphalt tracks are more expensive than other types of running track surfaces. This is because they are more complicated to manufacture. You must also consider the overhead costs, such as rent and plant equipment, which contribute to the total price.


A close look at a synthetic running track with numbers and lines.

Today, most running tracks use synthetic rubber for optimal traction and ideal running performance.

The synthetic surface comprises rubber particles bound with latex or polyurethane. It also uses an asphalt or concrete base.

It is common to add layers and integrate different textures in a synthetic rubber track.

Below are the two common subtypes of this running track.

Latex track surfaces

Latex-bound athletics tracks offer a soft surface that makes it easier to run. They provide excellent safety since they are very forgiving on your muscles.

Latex surfacing material also allows for faster speeds when running. It enhances your performance and durability in the sport. 

Additionally, latex tracks are permeable. That just means they enable water to drain through the surface.

You don’t have to worry about heavy rains and constant maintenance! This synthetic track surface can withstand bad weather, unlike natural running tracks.

What’s more, they are available in three colored systems. They are the ideal tracks for competition use.

There are a few drawbacks to latex materials, though.

The use of colored rubber and binder leads to higher costs. But depending on your needs, it might be worth the price.

Also, latex tracks can crack and wear away with age. It exposes the asphalt base underneath, which you need to replace later on.

Polyurethane track surfaces

For a more durable option, consider a polyurethane track.

It is elastic and can endure extreme temperatures, including harsh winter freeze. This makes it a popular choice for outdoor tracks in both athletic facilities and schools.

And unlike a latex track, it rarely results in cracks in the surface and retains its texture over time. You can also resurface it after its first installation.

Furthermore, this running track is impermeable. It can discharge water through the polyurethane surface.

Most importantly, a polyurethane track has the right balance between soft and hard. It allows for a more comfortable run, which reduces the risk for injuries. At the same time, it is firm enough for stability and speed.

However, all these benefits come at a higher price tag. Nevertheless, it might save you money from costly repairs and maintenance in the long run.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best type of track surface to run on?

Each type of track surface offers different pros and cons. Thus, the best running surface would depend on your needs, preferences, and the kind of runner you are.

You must also consider factors such as budget, location, intended use, frequency, and maintenance capability. The type of running shoes you use can even impact the surfacing effectiveness.

Today’s running tracks usually consist of synthetic rubber. It is an excellent outdoor option due to its ability to withstand harsh elements. It also promotes optimal running performance, making it ideal for professionals.

However, if you are just running casually or have a tight budget, you might not see the use for it. If that is the case, you might be better off running in natural tracks like cinder and grass.

As a general rule, it’s best to run in different tracks for improved balance and strength.

Why are running tracks color red?

You’re probably wondering the reason why athletic tracks are red. This is because the color red is the most stable against harmful UV rays. It does not react and fade in the sunlight. Therefore, a red running track can last longer than other colored surfaces.

With that said, a running track can use other colors besides red. Blue and green are popular alternatives because they are also less prone to wearing and fading. 

What are indoor running tracks made of?

Although indoor tracks are smaller and suitable for other types of running, they typically use the same synthetic surface as outdoor tracks. These include polyurethane and rubber to ensure optimal running performance.

The only difference is that indoor tracks usually have a composite wood base instead of asphalt.

What is the hardest surface to run on?

Concrete is among the most rigid surfaces to run on. It is usually several times sturdier than asphalt.

Some people prefer to run on concrete because of its flat surface that helps prevent injuries. However, the cons outweigh the pros since it puts more strain on your feet and knees. It can result in severe joint damage later on, especially if you always run on the same side of the surface.

What is the difference between permeable and impermeable surfaces?

Besides the material used, running track surfaces can also be classified based on the sealing system.

Athletic tracks can either be permeable or impermeable.

The former refers to sealed systems that allow water to escape through the surface. Permeable tracks include asphalt and synthetic rubber.

Meanwhile, as its name suggests, impermeable tracks do not allow water to penetrate the surface. Instead, they let water drain or evaporate from the surface. Clay and turf are examples of impermeable tracks.


The next time you plan to run, make sure to keep these types of running surfaces in mind. It helps you adjust your goals, speed, and even your running shoes for a safer sprint.

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