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Effect of runner positioning: On sprinting the curve of a 400-meter Track. (Track & Field).

LANE ASSIGNMENTS have been considered extremely important by sprinters who are required to run in the curve portion of the track.

Though the distances are even in every lane, the sprinters can become psychologically discouraged when assigned to lanes that are perceived as "disadvantageous" either biomechanically or psychologically.

For example, some runners believe that a lane assignment that allows them to start behind other runners is an advantage. Others believe the opposite.

In a 200-meter race, sprinters traditionally prefer to run in Lanes 3, 4, or 5. They believe these are the fastest and that they won't be disadvantaged by the centrifugal force encountered in the two inner lanes.

Although it stands to reason that Lanes 3, 4, 5, and 6 will be faster than Lanes 1 and 2 because they provide a straighter path to the finish, the same will not apply to the outer lanes, where centrifugal force least affects the sprinters.

A previous study in Coach and AD (April, 2001) concluded that lane positioning has no bearing on performance times. But there are sprinters who believe that a lane assignment that puts them in position to "chase" other sprinters is an advantage.

It consequently appears that performance times can be affected perceptually and psychologically. All of this thinking led up to this study of whether performance time could be signally affected by the "runners' positioning" on the track.


The subjects chosen for this study consisted of 20 college-aged female and 16 college-aged male sprinters who could sprint the 100-meter dash in less than 14 seconds and who had experience sprinting the curved portion of the track. The subjects were paired by sex and asked to perform two maximal sprint bouts, one in Lane 3 and one in Lane 4 of a regulation size 400-meter track.

In one bout the subject would be "chasing" (Lane 3) and in the other bout he/she would be "chased" (Lane 4). They were asked to sprint at maximal speed for 100 meters, beginning on the curved portion of the track, and their times were recorded with an Accutrack timing system.

Subjects were paired differently for each of their two sprinting bouts, and the order of running was counterbalanced to reduce the problems caused by a constant sequential presentation.

The subjects were given a 15minute rest interval before their next sprinting bout. A Dependent T-test was used to analyze the data collected from the sprint trials.

Prior to the completion of the running bouts, the subjects were asked to complete a questionnaire consisting of the following questions:

1. Which lane do you think you can run the 200-meter dash the fastest against other runners?

2. Which lane do you think you can run the 200-meter dash the fastest by yourself?

3. Which lane do you think is the fastest for any 200-meter runner in a race against other runners?

4. Which lane do you think is the fastest for any 200-meter runner running by himself/herself?

5. Which lane do you think a runner can sprint the curve the fastest against other runners?

6. Which lane do you think a runner can sprint the curve the fastest by himself/herself?

8. Would you prefer to choose your own lane in the finals of the 200-meter dash?


The Dependent T-test revealed no statistical significant difference in time between the "chasing" sprinter (Lane 3) and the sprinter being "chased" (Lane 4).

The reliability estimate for the trials was R = .97.


Previous studies have shown that although centrifugal force is greater when sprinting on the inside portion of the curved track, no significant difference exists in performance times between the inner and outer lanes.

Any significant difference in performance times must thus be attributed to the psychological advantage that a sprinter may gain from "chasing" other runners. Sprinters invariably prefer to sprint in lanes where they are "chasing" other sprinters rather than being "chased."

As a result, when given the option to sprint in either Lanes 3 or Lane 4, they will most often choose Lane 3.

As we have stated, the sprinter's positioning produces no significant effect other than a possible psychological advantage when sprinting the curved portion of the track. Why would a sprinter choose the inside lane rather than the outside lane? Probably because of the psychological boost achieved from the perception that he is gaining distance on the other sprinters. This perception appears most significantly when the sprinters reach the end of the curved portion of the track and typically begin running side by side or at least within eyesight of each other.

By contrast, a sprinter running in an outside lane may perceive that he is being "caught from behind" when in fact, he may be running the same distance at a faster pace than his opponent.

In conclusion, it seems apparent that the coaching of sprinters who will be running the curved portion of the track should include psychological preparation as well as physical preparation. The athlete may gain a substantial perceptual benefit when he is assigned to a "slower" lane.

Indeed, coaching an athlete to focus on his own performance rather than that of his opponent will enable him to achieve his best time, regardless of his positioning.

Jamey R. Plunk is an Assistant Professor at the U. of Mary Hardin-Baylor; Tomas Green is Program Coordinator at Texas Children's Hospital Wellness Center; and Joe Gillespie is a Professor at Tarleton State U.
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Author:Gillespie, Joe
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2003
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