Traditionally runners have preferred natural athletic surfaces, such as dirt and turf, for running because the alternatives (asphalt and concrete) provided surfaces too harsh to train on for either long-term recreational running or competitive preparation. Despite the advantages offered by natural surfaces, there were also some challenges. Natural tracks required careful maintenance to preserve good running surfaces. Gopher holes, ditches from running water, dips created from puddles, etc. create hazards for unsuspecting athletes. Competitions of the past were often held on cinder or clay, but as with the other surfaces, they were subject to natural weathering over time.
Synthetic Tracks Emerge
Synthetic athletic tracks made a major debut in the late 60s at the Mexico City Summer Olympics. Although synthetic track systems had been in development before then (mainly consisting of a mixture of asphalt and sand), these new polyurethane surfaces revolutionized the industry. Our own Rekortan hit the fields a year later. Now synthetic tracks are the most common type of track installed around the world and have become the standard for major competitions.
Advantages of Synthetic Tracks
There are a few reasons why synthetic tracks became so popular so quickly. Runners and athletes like them because they offer good shock absorption, like grass and dirt tracks do, but they also do not make runners lose speed, as soft natural surfaces do. There is enough give to allow for comfortable running, but an underlying firmness that prevents a loss of speed. This quality has earned synthetic tracks the reputation for being “fast tracks.” These surfaces also offer good traction, even in inclement weather, which is not the case with natural surfaces that change depending on the weather. This all-weather quality made training and competition more consistent, allowing athletes to pursue uninterrupted training for longer periods of time despite the changing of the seasons.
Competitions have taken to relying on synthetic tracks because they offer an even and dependable surface. These tracks can also be used for either indoor or outdoor applications, providing a consistent surface for runners, stadium designers, and event planners to utilize. For constructing major venues, such as those for the Olympics, which are designed to last for years on end, synthetic materials are also now preferred for their durability, resistance to weathering, and relatively low maintenance requirements.