Basic Rules of Running Track

Female athlete running on the racing track on a sunny day

Want to get into running track and don't know what the rules are? Luckily, basic track rules are easy to follow. They are designed to keep runners safe, to ensure no teams get an unfair advantage and also to keep things running smoothly, according to “Coaching Track and Field,” by the American Sport Education Program. Young runners especially should be coached on good running etiquette and basic safety rules, ASEP advises. Read on for what the rules are, then get your sneakers on and hit the track!

Lane Changes

Runners are not allowed to impede other competitors. That means runners need to know when to stay in their lanes and when it’s appropriate to “cut in,” or pass. If cutting in makes another runner break his stride to avoid colliding, then the runner who cut committed an infraction. A runner who passes and cuts in has to be entirely ahead of the other runners, according to the ASEP.


For dashes, three-command starts are used. This means “on your marks,” “set” and a go signal like a starter’s pistol. For longer runs, two-command starts are utilized, so runners only hear “on your marks” before the start signal, according to ASEP.

False Starts

When a runner gets set, she needs to remain still. Moving results in a false start, advises ASEP. The number of false starts runners are allowed varies by program. Under the Hershey’s Track and Field program, for example, runners get one false start before being disqualified.

Relay Baton

If a relay team member drops a baton outside of the exchange zone, he can pick it up if he is not interfering with other runners. This runner is required to return to the lane he’s assigned to before exiting the exchange zone or his team gets disqualified, according to “Officiating Track and Field and Cross Country,” by ASEP.