Your Guide to the Olympic Running Distances

In this podcast episode, you’ll hear explanations of various Olympic track events, a preview of the men’s and women’s marathons, and tips from Coach Angie on some effective speed exercises you can do on your local track.

You probably didn’t run on the track in high school or college and may not be familiar with distances or terms.

What do you know about the external path:

  • The outdoor track is 400 meters around. Indoor tracks 200 metres.
  • 1 straight length 100 meters
  • The track has two straight tracks of 100m length and curved tracks of 100m length
  • 4 laps or 1,600 meters which is roughly one mile. Technically, the mile is 1,609.34 (which is 30.65 feet longer than 1,600 metres)

We may be biased but we think the track and field events of the Olympics are some of the most entertaining to watch. And they have the longest history going back to ancient games.

Sprints or dashes were a feature of the ancient Olympic Games that took place between 776 BC and AD 393, and were the only event for many decades. Thousands of citizens were out to watch the men (men only at the time) running around the stadium naked.

from the book The road to Sparta by Dean Karnazas,

The original Olympic foot distances were not super sprints or even marathons for that matter, but relatively short distances. The first of these races was called a stade, and consisted of a distance of approximately 200 meters around the circumference of the track. Spectators who came to watch these sports competitions sat in the stadiums (from which the modern word is derived).

There are three distances in the modern Olympics (and the World Outdoor Championships): 100m, 200m and 400m.

100 meters

This is played on the track directly. You’ll see contestants use the starting units and the classic “Ready, set, go”. Usain Bolt Recording the fastest 100 meters in a time of 9.58 seconds, he is called “the fastest man in the world”. The fastest woman ever to run the 100m is Eileen Thompson puzzled Also from Jamaica at 10.70.

200 meters

This race starts on a curve of the track where the runners roll to make sure they all run the same distance and finish on the spot. The record holder here again is Usain Bolt with a time of 19.19 seconds.

  • If you are using GoogleHow many miles per hour does Usain Bolt run she says 27.3 mph. If you google “Usain Bolt compared to animals”, you will find that Bolt can outperform a wild turkey, squirrel, domestic pig, chicken and mouse, but he will lose to a domestic cat, giraffe, wildebeest, kangaroo, and boar. 😂

400 meters

This is 1 time around the track. The current world record for men is held Wade van Niekerk South Africa with a time of 43.03 seconds. Holds the current world record for women Marietta Koch from East Germany in 1985 with a time of 47.60 seconds

  • To appreciate how fast this is, I encourage you to test yourself on your local track and see how fast you can complete one lap. To blow your mind more. Not many people can run one lap in 68 seconds. That was Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon pace when he broke two hours in the marathon. That’s 68 seconds per lap of 105 times. 17 seconds per 100 metres.

relay events

There are two club relay events for men and women at the Olympics:

  1. 4 x 100m relay: 4 runners run 100m each
  2. 4 x 400m relay: 4 runners run 400m (once around the track) each.

Is it difficult to pass the stick? Yes. That’s why you sometimes see athletes stumble. The baton must be passed to the next runner inside a 20-meter diversion box. The next runner is at full speed and the change accumulates on the runner at full speed before the exchange. What makes it difficult is that the lead runner reaches back with his left hand and blindly grabs it.

All of this is done while they are running at 20 mph. If you drop it, deliver it outside the diversion box, veer off your lane, or collide with another runner, you can be disqualified.


Inhibitor distances include:

  • 110-meter hurdles (men): 10 high (1.067 meters or 3.5 feet) hurdles spaced evenly along the straight.
  • 100m hurdles (women): 10 hurdles (83.8cm or 2.74ft)
  • 400m hurdles (both): 10 intermediate hurdles (36″ for men, 30″ for women).

There is no penalty for hitting an obstacle as long as it is not intentional. You can’t intentionally breach them like this guy:

The standard middle distances are 800m, 1500m and 3000m.

800 meters

That’s twice around the track. Runners start on single lanes (no springboards) but converge in one lane after 100 meters and fight for front position. It’s fun to watch the middle distances because the runners walk away from each other, in and out and race for position. Watching the last 100 meters is especially exciting. 800m may not seem that far but try to run around the track twice and see how you feel.

1500 meters

These are 3 and 3 laps around the track. There is no 1600m event or mile event in the Olympics. why is that? Because most of the world doesn’t use the mile system, who cares about a one-mile race?

3000 meters steeplechase

Sometimes classified as a long distance event, 7.5 laps are completed around an outdoor track and runners have to deal with obstacles – an obstacle (you can easily put canes of stems on it) and a water pit! Contestants on the Standard Course face a total of 7 waterfalls and 28 hurdles.

Obstacles are 36″ high for men and 30″ high for women. The water jump is an obstacle followed by a 12-foot water hole. At its deepest point, the slope drops to a depth of 700 mm (28 in).

The race originated in Ireland where horses and jockeys raced from one city’s church tower to the next, hence the name obstacle course. Modern obstacles in the form of ditches and open fences arose in the cross-country race.

5000 meters

That’s 12.5 laps around the track, which equates to 3 miles 188 yards. In road running events where the distance is measured in kilometres, it is called 5 kilometres. It is interesting that there was an event in the ancient Olympic Games at this distance. If you are a marathon runner, you may not think of 5 km as a “long distance” but try to race it hard and you’ll see how long it feels!

The current record holders are Joshua Cheptige (UGA) 12: 35.36 (2020) and Letesenbet دليل guide (ETH) 14:06.62 (2020)

10000 meters

That’s 25 laps around the track (6.2 miles) (10K). World records also held by Joshua Cheptegei (UGA) 26: 11.00 (2020) and Letesenbet Gidey (ETH) 29: 01.03 (2020). A lot of marathon greats, like Frank Schurter, have started in the 10,000m.

running race

The ancient games did not include the marathon, but rather was added when the Olympics were revived in 1896 to give the games prestige. The original marathon distance was the 24.85 miles (40 kilometers) distance from Marathon to Athens, Greece.

Traditionally the last event in the Olympic Games, the first marathon was organized on April 10, 1896 in Athens and was won by a Greek named Spiridon Lewis, a Greek postal worker, crossed the finish line seven full minutes before the package. His time was 2 hours 58 minutes 50 seconds for the 40 kilometer run, beating the other 16 participants.

Change to 26.2

For the next few Olympics, the marathon remained close to 25 miles long, but at the 1908 Games in London, the track was extended, allegedly to accommodate the British royal family. As the story goes, Queen Alexandra requested that the race begin in the garden of Windsor Castle (so the youngest members of the royal family could watch from the nursery window, according to some accounts) and the race finish in front of the Royal Box at the Olympic Stadium—a distance that happens to be 26.2 miles (26 miles and 385 yards). The random boost in miles ended up sticking, and in 1921 the length of the marathon was officially standardized at 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers). From a article

Women’s marathon
Although the marathon became an official Olympic event for men in 1896, it would take nearly 90 years before women were allowed to compete in the event. Prior to the 1970s, women were considered too weak to compete in long-distance running. The prevailing concept was that their wombs would fall.

  • In 1928, women were allowed to run in the 100- and 800-meter races but this did not last long. A few of the women collapsed after running the 800 (which is common for men too) and the 800m was carried away.
  • Women began running prominent marathons in the 1970s, and as a result the International Olympic Committee finally added the women’s marathon to the Los Angeles Summer Games in 1984. Joan Benoit Samuelson She won her first marathon (she’s still racing in her 60s).

2020 Olympic Marathon Preview

The marathon is scheduled for August 7 (August 6 at 6 p.m. EST) for women and August 8 (8/7 at 6 p.m. EST) for men. It will be held in Sapporo Japan (500 miles north of Tokyo) in an effort to cool off some of the heat and humidity.

The Pinwheel will be a multi-cycle run on empty streets. The first loop is about a half marathon in length and then there is a 10k loop that repeats twice. This is a far cry from previous years where the courses were designed to highlight the host cities and where the finish would be in an Olympic stadium packed with spectators.

Here is what we know. . .

  • crazy rob (USA) is participating in his 4th Olympic Games, the second time he has run the marathon (bronze medal in 2016). The U.S. team was rounded off by Jacob Riley and Abdi Abdel Rahman, who is 44 and is running his fifth Olympics and is the oldest U.S. competitor ever in an Olympic marathon.
  • Eliud Kipchoge, the greatest marathon runner in the world, is a favourite. He won Rio in 2016 and as you may remember, he participated in the Nike Breaking 2 project. He lost at the 2020 London Marathon (ending 10 races in a row). He will be competing against some notable Ethiopian runners – Lilisa Desisa (who won the Boston Marathon twice and the New York Marathon once, and Shura Kitata who won the London Marathon 2020. Stephen Kibruch of Kenya will also be present at the Olympic Marathon in 2012.
  • on the woman’s side Brigid Kosgei and Ruth Chipengtech (Both from Kenya) is my favourite. Kosgei won the London Marathon in 2019 and 2020, and is the world record holder after running 2:14:04 in Chicago in 2019. Another interesting runner is Israeli Luna Salpeter. The 32-year-old landed a spot in the top 10 players of all time after running 2:17:45 to win the 2020 Tokyo Marathon.
  • There are also some Japanese runners who might have the advantage of turf on their land. Japanese marathons have been on the rise and some say Japan is the “most obsessed running culture” in the world right now.

Episode sponsors

MetPro Speak with a metabolic expert to review your current habits, discuss your lifestyle needs, and receive actionable steps toward achieving your goals. Metpro has helped many people lose weight, change their body composition, build muscle, and improve sports nutrition. Tell them we sent you and get $500 in concierge training.

You can – Try snack bars, drink mixes, or the new UCAN Edge performance fuel! Use the code MTAChallenge to get 20% off.

Leave a Comment