Have the adverse weather conditions this winter caused trouble with your track? The majority of running tracks are left to the elements with little thought towards even the most basic maintenance plan
Of the 350 synthetic athletics tracks across the country that have been left facing the winter elements recently, many could have been suffering through a lack of care or neglect.
So what steps can you take to keep your athletics track ready for the forthcoming season? To understand the type of maintenance your track may need, it is probably best to explain the types of surface currently in use. Colour combinations aside, there are only two basic synthetic track systems: porous and non-porous.
This system usually consists of two layers of synthetic material, the exception being the pre-fabricated “roll-out” system. The first layer is a 10-12mm black rubber crumb porous base, while the top “wearing layer” is generally sprayed onto this, to a depth of 2-3mm and can be various colours but typically red.
The two layers bond together when laid in ideal conditions and so become one continuous surface. With this type of surface there is generally no need to have a drainage system, as water is dispersed through the entire track surface.
There are three types of non- porous systems currently available: Type one is sometimes termed a “sandwich system”. This typically has a base similar to that of the porous track, to which an intermediary “sealing” layer is applied prior to the installation of the ‘top wearing’ layer. The sealing layer then enables the top layer to be installed without losing excessive material into the open base layer and maintaining an even, level finish. The wearing layer has all the necessary texture required, but is ultimately non-porous, thus necessitating the installation of a drainage channel on either the inside or outside of the track to enable surface water to drain away.
Type two is the solid polyurethane [PUR] system. This system is constructed using three layers of a poured polyurethane resin that has rubber granules cast into it to give it structure. The depth of the surface is generally 12-14mm. The top wearing layer of this surface has a similar appearance to the sandwich system. The PUR track is one of the most durable of all the systems.
Type three is a kit system, which consists of lengths of prefabricated track surface, usually one-lane wide, which are glued down to the tarmac sub-base. Care must be taken with this system not to allow debris to collect in the many joints around the surface.
» Surface issues
Aside from the possibility of damage caused to the various surfaces by careless use of machinery, the majority of issues are caused by naturally occurring phenomenon. The most common issue for surfaces is the unwelcome growth of weeds, grass and moss to areas of the track that are neglected. During the life of the system, cracks may appear between the surface and the inner and outer kerbs, allowing such things as dirt and seeds to accumulate and thrive.
Once established, the root systems will eventually weaken and undermine the edges, causing cracks to develop and the edges of the track to collapse. To avoid this, care must be taken to regularly clean and spray with a weed-killer all the edges around the track perimeter. In a similar fashion, grasses will try to grow in and around landing pits of the jump run-ups. Again, regular cleaning and removal of early growth will ensure that sand is not left to accumulate against kerb edges and this helps to avoid future issues.
The textured track surface will hold a little moisture and, in some locations, moss can be a particular problem if it is allowed to thrive. Regular treatment with a recognised moss inhibitor is recommended, at least quarterly if the location of your track makes it susceptible to moss growth.
Areas of the track that are shadowed by trees will require frequent cleaning to prevent the fallen leaves from rotting on the surface. If this material is left, it will blacken the track and the rotting leaves will encourage further growth of other plants. These areas may also hold pools of water, which when frozen in the winter months open the surface of the track and cause it to crack over time.
Another issue with debris that is particularly relevant to non-porous tracks is that when it accumulates in the drainage channels, they will become blocked and prevent the track from draining effectively and this will lead to standing water and encourage unwanted growth of plant life.
Taking all of this into consideration, it is perhaps clear that a little effort on a regular basis will eliminate many of the causes of long-term track degradation and hence the need to spend large sums of money on rectification. As a general rule, a full and professional deep clean of the track should be considered every three to four years, depending on a track’s location and its frequency of use.
» Winter tasks
A number of smaller tasks should also be considered in order to fully prepare your track for the winter months:
1 Ensure that only “clean” sand is put back into the pits before covering them.
2 Remove wooden take-oﬀ boards from runways and storing them inside.
3 Wherever possible, remove landing mats and storing them in dry and secure storage areas – rabbits, rats and mice love them to “overwinter” in.
4 Note any areas where water is pooling to remedy during the summer.
5 Check drains are running clear and where possible clear and clean.
6 Don’t leave grass cuttings on the track over winter to rot down.
7 Ensure all covers are secured against potential winter winds and storms.
8 Remove all equipment to storage areas – anything left on the track surface, such as hurdles and steeplechase barriers, may well leave a shadow or rust mark when it is moved at the start of the new season.
9 Where possible, drain the steeplechase water jump and insulate the feed pipes and valves with a waterproof material.
10 If the kerb is removable and is aluminium, put it away, or risk losing it for scrap!
Although not linked to winter maintenance, be mindful of the surface you have and do not mix surface types with DIY repairs. This will cause issues in the long-term, particularly if you repair a non-porous system with a porous repair and will allow water to penetrate the surface, which could lead to further delamination and lifting of the surrounding track if the water freezes. What may seem like a cheap option at the time could end up being costly.
Be aware of the heavy-wear areas of your track, such as the start and finish lines and the ends of the throws and jump run-ups. If these areas are showing the classic signs of wear, like the black base layer showing through, it is wise to seek advice from a registered installer or repairer. The base layer is a much softer material and will degrade far quicker causing potential hazards for athletes.
In summary, try to encourage athletes to vary their areas of training to spread the wear of the track – there are more lanes than the inside as well as starting positions! Athletics tracks may appear to require very little maintenance, but they do need some attention all year round. A closed track costs money, time and inconvenience and this can be easily avoided with a worthwhile maintenance programme.