Sports Field Management - May, 2011

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Incorporating Tracks: Options and Maintenance

By Mary Helen Sprecher

Tracks have come a long way. They were once made out of cinders, shale and similar materials. Now they have rubberized surfaces that are laid over a concrete or asphalt pavement (the latter may be regular highway asphalt or a special permeable asphalt), and they're referred to as "all-weather" tracks, meaning they can be used almost immediately after a rain.


Artificial turf on the infield of the track and natural grass outside the fence require two separate types of drainage systems. During irrigation, control overspray to avoid unnecessary water on the track surface.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FISHER TRACKS, INC.

Surfacing systems

The surface (the part visible to the user) is installed over the pavement. Track surfaces fall into two categories: permeable (or porous), meaning water drains through the surface, and impervious (or nonporous), meaning water drains and/or evaporates off the surface.

A variety of products are used in the construction of today's track systems. They include primers (latex or polyurethane), binders (SBR or styrene-butadiene-rubber latex, acrylic-latex polyresin or polyurethane) and coatings (water-based or various polyurethanes). The major product used in the construction of a track surface is rubber (black rubber particles, colored rubber particles or premanufactured rubber products). Generally, the track systems combine some of these components in one of three categories: latex, polyurethane or premanufactured.

Track builders are frequently asked which is the "right" choice. The answer depends upon the site, weather conditions, geographic conditions and other factors.


This natural field that abuts a rubberized track includes an integrated drainage system to help keep the track from flooding in the event of heavy rain.
PHOTO COURTESY OF RENNER SPORTS SURFACES.

Drainage

You already know that the key to field longevity is good drainage. That rule is just as important when a track encircles the field.

"In any outdoor facility, water is the number one enemy and cause of premature failures of all types," says Chad Luttrell of Mondo USA. "Control the water and you'll control the damage it can cause to your infrastructure."

The book published by the American Sports Builders Association (ASBA), "Running Tracks: A Construction and Maintenance Manual," states the maximum cross slope of high school tracks can be 2 percent. However, college and amateur-level competition requires a maximum slope of 1 percent.

A small slope, while a requirement, can wreck havoc on a facility's ability to shed water, says Mike Butler of Schwab-Eaton, Inc. "The worst are the slopes in the high jump area," he notes. NFHS is 1 percent and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is 0.4 percent. That looks great on paper, but you better have a tool handy to push water."

Various types of drains are available on the market. Combinations of all or some of the following are used by track builders: swales, French drains, catch basins, open pan drains, channel drains and trench drains. Some involve precast or patented products, while others are simply construction techniques.

"A trench drain must be installed between the track and field," notes Ryan Hale of Halecon, Inc. "The field cannot handle the water from the track quickly enough without it. Standing water on a track is very problematic, especially where there is a freeze-thaw cycle."


This aerial view shows the finished facility.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BEALS ALLIANCE, INC.

However, notes Sam Fisher of Fisher Tracks, Inc., the use of any particular drain system may depend upon the field itself since "many fields are being constructed to take the water along with the field water into the field system."

"Most high school fields are used for both football and soccer," says Dan Wright of Sports Turf, Inc. "If the field has the sideline drainage swales, then the size of the soccer field is limited to the football field dimensions. In some of the natural grass fields we have reconstructed and built over the past few years, we have installed a channel drain system around the inside of the track and sloped the field from the crown all the way to the channel drain, eliminating the sideline swales so that soccer can have an increased field size. Although this provides soccer with a bigger playing area, it also presents some maintenance issues. A hard rain will wash grass clippings and other debris into the channel drain system. This channel drain must be cleaned out regularly."

Correct construction of a track results in proper drainage, according to Lee Narozanick of American Athletic Courts. Narozanick notes, "All running tracks are constructed to slope or bank toward a drain, usually to the inside edge of the track."

Curbs and perimeter edging

The curbing around a track serves several purposes. It can keep the track from being susceptible to thatch and grass root penetration. It can also help prevent damage to the track surface that can be caused by maintenance equipment in use on nearby grass, including mowers, string trimmers and more.

Multiple types of curbing and perimeter edging are available, including pavement extensions, flush curbs (also known as a curb and gutter system) and removable raised curbs. Those with track and field expertise are best at recommending the type of curbing or perimeter edging for a particular project.

"We highly recommend the use of an 8-by-8-inch concrete curb around both the inside and the outside of the track," notes Wright.

The placement of the curb, says Mark Wrona of URS, Inc., is just as important as the presence of the curb itself.

"Most importantly, when a curb is used, the top elevation of the curb must be flush with the top of the asphalt, not with the top of the running track surface. If the curb is flush with the top of the running track surface, it traps water on the inside of the track," he says.

Maintenance

Key to the lasting success, and the continued use of your track, will be regular maintenance. According to Luttrell, regular maintenance of track facilities becomes even more critical as time passes and the track and field facility receives more wear.

"Oftentimes, routine maintenance of grass fields compromises its natural infiltration ability over time, even with engineered drainage systems beneath," he notes. "This places a greater importance on having a good surface drainage system in place. However, as with anything else, good maintenance practices will help ensure a properly functioning track drain system. Regular inspection and cleaning will keep the system functioning well for years to come, and increase the life expectancy of your track and field."

Before the maintenance crew climbs onto the riding mower for the first time in the spring, take a minute to go over some precautions, says Wright.

"Mowers should never use the track to turn around on," notes Wright. "Also, maintenance personnel should always put a covering of protective material over the track when equipment must cross over the track onto the field. Make sure that covering is taken away after they're done."

Meet with coaches, PE instructors, band instructors and those coordinating outside user group activities, too. Make sure they understand the need to place a protective covering over the track surface and instruct all field users to follow that path when entering or exiting the field. Remind them to change the placement of the covering frequently to avoid excessive traffic on any one area of the field.

It's far easier and less expensive to prevent damage than it is to repair it. Inspect the track surface daily, using a digital camera to record any problems or potential problems. E-mail the photo and your description of the situation to your track builder, so that any necessary action can be undertaken.

Maintain the surface of the track itself by removing debris from it using either a leaf blower or a soft push broom. Remember that sand from sandpits as well as dirt, gravel and other foreign matter can be ground into the rubberized surface by runners' shoes and, over time, will degrade the track. Keep sandpits covered when not in use.

Confused? Find a reliable partner

With what seems to be conflicting advice, it really can't be said enough: If you are installing a track, or if you're new to working with tracks, get advice from someone whose opinions you can trust, and who has the credentials and experience to help you out.

"The best advice we can give is to make sure you have retained a professional experienced in the construction specific to your project," says John Schedler of Atlas Track & Tennis. "Too many times, we run into those that are well qualified in many aspects of construction projects, but have no experience in the actual design of turf or track-specific projects. ASBA Certified Track Builders and Certified Field Builders are experienced at their specific disciplines and usually are invaluable to the design and construction process." They typically work in conjunction with the design architect or engineer team, together developing the details so the overall facility functions successfully.

Mary Helen Sprecher is a technical writer with The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA), a nonprofit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators and users understand quality sports facility construction.