From tracks made of grass, cinder, and sand, to the latest ones made of polyurethane and latex material; running tracks have evolved over time. This SportsAspire article helps you to weigh the pros and cons of the latest rubber running tracks, and whether they are apt for athletes and joggers.
Mondo Running Tracks
The ‘Mondotrack’ has been the surface of choice of the London 2012 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. The Rio Olympic Stadium, the host of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, also has a ‘Mondotrack’.
The three major materials used to manufacture of the latest running tracks are latex, polyurethane, and vulcanized rubber. The manufacturing process involves the use granulated rubber and latex or polyurethane binders in combination. But before the track is laid out, a firm foundation of asphalt or concrete is constructed as a base, to prevent the track from sinking into the ground. On top of this base, a mixture of granulated rubber and an artificial binder, such as latex or polyurethane, is poured. Normally, the mixture is poured on the location where the track is to be laid, but Mondo claims that making the track in the factory and unrolling it at the site, in the form of strips, can make a better quality track.
The rubber that is used in these tracks is black or colored, may be granulated or stranded, and can be made of natural rubber, tyrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) or ethylene-propylene-diene rubber (EPDM), virgin or recycled. On the other hand, colored rubber is usually made of virgin EPDM, and is available only in granular form. So much so for the material and process of manufacturing a running track, now let us try to weigh its pros and cons.
Pros of the Rubber Running Track
In the early days of competitive track and field, grass, cinder, and sand were used as running tracks, which proved to be a low-cost affair, initially. However, the maintenance of these natural surfaces involved a great deal of investment, resulting into over-expenditure. The maintenance involved replacement of the filler material, leveling of the surface, and remarking of the lanes.
While today’s running tracks of latex and polyurethane rubber have a high initial cost of installation, they do not require frequent maintenance, and are durable for at least 10 years. Also, resurfacing the track may even further extend its life up to 15 years or more.
Lowered Risk of Injury
When we compare a polyurethane running track with concrete or asphalt pavements, the former proves a better option for your feet. Paved roads or asphalt running tracks are more likely to cause stress fractures and similar injuries to the athletes because the hard surface puts excessive pressure on the leg muscles, bones, and tendons, which does not happen with the softer surface of the rubber track.
The Mondo tracks separate the traction and shock absorbing properties into two layers. The above layer is the slip-resistance layer that does not require the spikes of the runner’s shoes to penetrate the surface for a better grip. This reduces the athlete’s penetration and retraction time, thereby, boosting his/her performance. For a sprinter, reaction time is vital while running. The lesser the reaction time, faster the return of energy to the runner’s foot. The latex or polyurethane surface expands and contracts quickly enough to act as a springboard, and give energy back to the runner for his/her next stride. This ultimately increases the speed of the athlete, while bettering his/her performance.
Cons of the Rubber Running Track
Affected by Weather Change
One of the major disadvantages of the rubber running track, especially the one that includes asphalt in its binding is that it gets affected by temperature, in spite of rubber being used. While it becomes harder during the cold weather, during summers it turns softer. This change in the track surface can have adverse effects on the comfort level as well overall performance of the runner. If latex and polyurethane is used as a binder instead of asphalt, the track can withstand any extreme weather conditions easily.
Higher Installation Cost
The biggest drawback of a rubber running track may be its cost. Considering the initial cost, one may feel tempted to stick to the traditional cinder or grass track, which may be comparatively inexpensive. However, understand that, though these conventional track surfaces have low initial cost, they require considerable maintenance throughout their life. Therefore, considering the long-term validity of a rubber track, the money spent in buying and installation should not affect your budget greatly, because in the long run, the synthetic or rubber track will prove to be more cost-effective.
Around 6% people experience allergic reactions after coming in contact with latex, a substance found in natural rubber. Runners may be exposed to latex allergens through direct contact with the skin while running on the track, or through inhalation of rubber particles released in the air.
Furthermore, rubber or synthetic tracks tend to absorb heat, which results in a higher surface temperature than the ambient temperature. This increased temperature can cause discomfort to the runners by causing heat stress and dehydration. Watering the track is one way to decrease the temperature on warm days, but it doesn’t prove to be much helpful, because within a while, the temperature rises again.
Along with all the above points, there have been talks about the effect of rubber tracks on the environment as well as the well-being of the runner. People have raised concerns over the inhalation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on the running tracks that contain crumbled rubber. However, a study published by F. H. Chang of the National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan, in the year 1999, shows that the levels of VOCs emitted from the tracks are not more than the levels of VOCs already existing in the environment.