The formidable clay oval has been witness to some of humankind’s greatest triumphs through the years. The running track can be traced all the way back to 776 BC and the first-ever Ancient Olympic Games, although the 210-yard dirt track the runners ran on in that first competition is a far cry from the standardized 400-metre tracks of today.
To celebrate these testaments to evolution and just how far the human body can push itself (and catch a glimpse of some extraordinary design while we’re at it) we’ve rounded up some of the most astonishing race tracks in the world today in the hope that they can inspire you to go on to channel your inner Bolt.
3D Track | Alicante, Spain
Sat alongside this conventional track in Alicante is a three-dimensional rise which veers off course, over the changing rooms, and back again. Designed by Subarquitectura, the gap between the courses also acts as a viewing platform for spectators, not forgetting an additional training element to runners who have to factor inclines into their regime.
Evelyn Grace Academy | London, UK
Zaha Hadid’s contribution to innovative sports architecture spans everything from the London Aquatics Centre in Stratford to the recently completed Al Wakrah Stadium for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The five-lane track in Brixton’s Evelyn Grace Academy is one of the defining features of its ultra-modern design.
Tiantai No. 2 Primary School | Zhejiang, China
300km from Shanghai in Tiantai, sparse availability of land saw LYCS Architecture incorporate a 200m track onto this four-story primary schools rooftop. It handily encircles a 3,000sqm secure courtyard to create a sense of inwardness.
National Stadium | Kallang, Singapore
The national stadium of Singapore is a seriously impressive piece of modern architecture. It features the largest retractable domed roof in the world, while the seating on the bottom tier has been custom designed to allow for the stadium to be configured for either football and rugby mode, cricket mode, or athletics mode.
We’re interested in what goes on just outside of the stadium here though, mainly a 888-metre running and cycling track that runs around the outside but is still neatly housed within that awe-inspiring dome.
Olympiastadion | Berlin, Germany
Another impressive stadium, the Olympiastadion in Berlin has been witness to many monumental events, from Jesse Owens’ four gold medals in front of the Nazi Party to Zinedine Zidane’s shocking red card in the 2006 World Cup Final.
Arguably its most characteristic feature is the royal blue race track that sweeps around the stadium, a nod to the team colours of football club Hertha Berlin, who call the majestic stadium their home.
Olympic Stadium | Stockholm
A grand elegy to stadia gone by, the Stockholm Olympic Stadium was built for the 1912 Olympic Games, and has seen more athletics world records broken on its hollowed track than on any other in the world (83 on the last count). It still hosts major athletics contests, most notably as part of the IAAF Diamond League, where it has hosted a regular meeting since 2011.
Panathenaic Stadium | Athens, Greece
The only stadium in the world to be built entirely of marble, the site of this Athenian track dates back to 330 BC. It was home to the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympic games in 1896, with presentations held on its 204.07 metre long straightaways and unusually short turns of only 33.35 metres. Today, it marks the finishing point for the annual Athens Marathon.
Michael Johnson Track at the Nike campus | Oregon, USA
At the Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, this track is named after former 200m and 400m world record holder Michael Johnson. It wraps around a forest of tall western conifers and is the training ground of some all-time greats. To the west of the track stands an impressive bronze statue of its namesake athlete.
Brigham Young University | Utah, USA
Track and field remains a highly competitive sport across the United States, and one track that runs circles around other educational institutes sits in Utah’s Brigham Young University. Overlooked by a stunning mountain scape, the bright blue track is calling out for athletic accomplishment.
Osaka Air Track | Osaka, Japan
It’s on the roof of a shopping mall where you’ll find Osaka’s premiere 300m track built with community at front of mind. Tokyu Fudosan Holdings Group called on locals to find out what they needed most in the new facility, and the result was a mall that prioritized health and fitness. The fact that it also offers sprawling views over Osaka’s great urban landscape is a major bonus.
Iten | Kenya
In a small town in the Kenyan highlands, Iten is the centre of the country’s middle- and long-distance running scene. What its high-altitude (2,400 metres) training ground lacks in remarkable, technically-accomplished design is made up for in its atmosphere. From David Rudisha to Lornah Kiplagat, few places can boast quite so many top international athletes.
Chamonix | France
This legendary ski resort just north of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps, is also abuzz with keen trail runners looking to take advantage of its challenging climbs. This track in the heart of the commune makes for a seriously epic run for those looking to challenge themselves on flatter ground though, with glacial peaks dominating the scenery on all sides.