Types of synthetic running track

Synthetic running tracks have revolutionized the world of athletics, providing athletes with a reliable and consistent surface to train and compete on. These tracks offer a plethora of benefits, such as reduced impact on joints, excellent traction, and minimal maintenance requirements. However, not all synthetic running tracks are created equal.

In this article, we will delve into the different types of synthetic running tracks according to their material, paving method, structural form and shape, each with its unique characteristics and advantages.

Materials Used in Synthetic Running Tracks

According to different materials, synthetic tracks can can be mainly divided into three types: polyurethane, latex, and rubber. We will introduce the characteristics of each one to help you better understand them.

1. Polyurethane Tracks

Polyurethane plastic track, also known as all-weather sports track, which is composed of multiple layers, including a base layer and a top layer of polyurethane material mixed with granules for texture and grip. The plastic track has the characteristics of good flatness, high compressive strength, appropriate hardness and elasticity, and stable physical properties, which is conducive to athletes’ speed and technology, effectively improves sports performance and reduces the fall injury rate.

Polyurethane running tracks can be categorized into four distinct types:

  • Basic Polyurethane-Bound System: This type of track consists of rubber particles bound together with polyurethane, forming what is commonly referred to as the base mat.
  • Porous Polyurethane Track: In the case of porous polyurethane tracks, a base mat serves as the foundation, over which a porous layer is applied and coated with a textured spray. This particular surface is renowned for its softness and high permeability.
  • Sandwich Surface: The sandwich surface is a combination of both porous and solid polyurethane layers. It starts with a sealed base mat, followed by the application of a flood coat composed of polyurethane and rubber. The result is a permeable and textured track surface. This type is the most widely utilized among track surfaces.
  • Full Pour System: In a full pour system, each layer of the track is mixed and poured in place. These surfaces are textured and completely impermeable, offering a distinct level of performance and durability.

Polyurethane adhesives offer a longer-lasting elasticity compared to latex. Typically, polyurethane systems begin with a base mat, a layer of rubber granules securely bonded with polyurethane adhesive. These tracks exhibit resilience, making them capable of withstanding harsh freeze/thaw cycles during winter. Depending on the specific system, polyurethane track surfaces can often endure for more than a decade before necessitating straightforward and cost-effective surface repairs.

As polyurethane tracks age, they maintain their functionality. They seldom succumb to wear and tear from external forces, resulting in a surface free from hazardous cracks and indentations, even as time goes by.

2. Latex Tracks

Latex tracks, also known as latex-bound tracks, are track surfaces that use a latex binder to adhere rubber particles together. They are typically comprised of a base layer, which is often asphalt or concrete, and a top layer of rubber granules mixed with latex binder.

Latex tracks are often an economical choice, particularly appealing to smaller school districts with limited budgets. Latex-bound running tracks offer a forgiving surface that is gentle on runners’ muscles, enhancing safety during training and competitions. Furthermore, latex surfacing is recognized for its speed-enhancing properties, which can boost athletes’ performance and result in improved run times. 

However, there are some downsides to latex track materials. One drawback is that latex systems tend to harden more rapidly and lose their resilience compared to polyurethane, leading to faster aging. As latex tracks wear and develop cracks over time, the underlying asphalt base becomes visible, accelerating the need for replacement. Consequently, latex running tracks demand more extensive and regular maintenance to prolong their lifespan.

3. Rubber Tracks

Rubber tracks are surfaces made entirely of rubber granules without the use of latex or other binders. These tracks often consist of rubber particles adhered together using heat and pressure.

Rubber running tracks offer a compelling combination of durability, low maintenance requirements, and resilience, making them a standout choice when compared to latex and polyurethane tracks. Their long-lasting performance, resistance to wear and tear, and ability to accommodate a range of athletic activities make rubber tracks an excellent and cost-effective option for educational institutions, community sports centers, and recreational facilities. 

While they may not provide the same level of speed as polyurethane tracks, rubber tracks strike a valuable balance between performance and affordability, ensuring athletes can train and compete safely and effectively over an extended period without the need for frequent and costly maintenance.

Paving method of synthetic running track

According to different paving methods, synthetic runways can be divided into cast-in-place running track and prefabricated running track.

1. Cast-in-place running track

The cast-in-place plastic track is a plastic track product that is poured on site. Unlike prefabricated plastic runways, cast-in-place plastic runways transport semi-finished raw materials to the construction site and then construct them on site. Common types of this kind of runway include breathable plastic runways, composite plastic runways, hybrid plastic runways and all-plastic plastic runways. We will describe these types in next part.

The advantage of the cast-in-place runway is that it can be adjusted and constructed in real time according to the actual conditions on site, and can adapt to various terrains and complex engineering requirements. Since the construction is carried out on site, it can better solve the problem of uneven ground and slope, ensure the smoothness and safety of the track, and provide an excellent track environment for athletes.

2. Prefabricated running track

The difference between prefabricated plastic track and cast-in-place plastic track is that prefabricated plastic track is produced in a controlled factory environment, which can ensure the stability and consistency of product quality. Its advantage is that factory production can improve construction efficiency and quality control, avoid some uncontrollable factors at the plastic track construction site, and reduce construction time and costs. During the production process, raw materials can be carefully proportioned and mixed to ensure the strength and durability of the product.

Structural form of cast-in-place running track

Cast-in-place synthetic running track can be divided into the following categories according to different structural forms. We will describe their differences based on product characteristics in this part.

1. Breathable synthetic running track

The breathable synthetic runnning track is the most widely used track structure in the world. It is made of EPDM rubber particles and one-component glue. Because it has a porous structure after molding, air and moisture can pass through it, so it is called breathable. It has beautiful colors, usually red, green, blue, etc., is comfortable and elastic, and is generally 13mm thick. This type of track is affordable and durable.

In the past, this type of track used black particles as the base of the track, which were made from recycled tires and crushed particles. However, due to increasingly strict environmental protection requirements in the past two years, this material is basically no longer used. Instead, all colored EPDM environmentally friendly particles are used to pave breathable plastic runways. Naturally the price is much higher.

2. Composite synthetic running track

The structure of the composite synthetic running track is that the bottom layer is paved with rubber particles (usually black particles) mixed with polyurethane glue. After curing into glue, a layer of mixed slurry (Group A and B) is then scraped and coated, thus forming a The elastic layer of the composite synthetic running track is added. The surface layer is generally sprayed with one-component glue and spray-type EPDM particles. In this way, the composite synthetic running track has the durability advantages similar to the hybrid synthetic running track, and at the same time has the low price advantage of the breathable synthetic running track. It is indeed a composite product.

However, in recent years, the country has gradually restricted the use of black particles on campus. Therefore, if the bottom layer is replaced by colored EPDM particles, it will not be cost-effective, so “compounding” is meaningless, because the original purpose of compounding is to improve product quality and Reduce product prices.

Therefore, it is generally not recommended to pave composite synthetic running tracks.

3. Hybrid synthetic running track

The active ingredient of the hybrid synthetic running track is polyurethane slurry. In terms of product expression, it is mainly composed of colorless and transparent component A (curing agent) and colored component B (elastomer). During on-site construction, After mixing component A and component B, add a certain proportion of catalyst, mix a certain proportion of EPDM rubber particles, and then lay them on the ground to form a hybrid synthetic runway.

After the hybrid synthetic running track is formed, it is formed into a single piece similar to a plastic plate. It is impermeable and has good elasticity, so its service life is longer than that of the breathable synthetic track. At the same time, due to the mixing of EPDM rubber particles, its elasticity is also relatively good, and at the same time it saves costs and has a high cost performance. But overall, its price is still more expensive than breathable synthetic tracks. At the same time, the construction technology is also relatively complex and the construction is difficult.

The market share of hybrid type is second only to breathable synthetic running track.

4. Fully plastic synthetic running track (the surface layer can be self-textured)

The active ingredient of the fully plastic synthetic running track is polyurethane slurry. In terms of product expression, it is only composed of Group A and Group B. No rubber particles are mixed in the elastomer, so the quality is better and more durable. The surface layer is sprayed with EPDM particles and glue paste, which is beautiful and elegant.

The fully plastic material is artificially synthesized from pure PU (polyurethane): the surface of the synthetic running track has a granular structure and is non-permeable. The surface layer has good physical elasticity and high wear resistance, and can withstand various extreme weather conditions, long periods of sunshine, rainy seasons and freezing weather.

The shape of the prefabricated running track

Prefabricated synthetic running track are divided into the two types: prefabricated roll track and block track.

1. Prefabricated roll track

Prefabricated roll tracks consist of a continuous roll or sheet of track surface material. This material is typically rolled out and adhered to the subfloor in a seamless fashion. It provides a smooth and consistent surface with no joints or seams, which can be easier to clean and maintain. However, repairs typically involve replacing the entire roll if there is significant damage. Roll tracks are relatively easy and quick to install. They are rolled out and adhered to the subfloor, which requires proper surface preparation and adhesive application. Moreover, they are primarily designed for indoor use and are ideal for indoor sports facilities where a consistent and high-performance surface is required.

2. Prefabricated block track

Prefabricated block tracks are composed of individual interlocking blocks or tiles that are premanufactured with track surface textures and patterns. These blocks are assembled on-site like a puzzle, forming the track surface.This assembly process can take longer than rolling out a continuous surface, but it offers greater flexibility in terms of repairs and replacements of damaged sections. Block tracks can be used both indoors and outdoors, making them a versatile choice. They are often selected for schools, universities, and community sports facilities. Block tracks allow for the replacement of individual blocks if they become damaged, which can be more cost-effective in the long run.

In conclusion, the world of synthetic running tracks offers a diverse array of options to cater to the specific needs and preferences of athletes, institutions, and sports facilities. From the high-performance and resilience of polyurethane-based tracks to the versatility of rubber-based tracks, the choice of the right surface depends on factors like sport type, location, budget, and maintenance requirements. Prefabricated roll tracks and block tracks further expand the possibilities, offering indoor and outdoor solutions with their unique construction and installation characteristics.

As advancements in materials and technology continue to drive innovation in track surfaces, it is crucial for athletes, coaches, and facility managers to stay informed about the latest developments. Ultimately, the type of synthetic running track selected plays a pivotal role in enhancing athletic performance, ensuring safety, and contributing to the success of sporting events. By carefully considering the options available, it is possible to create an ideal running environment that fosters excellence and achievement in the world of athletics.

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