What Are the Different Types of Athletics Races?

There are various different types of races within track and field events. Today, we'll take a look at the most important.
What Are the Different Types of Athletics Races?

Last update: 26 May, 2020

In track and field events, there are various different types of athletics races, each one testing different skills, and abilities. In this article, we’ll tell you about the main ones.

What athletics races are there?

Today, we’ll look at official races, particularly the ones that feature in the World Championships and the Olympic Games. They fall into five main categories:

1. Sprinting

These can vary in distance but they’ll always be on a track. The runner starts crouched at the start line with the soles of their feet resting on what are known as ‘blocks’. These provide traction so that runners can begin once the starter’s pistol goes.

Sprinting can take place on either indoor or outdoor tracks and the distances are normally 60, 100, 200, and 400 meters. Both the world and Olympic records for the men’s 100 and 200-meter races are held by Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, whilst the women’s records are held by Florence Griffith Joyner from the United States.

Usain bolt just after a race.

However, the men’s 400-meter record currently belongs to the South African Wayde van Niekerk (world and Olympic records). The women’s world record is held by German Marita Koch, and the French runner, Marie-Jose Pérec holds the Olympic record.

2. Middle distance: athletics races

These are longer than sprints and combine both speed and endurance. This makes them difficult races and runners will need to plan tactically in order to finish well.

These athletics races usually involve distances of 800, 1,500, and 3,000 meters. The current records for the 800 meters are held by David Rudish (1:40.91) and Jarmila Kratochvílová (1:53.28). The records for the 1,500 meters are 3:26.00 (men’s) and 3:50.46 (women’s).

3. Long-distance

These races are the most difficult and most intense because, as their name suggests, they cover long distances. These races include the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, cross-country, half-marathon, and full marathon, which is just over 26 miles.

Athletes running a marathon.

The Ethiopian, Kenenisa Bekele currently holds the world records for the men’s 5,000 and 10,000 meters, whilst Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge holds the current men’s marathon record. The women’s records are currently held by Ethiopian, Tirunesh Dibaba (5,000 m), the Ethiopian Almaz Ayana (10,000 m), and the British runner Paula Radcliffe (marathon).

4. Hurdles: athletics races

These are also known as jump races and, as the name implies, runners need to jump over hurdles that are placed a certain distance apart from one another. These races can be 60, 100, 110, or 400 meters long, although there are also 3,000-meter races with obstacles, fences, and pit jumps.

American Kevin Young currently holds the world and Olympic men’s hurdles record with a time of 46.78 seconds, which in the women’s, American Dalilah Muhammad holds the world record and the Jamaican Melaine Walker holds the Olympic record.

Runners leaping over some hurdles in one of the athletics races.

The only difference between the 110 and 100-meter race, in addition to the 10-meter difference, is that the first is for men and the second is for women.

5. Relay races

In these types of events, teams are made up of four athletes who pass a baton between them. In order for a runner to start, they have to receive the baton from the previous runner.

The Olympic distances are 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 meters, in which each athlete runs once. The Jamaican relay team is the current men’s record holders and the women’s record is held by the United States.

Although they’re not normally part of track and field, we can’t ignore the 20km and 50km races, which take place both on the road and on indoor tracks.

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