# Track (the sport) question

Are there any statistics that indicate an advantage in starting in any lane on a track? When races are over 100 meters, they usually have a staggered start. The distance covered in the race for each racer is the same, but I wonder if there is a psychological advantage of starting in one lane vs. another?

For example, let’s call the inside lane - lane 1, and the outside lane - lane 9. Since lane 1 has the shortest arc around the curved part of the track, the person starting in this lane can see ALL of his competition. The person in lane 9 starts at an offset that doesn’t allow him to see any of his opponents unless someone passes them or enters their peripheral vision. The person in the middle sees what the racers on the right of him are doing, but not on the left.

So, is there any statistical evidence of a psychological advantage being in one lane vs. another?

In races with staggered starts (and the 100), the four fastest qualifiers are put in lanes 3 through 6. In staggered starts, the outer lanes are at a disadvantage because you can’t see people gaining on you and the inner lanes make you run a sharper curve which slows you down.

So, based on this response, there seems to be a benefit. Has it ever been statistically evaluated?

I always thought that part of the reason they put the fastest qualifiers in the middle is to have the pretty effect of a “V” formation crossing the finish line.

I don’t have any statistics that indicate an advantage in starting in any lane on a track, but I can tell you that lane 1 on a dirt track is avoided because it really gets chewed up from the spikes the runners have on their shoes. Lane 1 is the most popular lane for distance runners, so its in much worse shape than the other lanes. I think its one reason why the fastest sprinters are given lanes 3 through 6.

Your probably not going to find statistics. It’s just a piece of conventional wisdom, so it may not offer any advantage. Psychologically, I can tell you that Lanes 3 and four are unequivocally the best lanes to be in. They allow the runner to see most of his opponents, and gauge his progress against them throughout more of the race, without having lanes 7 and 8 so far ahead that they seem unreachable. Of course everyone should be racing the clock, and not the man, but the clock is a lot easier to beat when you’re working on overtaking that guy ahead of you.

If the middle lanes are better, why are they given to the fastest qualifiers? Shouldn’t the slow-pokes get the advantage to even things out?

No, the good positions are your reward for qualifying high. Just like best teams in the NCAA tournament play the lowest seeds, and the middle seeds play each other. It’s not good to “even things out” that way in an athletic competition.

Track also likes having the fastest runners in position to run fast times. It makes the sport a lot more interesting.

Basically, whenever you give someone an advantage for being less than the best, you’ll get people intentionally trying less than their best in order to gain that advantage. The better way to avoid that is to structure the sport so that everyone can only profit by winning.

Since the fastest qualifiers get the middle lanes, even if there was no advantage of being there, one would expect the runners in those lanes to perform significantly better than runners in the outer lanes, just because the runners being put in the middle are faster to begin with.

For a meaningful study, you would need to compare races run with the fastest qualifiers in the middle, against races run with qualifiers put in random lanes. Even then, it wouldn’t prove or disprove a psychological effect, since there could be a real physical reason that one lane was better than the other (sharper turns or worn out surface in the first lane, for example).