Dedicated runners and walkers comprise a large percentage of the population who exercise regularly but do not belong to fitness clubs. I know these people well because, for many years, I was one of them. This group generally prefers following a route through the countryside or a cityscape to running on a treadmill or doing repeated loops on a boring indoor track.
The makers of modern treadmills have done a marvelous job of attracting this elusive group of nonmembers by turning what could be a gerbil-like routine into a more enjoyable experience by adding features that allow users to track their mileage, caloric burn and heart rate all while watching their favorite TV programs or surfing the Web. But even with these high-tech bells and whistles on treadmills, some runners and walkers can only be lured inside by a well-designed indoor track. Here are my thoughts about what makes a superior indoor experience for these people:
- Proper width. Walkers often pair up and walk side by side, chatting as they go. A 7 1/2-foot-wide track will allow a runner to comfortably pass them. Anything narrower is a compromise; anything wider is an extravagance. Consider the two inside lanes at 2 1/2 feet each to be walking lanes and the single outside lane to be the jogging lane.
- Sensible length. Anything shorter than 15 laps per mile (2,650 square feet) will be a brain-numbing experience and possibly somewhat hurtful as well, at a joint-pounding 60 turns per mile. Anything longer than eight laps per mile (5,000 square feet) becomes difficult to work into an efficient building plan and is, perhaps, overkill. Given that most runners and walkers like to track their times and distances, it is important that the length of the loop be consistent with a whole number of laps per mile. No one wants to do the math on a track that is, say, 11.64 laps per mile.
- Quality surfacing. Many options are available for indoor track surfacing. Find the one that best fits your needs relative to cost, appearance and performance, but ensure you understand how the surface must be cleaned. Some rubber flooring products require expensive cleaning machinery to be properly maintained.
- Comfortable corners. Never go sharper than 90 degrees and always try to maintain a minimum corner radius of 12 feet for the inside edge of the inside lane. This will produce a 17-foot radius for the inside edge of the jogging lane. It is not necessary to provide banking for the walking lanes at the corners. Banking of the jogging lane is optional and, if provided, need not be more than 2 1/2 inches of cross slope per lane.
- Buffer zones. It is prudent to provide a 4-inch safety buffer from the edge of the lane to any vertical obstruction, such as a column, that may exist along the inside or outside of the perimeter of the track. Where the track circles a fitness floor at the same level, it is best to provide a safety rail along the inside edge of the track so that fitness area users do not inadvertently step out into the path of moving bodies.
- Well-marked crossings. If possible, avoid track crossings, but where it is necessary to allow crossing circulation, clearly mark the crosswalk with contrasting floor marking and avoid creating blind corners with the placement of adjacent walls or columns.
- Interesting routing. The user experience can be enriched by routing the track to overlook club features, such as the lobby, the pools and the fitness floor. A well-designed track will serve as a club touring loop from which your sales staff can point out club features to prospective members. Include places along the track where people step out of the line of traffic and pause for an unhurried overlook.
- Structural options. Although commonly done, hanging a track from overhead long-span roof joists as it circles above a gymnasium is not a wise decision. This approach creates significant structural complexity, fireproofing issues and an inside railing that is cluttered with vertical hanger posts. Cantilevered column brackets are an alternative that will improve the user experience and simplify the roof structure.
A well-thought-out indoor running loop could turn out to be the decisive tie-breaker in persuading an on-the-fence member prospect who is an avid outdoor runner to come in from the cold and join your club.
Hervey Lavoie is president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, an architecture, aquatic design and interior design firm. With 35 years of design experience, Lavoie has completed club design assignments in 42 states and six countries.