Solid Line = Tangent Line 
(Shortest Distance)
Dotted Line = Longer Distance
Solid Line = Tangent Line (Shortest Distance) Dotted Line = Longer Distance

Track: 800m Runners Should Follow a Tangential Cut-In Path

Dick Moss, Editor

In the 800m, runners stay in their lanes for the first 100m. Then, at the beginning of the backstraight, they're allowed to cut to the inside lanes.

Passing the cut-in flag usually triggers a mad, swerving mass of bodies, all attempting to establish position in lane one.

However, for the runners in the middle and outside lanes, this rapid movement to lane one is an inefficient tactic that actually causes them to run farther. Here's why.

Running the Tangent is Best
As everyone knows, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. For runners in an outside lane, a straight path is one which does not meet the inside lane until the runner has completed the backstraight and is almost at the curve of the track—for you math whizzes, this is a “tangent” to the curve. Deviating from this line, as when runners cut in very quickly, actually means that extra distance is being run.

In other words, for runners in an outside lane, a gradual cut-in is most efficient— there's no rush to reach lane one until they're almost at the curve.

In real terms, outside runners may feel rather strange, running several lanes wide of the pack down the backstretch. On the other hand, they'll avoid the flailing arms and legs of the other runners and will be able to better control the position at which they enter the pack.

Middle-lane runners will be in a slightly different situation, since they'll encounter pressure from outside competitors attempting to break quickly to the inside. However, your runners have every right to run outside of the pack, and it's illegal for a competitor to initiate excessive contact in attempting to push through your athlete to the inside.


  1. Mick Grant & John Molvar, The Youth and Teen Running Encyclopedia A Complete Guide for Middle And Long Distance Runners Ages 6 to 18 [Kindle Edition], Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2012.
  2. David Martin (PhD) & Peter Coe, Better Training for Distance Runners (2nd Edition), Human Kinetics Publishers, 1997.

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© 2013, Physical Education,

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