If you are a runner from the US, there’s a good chance you prefer to measure your runs in miles. However, since in international athletics, the metric system is used, if you do your running on a track, you’ll probably want to know how many laps you need to do for each mile.
Fortunately, the calculation is very easy, and once you understand how it works, you’ll hardly need to think about it at all unless you’re doing runs of several miles. So let’s jump right in and answer the question, how many laps around the track is a mile?
The easy way to calculate
As everyone knows, in modern athletics, races are measured in meters. In the Olympics, the “blue ribbon” event is the 100m race, and athletes also compete over other distances such as 200m, 400m, 800m, 1,500m and 10,000m.
For calculating the number of laps in a mile, the important one is the 400m race, since this event consists of completing a single lap of the track – the inside lane of an athletics track measures 400m.
The other thing we need to know is how many meters there are in a mile, and the answer is just over 1,600 – or to be more precise, 1,609.3.
With this information, to work out how many laps equal one mile, all you need to do is divide the number of meters in a mile by 400, which conveniently comes out at almost exactly 4.
In other words, to run a mile, you need to complete four laps of a standard athletics track.
While this number isn’t 100% accurate, for most people running just one mile, it will be close enough. However, if you insist on running a complete mile, you simply need to run an extra 9.3m after completing your four laps.
Running several miles
Knowing that four laps equal a mile makes things easy, and over a single mile, the extra 9.3m is almost negligible. However, over longer distances, the extra 9.3m starts to become more important because that extra distance begins to add up.
However, the calculation still isn’t particularly difficult because to work out how far you need to run if you want to complete several miles, you just need to add an extra 9.3m for every four laps.
For example, if you want to run five miles, you need to complete 20 laps (5 x 4 laps) and then you need to run an extra 46.5m (9.3 x 5) to complete your five-mile run.
What about the outside lane?
So far, we’ve been talking about the number of laps you need to complete if you’re running on the inside lane, but what about if you’re running on the outside?
The distance around the outside of the track turns out to be quite a bit more than the distance around the inside – if you run a lap on the outside lane, the distance you are covering is 423m.
This means that by completing four laps around the outside, you are actually running 1692m, which is a full 82.7m further than you need to go to complete a mile.
This is a much less convenient calculation to make, especially if you are concentrating on running your fastest time and don’t want to be distracted by trying to work out distances in your head as you go.
The best advice is just to stick to the inside lane if you can because it’s much easier to work out the distances – and if for some reason you have to run around the outside, just carry a GPS device that tracks your run for you so you won’t need to think about it yourself!
An easy calculation once you know how it works
As we have seen, once you know that the inside lane of an athletics track is 400m long and a mile is 1609.3m, it becomes very easy to work out how many laps to a mile – the answer is that there are almost exactly four laps to a mile.
However, if you want to be more precise – or if you are covering longer distances – you also have to think about the extra 9.3m because it starts to make a differ