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A Story of Innovation in England Athletics

Polytan x England Athletics

4 track innovations give runners and facilities more options

England Athletics has big ambitions, amongst them, the aim that no one in the country lives further than 20 miles from an athletics track. It is a vision they are close to realising.

With London 2012 providing a major catalyst for the growth of running in the UK, the sport has seen substantial growth at the grassroots level and continues to rise in popularity.

There are more than 293 tracks in England which are used regularly by 341 clubs. From school sports days to major events, the sport is woven into British culture alongside the names of its many greats from Seb Coe to Dina Asher-Smith.

England Athletics & Polytan – a partnership growing and innovating the sport

As the Official Surfacing Partner of England Athletics, the partnership delivers track quality and innovation to sustain the growth of the sport. As Ed Hunt, Head of Facilities for England Athletics explains;

“Being our Official Surface Partner involves more than laying a track. We work closely with Polytan, not only to improve and build on the facilities that are already there, but to reimagine them for the future.”

“From transforming inner city spaces to the introduction of SMART Tracks which get communities moving and give our elite athletes access to new performance data, the partnership is having a fundamental impact on the future of our sport from grassroots to the very top level.”

Caird Park Dundee
Caird Park Dundee

INNOVATION 1: Smart Tracks

Polytan’s SMART tracks have been embraced by the UK track community. The performance diagnostic technology, which is embedded into the tracks removes the risk of human error or external conditions impacting the data.

In a sport where records are broken on milliseconds, this gives coaches and athletes like Dina Asher-Smith who trains on a Polytan SMART track at Norman Park in Bromley, invaluable performance data that is 100% accurate every time.

As Ashley Appleby, who leads the partnership with England Athletics for Polytan, explains;
“Our Smart Tracks system, with technology provided by Humontion, allows data to be broken down to an unprecedented level of detail. It can measure not just top speeds but when top speed was reached, how long it was maintained, momentum, starting body position, flight time (the time the athlete is in the air) and taps (the amount of time and speed of the athlete’s feet on the ground).

For world class athletes like Commonwealth 1500m silver-medallist, Katie Snowden who also trains on a Polytan SMART Track at Tooting Bec in London, these unique features give a completely new level of performance insight.”

Smart tech gets communities moving

The benefits also extend beyond elite runners to the broader community who can use Smart Tracks in their local communities to measure their daily miles via a free app. As such, every single Rekortan track installed in England by Polytan, carries a basic SMART system.

INNOVATION 2: Keeping Tracks Running Longer

Ensuring the longevity and affordability of tracks has also been key to the sustainable growth of running in England.

In the UK, a well-maintained track with medium to high usage should last 8-10 years. By re-topping with Rekortan the track’s life can be extended a further 7+ years.

Polytan re-topped the World Athletics certified track in the home of England Athletics at the Manchester Arena where it lasted for 19 years before refurbishment in 2020. And the same has been done for many clubs up and down the country.

By extending the life of a track re-topping also has a very positive environmental impact.

Ayr, Scotland
Ayr, Scotland
England Athletics, A Story of Innovation in England Athletics
Tooting, London

INNOVATION 3: New tracks from the cinders

In conjunction with England Athletics, we have developed a hybrid system to convert old cinder (sand and gravel) tracks into modern athletics track systems at a quarter of the price of a traditional upgrade.

Old cinder tracks are common in the UK, so this innovation is vital in delivering the ‘track with 20 miles’ ambition.

INNOVATION 4: Mini Tracks with Mega Impact

Our Mini-Track concept includes a four-lane condensed Rekortan track which is typically 200m with a 50m sprint straight but can be customised to the space available. The track encircles a multi-sport synthetic surface that can house anything from basketball to parkour.

This neat solution is designed to revitalise smaller, otherwise dead spaces and give communities, particularly in inner city schools where space is at a premium, the chance to develop a love for the sport and access to the development pathway.

A 400m track is daunting for young legs, so these ‘bite sized’ spaces are appealing places for young athletes to run and play but they also provide a less intimidating space for adults to exercise.

Their capital and running costs are lower than a traditional 400m track, they are not restricted by the rules of competition and they can be any length, making them a financially viable model to inspire new users into the sport.

Webinar - inspiring a new generation of facilities with innovation

In May 2022 England Athletics and Polytan jointly hosted a webinar for clubs and consultants to discuss innovations.

From mini tracks to gel tracks to SMART Tracks, the webinar told a story of running on the rise and the power of what can be achieved through genuine partnership and innovation.

Click here to watch the free England Athletics webinar on innovation in track and field athletics.

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