Clockwise and counterclockwise


Track from above

Photo of a running track taken while approaching Midway Airport southwest of Chicago.

When you think about it, there’s no real reason the hands of a clock rotate ‘clockwise.’ The same result could be achieved if the hands were to move in the other direction, known as ‘counterclockwise.’ But it’s tradition. So we live with it.

The same goes for the direction we run on a track. That is counterclockwise by tradition. I took a chance and looked up discussion about the reasons why we run in that direction on a track. You might have some fun clicking through to that link. People really bring strange stuff to the table.

There are always weird theories that pop up in such discussions. In case you don’t want to sift through the lot of them, here’s one of the ideas about why we run in a ‘lefterly’ direction from a Quora commentator who lists himself as: ” Soumyajit Das, is interested in fitness, foreign policy, snipers, guns”

Soumayjit says: “It’s believed to be easier for righties, who make up the majority of world population, to run in a counterclockwise motion. Putting their right foot forward and leaning into a turn feels more comfortable and provides more power and balance than the reverse direction, say physicists.”

If we were to believe that, the world of track and field is discriminatory by nature against left-handed people. Is that how we want to think about the sport of track?

I never used to run clockwise for almost any reason on a track. It felt weird. We dedicated tracksters didn’t see the need for it. But when I started to manage a sports complex a couple decades ago, people requested the right to run alternate nights in each direction to help them balance their indoor running. So that became our policy.

That’s the supposed rule at the Vaughn Center indoor track where Monday-Wednesday and Friday are supposed to be ‘clockwise’ days. Tuesday and Thursday are counterclockwise days. And almost no one pays attention to those guidelines.

Track Turn.jpgThe coaches of middle school, high school and college athletes who bring their teams or clinic to work out certainly do not abide by the alternating direction rules. Having their athletes practice in a clockwise direction while preparing for indoor track competitions in a counterclockwise direction makes no sense.

But to stipulate that clockwise direction on the track three days a week out of five makes triple no sense.

So the coaches ignore the rule. Thus the 20 or so teenaged girls who train with their coach Julio all run in a counterclockwise direction every morning. When I asked Julio what he thought about the rules posted on the wall, he shook his head in disgust and said, “No one pays attention to that.”

There is also a local high school team from Aurora Christian that holds morning practices on the track. They do their warmup drills in a clockwise direction, but that’s about it. The rest of their workouts are done in counterclockwise direction.

The Aurora University track team practice there as well. One of the women milers does do some running in clockwise direction now and then. But when doing hard training, she runs in the counterclockwise direction. She’s capable of times in the range of 5:00 for the mile and is a joy to watch as I do my own sets of intervals. Occasionally she’ll catch and pass me. Her stride is smooth and clean. Yesterday her coach paced her through a few laps and I could not help being jealous of their youthful ease. But they run in a counterclockwise direction, of course.

I’ve done some workouts with friends running in the clockwise direction. There are reasons why runners choose that option. Some runners have troubles training in the same direction all the time. Overuse injuries are common in long-distance training, particularly among people who only run and don’t do strength-work or other injury prevention. The repetition of turning left-only for multiple laps can wear on the hips, hamstrings, knees and feet. That’s why many runners choose to switch and run the opposite direction.

Feet On Track.jpgThe first few times I did clockwise workouts it really bugged me. Forty years of running in the “right” direction around the track (which is actually ‘left’ when you think about it) has built quite a habit of counterclockwise running. I think about all those years of spinning 400s on outdoor and indoor track and the concept is dizzying. Is running counterclockwise an addiction of sorts?

The practice of counterclockwise running started quite young. My first experience was doing a 12:00 time trial in 7th-grade gym class. That track was made of cinders, and my gym shoes were hardly built for running. Yet I so clearly recall the sensation––a liberation really–– of running hard and steady for more than eight laps.

img_0996That was counterclockwise, of course. It set the stage for many years of competitive running to follow. Then in eighth grade at a different middle school,  refused to play badminton in gym class and the PE instructor tried to punish me by running the entire hour of gym class. So run I did. Around the gym floor, then up a set of stairs to the balcony and back down the other side. I ran with fury inside me, counterclockwise and petulant and defiant all at once. I was a messed up kid in some ways, feverish with resistance to authority from the situation at home. But at least I had running to cure me.

Throughout high school and college, I continued running.  I cherish thoughts of those cool spring evenings on an all-weather track. No wind and the smell of worms on the track.

And hot summer afternoons when the track became a mirage. Around and around I went. Counterclockwise and focused.

I cherished racing at midnight during All-Comers meets at North Central College when I’d join dozens of other runners trying to set PRs or get qualifying marks for national meets. We’d line up together and whip around the track in a counterclockwise direction. I realize now that time stood still even as the seconds ticked away.

To this day I relish getting up on my toes to run on the sweet indoor surface at the Vaughn Center. The leg turnover. The lean into the turns. The final forty yards where pain rides me to the finish. That may never change no matter how slow I someday get.

I’m older, and wear orthotics to balance out my foot placement and the biomechanics of running. So I’m not as light and fast afoot as I once was. Yet two days ago I still ran 8 X 400 ago at 1:37-1:40 per 400. That’s about 6:20 per mile pace, just a little slower than the speed I ran back in the spring of 1970, when I was in 7th grader in gym class at Martin Meylin Junior High in Lampeter, Pennsylvania.

So I guess that means we can be clockwise as runners even while we run counterclockwise. Because while it would be nice in some ways to be able to turn back time and run my peak times again, that’s not really possible. So the best we can do is turn back time by running as fast as we can in any direction, at any age. And hope that everything continues to turn out all right.

About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at, and Online portfolio:
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1 Response to Clockwise and counterclockwise

  1. Reblogged this on We Run and Ride and commented:

    Some of the graphic elements did not respond correctly and the version was messed up. Here’s the corrected version.

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