How Many People Should Be In One Distance Race?

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The 2019 Dogwood Track Classic was another huge success. It saw over 267 nationally elite performances and had some of the best races all year. The biggest race though from the weekend was the unseeded boys 3200m which featured a whopping 86 runners! 

We posted a tweet about that and it got quite the reaction and got us thinking about the question, what is the ideal size for a distance race. 

To backup first before we delve into that question, the 86 runners in that Dogwood section was because of an impending storm that was supposed to hit in 15 minutes and the managers decided to combine two sections into one. Not to mention all of the unseeded 3200's were free of charge. 

That race aside, what are the ideal or realistic sizes for distance races on the track? 

You can really look at this question three different ways. One as an athlete, one as a coach, and one as a meet manager. All three want the same outcome but address it very differently. 

The biggest concern for the athlete is their performance and competition. For the coach it is safety and the performance and for the meet manager it is safety and efficiency. 

Think of it this way, most meets have a 2-3 minute gun to gun time in the 100m dashes. That means 90% of the time for the event is between people running. The same is true for distance races where it could take 2-4 minutes between sections of the 3200. All of this really adds up. 

Now distance races are interesting because it is super rare to have a track race which features of 30 athletes at a time but completely normal in XC to have 400 on the line with a narrow passage just 100m ahead. 

In a perfect world you are able to be efficient, have safe race sizes, and have great competition that leads to PR's. But what size is ideal?