Tartan track: expert tips for optimum cleaning

Tartan track: expert tips for optimum cleaning

Groundsmen responsible for cleaning Tartan tracks and other outdoor sports facilities know exactly how time-consuming and expensive it can be to keep them in perfect working condition over the years. Even so, the condition of these facilities effectively serves as the club’s calling card to the public. It can be a deciding factor in whether the club’s members and sponsors remain loyal to the club, recommend it to others, and register their children at the club.

WHY TARTAN TRACK MAINTENANCE IS ESSENTIAL

Generally speaking, the beating heart of any club or school sports facility is its Tartan track – it is critical for the majority of sports, not just athletics, and is used by athletes from other sporting disciplines for conditioning and other forms of training. When properly cared for, a synthetic running track has optimum cushioning and anti-slip properties, which minimises the risk of injury. Athletes should also be able to train on it barefoot at any time. In this regard, hygiene is critical. Last but not least, a well maintained, professionally cleaned Tartan track simply lasts longer; from a financial perspective, this puts less pressure on the club or municipal coffers.

HOW LONG DOES A MODERN, SEAMLESS TARTAN SURFACE LAST?

Modern Tartan tracks with a synthetic coating have been used for around 60 years. The first example was installed at Letzigrund stadium in Zurich in 1968. Held in the same year, the Olympic Games in Mexico marked the start of the switch-over to synthetic running tracks for all subsequent international athletics events. Today, Tartan tracks are either coated water-permeable surfaces with a special structure (also known as a spray coating, DIN EN 14877 2013, type A) or waterproof full polyurethane/ sandwich coatings (also known as a spread coating or solid synthetic coating, DIN EN 14877 2013, type D to F). Both variants are laid on site by experts according to the in-situ paving method to create completely flat, seamless surfaces. Other product variants delivered to the construction site as prefabricated sheeting are rarely installed in Germany.
 
Manufacturers such as Polytan certify that a spray coating will last for approximately eight years, while full polyurethane/sandwich coatings – thanks to the system structure – have a service life of up to 30 years. Their durability depends on the intensity of use, environmental and weather conditions, and surrounding vegetation. Proper cleaning and care divided across four steps can help to maintain the durability of Tartan tracks: inspection, basic cleaning, intensive cleaning using special cleaning machines, and restoration and/or repair of the Tartan track. The four steps are presented in detail below.

STEP 1: CHECK THE TARTAN TRACK REGULARLY

Visually checking the Tartan track entrusted to your care at regular, relatively short intervals and removing dirt (even if seemingly minor) without delay can help to prevent damage from the very outset. This makes it relatively simple to preserve the key functional properties of the Tartan surface and reduce the risk of accidents for athletes. For those tasked with maintaining the track, this means removing loose objects such as leaves, wood and refuse (immediately if possible), and getting rid of weeds, moss and algae deposits along with any sand that may have landed on the track from a nearby long jump pit. Dirty or clogged drainage channels should also be cleared as soon as possible, and stress cracks or cracks caused by tree roots should be promptly repaired.
 
The frequency of these checks depends on how often the Tartan track is used and the time of year; as might be expected, many more leaves fall onto the track in autumn than in spring or summer. Pollen can also negatively affect the surface. Generally speaking, it is worthwhile to ensure that when building the sports venue, no overhanging branches or bushes should cast a shadow over the Tartan track or soil it in any way. Over time, mowed grass from nearby meadows can also damage a synthetic track due to the formation of humus.
 

In addition to these daily or weekly routine checks, we at Polytan recommend performing a more intensive Tartan track assessment on a quarterly basis. If non-sporting events such as a club celebration or a concert are held on the synthetic surface, it is essential to protect the surface beforehand with a suitable and stable cover and, after the event is over, to conduct a thorough assessment of the track for damage, so as to ensure the sports facilities are not impaired in any way, and to avoid the risk of athletes tripping over and injuring themselves.

STEP 3: BASIC CLEANING OF THE SYNTHETIC TRACK

In this step – basic cleaning – all dirt and damage found on the Tartan track as part of an inspection should be removed using a sweeper or vacuum sweeper. It is important that the cleaning devices are equipped with soft synthetic bristles rather than with steel bristles or similarly hard materials. Hard bristles of this kind would damage the surface of the coating in the long term, which would be counter-productive to the intended cleaning process. Leaf blowers are loud, but effective: They are adept at rapidly removing loose dirt particles. Unwelcome weed growth between curbstones is best addressed via mechanical means. Under no circumstances, however, should you use chemical agents or open flames (e.g. a gas burner). Even despite these efforts, impurities and marks will appear in time that can only be removed through intensive cleaning – this is the third step.

STEP 3: USING A CLEAINING MACHINE FOR INTENSIVE CLEANING OF THE TARTAN TRACK

Wet cleaning is one intensive cleaning measure. This process removes stubborn dirt and abrasive particles along with moss and algae. At Polytan, we recommend that you perform a wet cleaning of waterproof surfaces every two to three years. Meanwhile, clubs and complexes with a Tartan track with a water-permeable coating should plan to have it cleaned once a year. Thankfully, the age in which the groundsman or maintenance supervisor simply stood on the track with a hand-held high-pressure cleaner are over: special high-pressure cleaning machines are able to restore the functional properties of the track’s surface in just a few hours, allowing the original colour of the track to shine through again (though this of course depends on how old the track is in general).
 
Special line-marking systems can be used to refresh faded track markings in no time at all. Specialist companies offer a range of mechanical high-pressure wet cleaning systems. What you need to look for here are RAL-certified services, as they guarantee optimum care by specialists with the right cleaning machines. RAL certification is also available for major renovation work and for re-topping Tartan tracks – this is the fourth step in the maintenance process, i.e. when the synthetic surface has reached a certain age or has otherwise been severely damaged.

STEP 4: REPAIR AND RE-TOPPING (RECOATING) OF TARTAN TRACKS

Smaller cracks in the surface can be easily repaired. However, this should be done as soon as possible to prevent them from becoming larger and spreading to other areas. Areas with greater signs of damage require specialist knowledge, and should only be repaired by RAL-tested specialist companies. A complete restoration through re-topping is recommended for surfaces with extensive damage and pronounced indications of ageing. Re-topping involves applying a new coating while retaining as much of the old Tartan track as possible. The need for a new coating is decided in advance by conducting a special test of its stability. The test involves checking the old track’s force dissipation values, tensile strength, evenness of the surface and the general condition of the substructure.
 
If the test results are satisfactory, damaged areas need to be repaired and sports facilities on site (e.g. the sandbox for the long jump area) need to be modified to accommodate the new, higher track structure. When this is done, the re-topping procedure takes place: the new plastic surface is applied to the old track in liquid form via a seamless in-situ paving method. After just 24 hours, the Tartan track will have set and can be walked on again. Under certain conditions, the track can even receive IAAF certification for use during international competitions.

TARTAN TRACK CLEANING: CONCLUSION

Tartan tracks that are not subject to extraordinary stress and wear – caused by intensive weather conditions, being permanently in the shade, severe environmental pollution, permanent non-sporting events, etc. – have a service life of between 8 and 30 years, depending on the composition (spray coating, spread coating or prefabricated track sheeting). To ensure a long service life, the person responsible for overseeing maintenance of the track should keep a few things in mind. This includes doing the following: 
  • Making regular checks (preferably daily)
  • Removing dirt and loose objects immediately
  • Promptly repairing minor damage.

Intensive cleaning is required every one to three years depending on the type of Tartan surface. This cleaning should only be performed by specialist companies with cleaning machines specifically design for use on synthetic running tracks. RAL-tested services provided by manufacturers, e.g. in the form of service cover plans, offer maximum reliability. If the damage is too great or the Tartan track has reached the end of its service life, it is worth considering re-topping before opting to install an entirely new track. A new coating can save time and resources and make the club’s running track look as good as new – without having to pay for additional disposal costs or incur the financial burden of installing an entirely new track.

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