Understanding the Differences in Running Surfaces

running surface inspectionIf you are anything like I was, then you probably do not think that the surface you run on makes much difference.  However, I have recently learned that it can really affect your overall health and potential for injury, and that where you run on can affect your health as much as how you run.  I want you and me to stay healthy and able to run for a long time, so it is important to consider these factors.  We will discuss different places to run and which ones are good for you and which ones are not so good for you.

Pavement –
Many people run on the road, or alongside the road.  If you do choose to run on or beside the road, then do be cautious of cars and traffic.  Try to run where traffic is the lightest, and there is plenty of room to run.  If you are running at night, then run where it is well lit, wear light colored clothes, and take a light with you.  Now that I have warned you of the safety concerns of pavement, we can talk about how it affects your body.

Pavement is probably the most common place that people run.  Within the category of pavement, there are a two basic kinds to consider:  asphalt, and concrete.  Most roads are paved with asphalt, and many sidewalks are paved with concrete.  Both kinds of these kinds pavement are very rigid, and do not have much ‘give’ to them.  However, asphalt does tend to have slightly more resiliency than concrete.  But, they both are much harder than any natural surfaces that you can run on.

With each step you take while you run, an impact is created as you land on the ground.  And obviously the heavier you are, the greater the impact is.  This impact has to go somewhere; and if it is not going into the road, it is transferred to your body.  If you are running on pavement, then hopefully you have some good shoes with cushioning the impact.  another thing that can help with the impact is to run with proper running form.

The idea of barefoot running has become quite popular lately, and I thought I would take a moment to share my thoughts on the subject.  I would be concerned with this approach to running, especially if running on hard pavement.  If you must run barefoot, I would recommend doing it on a natural surface.

Trails
Trail running has picked up a lot of popularity in recent years, and I think that is a great thing.  Trails offer a more natural surface to run on than that of pavement, which gives you much more natural cushion.  Not only that, but if you run on trails you do not need to worry about traffic safety.  If you have any parks or places with running trails nearby, then this is a great option for running.

Roadside Shoulders –
Running on the grassy shoulder of road can be a good option in some cases.  Obviously, as I mentioned before, you will want to run in a shoulder that has low traffic, and there is plenty of room to run safely.  In addition, you may

Treadmill
The treadmill is a great option for running.  It is a slightly softer surface than running on pavement, and it allows you to run in a straight line.  Some people are freaked out about running on a treadmill, but I have never had a problem with it myself.  The only issue I have with a treadmill is that it can become boring to run on one if you stay on it too long.  But that is easily dealt with by watching the tube or listening to music.  Another benefit of running on a treadmill is that you can avoid overheating, getting wet, and getting too cold.

Indoor Track
Indoor tracks are usually a quarter mile or less in length, and the corners are quite tight.  In addition, the curves are banked inward to help you around the curve.  The tight curves and the steep banks on these indoor tracks can make you prone to injury, and I would avoid these if you can.  If you need to run indoors, a treadmill is a much better option.

Outdoor Track
An outdoor track is usually larger than an indoor track, and the track is cushioned.  The biggest issue with tracks is that running around the track for a long period of time can stress one side more than the other.  Even if the track is cushioned,  the stress created from constantly running in a circle is not worth it.

Beach
Everyone probably thinks that the idea of running on the beach with the sunrise sounds like a romantic idea.  But the reality is that running on the beach is probably one of the worst places to run.  For one thing, the soft sand can be a danger for you to trip or twist your ankle.  In addition, the beach will have a slope to it, which makes your body adjust to accommodate the slope.  Over time, this adjustment to the slope creates stress on your body which can lead to injury.  If you must run on the beach, I would suggest that you run where it is relatively flat, and try to avoid soft pockets.  You can also try to run one way for a certain distance and then run back the same distance.  At least then, your body will be somewhat ‘balanced’.

Obviously where you run has a lot to do with where you live, and what kind of roads, trails, and parks you have around you.  You may actually have little control over this, and you may need to adjust the best that you can.  If you have been running on pavement three times a week, maybe you can find a trail to run on once a week, and run on the treadmill once a week.  At least you would be making a step in the right direction with this improvement.

What do you think?
Can you tell a difference when you run on different surfaces?

Take Action
Try to find a running trail or park to run in this week.

One Response to “Understanding the Differences in Running Surfaces”

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  1. Willy Powell says:

    Andy – thanks for the informative post. As a guy who is just beginning to run, this was a big help. Now if I could just magically lose weight while watching others exercise…

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