Runners are some of the most amazing people I know! Their dedication to all those miles astounds me. Runners typically know what kind of shoes they like and the type of music that keeps them motivated, but do they know what surfaces are the best for their body? In general it is not recommended to run on the same type of surface all the time. Varying running surfaces will decrease the likelihood for injuries and can provide the motivation you may need when training for a race. Here is a list of different terrains to run on and some of the pros and cons for each.
GRASS: One of the best surfaces for running. It is soft and low impact. It forces you to use some of the smaller stabilizer muscles in your legs making for a great workout. It is good for speed work, but can be uneven, slippery when wet, have hidden holes or rocks, and the softness can tire legs surprisingly fast. Runners with weak ankles or those prone to plantar fasciitis should be cautious when running on grass. You are more likely to over pronate on this soft, uneven surface which can put excess stress on the foot’s plantar ligament.
TRAIL/DIRT: Soft peat is an ideal running surface and trail running makes for a tranquil, usually flat, and often shaded run. This surface is easy on the legs and can decrease the risk of overuse injuries. However, trails can be muddy or slippery and may contain tree roots, so beware if you have ankle, calf or Achilles issues.
TRACKS: This synthetic surface is great for a low impact run, especially if your focus is on speed work (training speed will help improve distance times). As an added perk measuring distance covered is quite easy, however the boredom of going in circles may set in along with injuries to calves, ankles, IT bands, knees and hips from continually turning in the same direction. Be sure to run the opposite way on the track during non-peak times.
TREADMILLS: Every one of you true runners out there just cringed when you saw me include the dreaded treadmill. But face it, sometimes you need to use one if the weather turns cold or you are travelling and at the mercy of a hotel fitness center. Treadmills have their perks though. They conveniently monitor distance, speed, calories burned, heart rate, and incline. Plus, they are smooth, generally low impact, and ideal for speed work. Keep in mind when you run on a treadmill your foot strike is different than running outdoors, so if you are training for a race be sure to get off the treadmill and do the majority of your running on other surfaces. Also, it is advisable to keep the incline set at least 1% to account for wind and terrain changes you would see outdoors.
ASPHALT: This is a familiar surface to most you runners. It is abundant, smooth, fast, puts less strain on the Achilles tendon, and is easy to keep track of distance. It is ideal for training for long races. Just be on the lookout for potholes and traffic when running on the road.
CONCRETE: Ever wonder why runners are always on the road instead of the sidewalk? It’s because concrete found in sidewalks is 10x harder than the asphalt on the road. This can cause more stress on the joints and muscles and lead to a multitude of injuries. With that being said, it is safe from cars and may be a viable option for people who live in crowded cities. If concrete is your running terrain be sure to have appropriate shoes for your foot.
SAND: Dry sand can be a great calf workout and is low impact. Plus, who wouldn’t want to run with the sea breeze blowing in their face and the tranquil sounds of the ocean? You can also run barefoot (makes sure the sand isn’t too hot) and doubles as a resistance workout. However, the softness of the sand puts excess strain on the Achilles tendon. If you run near the water’s edge be aware of the slope of the sand which can put excess strain on the body. In general it is best to keep sand running to shorter distances.
Personally Trained By Sophie