Most of the time when I write a post here on Top Running Tips I bang on about why you should start running, how to stay motivated and all the amazing benefits that running has to offer.
Today I want to have a look at a different aspect of running that is often ignored by beginners to running but that ultimately has a lasting impact on your running – well that’s unless you can learn to run on water!
Why The Ground Beneath Your Feet Is The Wind Beneath Your Wings
Runners experience the impact of up to three times their body weight with each foot strike while running. So it’s safe to say that the harder the running surface, the greater the impact on the body. Now think about the children’s folk song; “Dem Bones” that we were taught to sing in nursery school. It’s pretty much like a chain reaction that could cause problems with feet, ankles, shins, knees, hips and lower back.
It’s Not All About Gear
Yes that’s right, it’s not all about wicking material, GPS watches, heart rate monitors and running shoes. Think about it for a second; as a runner, your most important piece of equipment is the surface on which you run.
Just like a body builder uses weights to cause micro-tears in his muscles which ultimately cause his muscles to grow bigger so as runner’s we use the surface we run on to train our bodies to run faster, longer and better. Ok, so the explanation is a little over-simplified but you get what I’m saying…
If a body builder while training his arms only works a certain muscle group and ignores other groups the ultimate result will be an imbalance. The same principal applies to running…
Unfortunately when an injury occurs, the first thing we want to blame is our shoes – after all, aren’t shoes the only piece of equipment you need to participate in running? But your shoes are not always the problem, especially if you are not varying the surfaces you run on.
Are You Breaking Ground Or Breaking Your Body
Ask 10 running experts what the ideal surface for running is and I’ll bet you get 10 different answers. Our bodies quite easily adapt to the stresses we put them under when train even if the ground beneath our feet is not ideal. When we vary the surfaces that we run on the benefit is twofold;Using different surfaces are a natural way to work out the different muscles, especially in the lower legs.We can prevent or at least minimize many of the overuse injuries that runners of any skill can suffer from.
I’m one of those runners who has been plagued by injury in the past and in a way I guess it’s made me more aware of how the running surfaces I use impact on my body. Because I travel a lot for work I have the benefit of being able to vary my running surfaces. Here are some of the most common ones and how they will impact your running.
What’s Beneath Your Feet?
Grass running is considered one of the ideal surfaces for running because of the soft cushioning it provides; the impact on joints is much less. Parks, rugby fields, football pitches and golf courses are some of the most level grass surfaces you’ll find.
Although grass makes for softer running and low impact it actually makes your muscles work harder building strength that you will notice when you return to harder surfaces. Because of the reduced impact grass is ideal for speed work but can be slippery when wet – so be warned!
Running on grass may cause issues like plantar fasciitis if your feet and ankles are not strong and flexible also you might find that your legs become tired more quickly. If you suffer from allergies, running on grass might make your symptoms flare up.
Trail running is a very general term for running on anything from cinders to worn out routes through fields and soft peat-covered trails offered up by Mother Nature. These kinds of trails are by far the most natural surfaces to run on.
As with grass running, trail running is really easy on the legs and low impact on the body overall. The scenery that often goes with a trail run is usually the kind that will make you eager to return and few things come close to breathing fresh air deep into your lungs under a canopy of tall woodland trees.
Watch out for sneaky tree roots and rocks which could be hazardous! These routes can become quite slippery with wet mud when it’s been raining so be careful not to twist an ankle. Other than that it’s pretty much a mixed bag and one of the most comforting surfaces to run on.
Ok, I admit, I’m useless at running on a treadmill – that’s why I like to call them dreadmills. I almost did a face plant – not once but twice – within the first 15 minutes of being on one, so now I brave the weather outside no matter what it looks like.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t enjoy the advantages of using a treadmill. They are perfect for when the weather is really bad and it beats making a lame excuse and not running at all!
You can really get all geeky with the vitals the machines offer so leave your Garmin at home it’s all laid out in front of you on the treadmill.
The hardness of the surfaces differs from machine to machine but the smooth surface is really easy on the legs and body. Keeping a constant pace is as easy as adjusting the settings so a treadmill is top class for a speed work out and you don’t have to contend with red traffic lights, dogs or the wind.
Things to watch out for are falling flat on your face and the prospect of sweating profusely because of the lack of a natural breeze.
Almost all running tracks are made from synthetic material like polyurethane. Most sports centres have one and some local parks too. These surfaces are very useful for speed work and interval training, because the track is exactly 400m it’s easy to keep track of distance.
Because of its elliptical shape of the track having to endure the curves at either end will make longer runs a little more challenging both mentally (almost like a hamster wheel) and physically (extra strain on ankles, knees and hips).
The majority of roads are made up of asphalt which is a mixture of gravel, rocks and tar. If you are a city dweller like me asphalt is a difficult surface to avoid, it’s not the softest but it’s a lot more forgiving than concrete.
Asphalt is a fast surface and it’s pretty straight forward to run on if it’s well maintained with few potholes. One thing you’ll have to deal with is cambered surfaces.
A cambered surface is used to ensure proper drainage so the surface is curved allowing water to run off the sides. Continuous running on a cambered surface throws the body off kilter. As a rule, vary which side of the road you run on to avoid causing injury from running on a cambered surface.
Pavements are primarily made up of concrete and so are a very small percentage of roads. Again it’s the city dwellers that know all too well the hard and unforgiving surface of a concrete pavement. Not to mention having to side step raised kerbs and other pedestrians, all of which can lead to injury.
Ok, so there’s not much good to say about running on concrete but for a lot of us it’s where we do the majority of our running. However, if you get an opportunity opt for a softer surface.
Ok, so I don’t live in a country where there is a lot of snow, well actually looking at the past two winters here in Britain I’m not so sure anymore! Like with smoke and fire; where there’s snow there’s bound to be ice and the worst kind is black ice (cue – jaws sound track…)
No seriously ice is deadly dangerous to run on and although the snow will change your favourite route into a beautiful winter wonderland the ice is not far behind.
If you’re anything like me; stubborn as a mule and insist on running even in the snow and ice get yourself a pair of Yaktrax Pro Traction Device. They easily slip over your running shoes and give you the grip you need. I was like a fish out of water running on snow and ice until I got a pair of these.
Your Body Will Love You!
If you spend some time working out your running routes and get some of those creative juices flowing, you’ll soon find out that it’s really easy to vary the surfaces you run on – even if you live in an urban environment.
You’ll enjoy the change of scenery and your body will love you for it too!
Ok, now it’s your turn… What surfaces do you run on most? How do you vary your running route to make sure that you’re not over doing it on one particular surface?