Running Surfaces: Track vs. Concrete

Running—only someone who loves the sport can truly understand it. Your heart rate rises and it’s you against yourself until finally you hit the stride where you feel like you could go forever. It’s a fantastic feeling, one you can pursue any hour, any season, any place. Well, maybe not any place.
Compared to most sports, running is a sport you can practice nearly anywhere, but that doesn’t always mean you should. In particular, one of the most common surfaces in most neighborhoods—concrete— should be avoided when possible. That might sound hard to do, but there are more alternatives than you might realize, and besides, the change worth it.

The Drawbacks of Concrete

Concrete is everywhere, but it’s a poor running surface. Marcus O’Sullivan, an indoor world champion, complained about the shockwaves that each step sent through his body when he ran on concrete. The physics are hard to argue: whenever you hit the ground, the ground hits you back. Concrete is a hard and unyielding surface though, meaning your legs have to absorb more of the impact.
You might argue that our bodies are built to handle this. However, the impact itself isn’t the problem, so much as the frequency and the amount. The stress builds up in the legs over the course of a long run, and continues to build up the next time you run. The repeated stress adds up and can lead to several different kinds of shin splints, to say nothing of knee-related injuries you’re also liable to develop.


The problems associated with running on concrete are attributed to the unyielding nature of the surface as well as the repeated nature of the activity. So, where should you go instead? Asphalt isn’t a good choice, but if you live in a heavily urban area, it’s worth a shot. If none of the below seem like viable options for you, then keep running and try to stay on asphalt as often as possible instead of concrete.
Nature trails are one fine idea. Dirt is a much better running surface—it might feel indistinguishable to concrete if you were to say, try to punch the ground, but when running over it, your legs and even the rest of your body will feel the difference and be more relaxed. Plus, the variety of slopes shake things up and deter repeated muscle strain. Just be sure to watch for loose earth or mud.
Perhaps the best surface for running is grass—soft and yielding, yet still giving you a great workout. Take care to watch for unevenness and slippery conditions.
Synthetic track is a very common material, and it’s not as good as grass, but much better than asphalt and hugely better than concrete. In urban areas with few parks, see if a nearby school has an open track for use. Track also offers the bonus that, unlike grass or earth, it’s very easy to measure your run, and thus also measure progress.
The conclusion? Concrete is bad to run on—look to grass, earth, or tracks to ward off injury and keep yourself in your healthy habit.
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