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Running surfaces


by K.N.*

When it comes to running sooner or later we come to discover that despite all the benefits of the sport has to offer there are certain orthopedic issues that need to be addressed. One of those is the effect of a specific surface as it relates to the pounding of the body on it. If we are to rank the surfaces in hardness the worse or worth calling it harder on the body would be pavement and rock solid blocks, the second would be asphalt and especially uneven asphalt, the next in line would be compacted soil, then dirt road, then a nature’s path, and least of all grass. Taking into consideration that a well – rounded running training plan needs to be comprised of a variety of surfaces to perform your training on, one has to avoid always running  on the same type. An example can be given for a runner who has done all her training in soil and trail paths and has “toed- up” at a road running race to be held on hard asphalt. Needless to say that injury & sidelining is a great possibility, due to the lack of experience or adaptation is such environments.

The point of focus here is the need to vary your surface and also profile and also terrain texture. Paved pedestrian roads are great for their neat presentation however allow very little to none variability in impact angle for the foot. Given the muscular adaptations that need to occur at the ankle and knee joint runners are advised to allow for variability in landing angles. Having said that, one must take care to progressively insert those sections in their training, to avoid this harsh change that might lead to injuries. Start with small uneven terrain segments of paths and build gradually upwards. On the other side spend all your training on asphalt and you might be a click away from an injury about to happen due to the stresses and the accumulated fatigue of the hard surface on the tendons and muscles. Always vary the surface type, and the shoes so that there is a fresh and lighter / heavier version every day ahead.

Great care must be given as far as removing “stress” and stiffness from the muscles with regular massages at your therapist. Perfect candidates are runners who run mostly on asphalt/ pavements.  Assuming that massage therapy is a luxury  item, not necessary for the endurance runner, will leave you disappointed not if but when injury strikes. The stiff and knotted muscles will appreciate greatly the increased blood flow and improved circulation, promoting muscle recovery and ability to move freely in the next sessions.

As far as hitting the mountain (a trail path) the benefits are great but not for all people. The variable angle of each foot pounding, will “train” the muscles differently each time, and deliver forces differently on it , gradually adapting to an array of grades and angles. For some people (more injury prone) this addition needs to be gradually introduced in their training regime so that it allows a progressive upgrade in this environment.

Take good care when listening to the body’s signals and always play it conservatively when it comes to long distance running. This will prolong your life in the sport.


*K.N. is an Exercise Physiologist, graduate of the University of Alabama, an ACSM certified Health & Fitness Instructor, holds an ITU  Level II Certification as a Triathlon Coach, and is a multiple Ironman & Half Ironman Triathlon finisher. He is coaching Triathletes online, teaches Functional Training at 3dfts, and performs Exercise Physiology assessments at the Cyprus Sports & Research Center. www.ryltoday.com

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