A great thing about running is the fact that you can run on just about any surface, anywhere in the world. But not all surfaces are created equal. Is running on roads good or bad?
Asphalt roads are to be considered hard surfaces. Running on hard surfaces is more elastic with quicker contact times and more need to use your own body’s suspension system. Running on soft surfaces is less elastic and requires more muscular effort and more ability to stabilise yourself and stay balanced and allows runners to ignore their inbuilt suspension system.
Common knowledge dictates that dirt and grass are better than asphalt, which is better than concrete. Several theories have been presented but – because of the infinite number of variables – it’s impossible to define an absolute “best surface” for running.
Choose the right road
The asphalt is generally easier on the muscles, joints and tendons than any sidewalk. Nevertheless, before you choose roads as your new favourite running surface, ask yourself if you can find a suitable road. Can you think of a road in your area with almost zero traffic, no air pollution and a quiet, peaceful environment?
If the answer is no, you should consider another running surface: grass, woodland trails, dirt, cinders and synthetic tracks are all good alternatives to the asphalt!
Always prefer a quiet countryside road or a trail. You will soon realise that running in a green, fresh and open environment is much more pleasant than having to dodge cars and bikes! And just in case some car shows up, always keep in mind that it’s better to run against traffic, to see and be seen.
If you intend to race on roads some training (not much) on the asphalt is advisable.
Roads and Injuries
Asphalt is a mixture of gravel, tar and crushed rock that makes up the vast majority of our roads. It isn’t the softest surface around, but it’s difficult to avoid and it’s better than concrete. When running on asphalt, you are bouncing up and down on a hard surface: the impact of it is 3 times your body weight! So for a 10-stone person, the impact transmission rate is about 30 stone on your body.
Human anatomy is well designed for shock absorption, but there are limits, and highly repetitive pounding on a hard surface can have serious consequences such as leg stiffness, strain injuries and stress fractures.
The Limerick-based physiotherapist Gerard Hartmann recently stated that “running on hard surfaces is brutal on the body since it leads to multiple injuries“.
Daniel Ferris, PhD., a professor of movement science at the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology, suggested that “with all the different surfaces available, it’s best to mix it up: hit the trails one day and run on the road the next“. Nevertheless, for experienced runners injury can come from drastic change: while variety helps strengthen leg muscles, it’s important to ease into running on new surfaces.