8/6/14

WWW: Track, Trail, Road

Where to run. This is a great question. We already established that a treadmill probably isn’t the greatest of all places, so let’s put that out of the equation. So do we choose a trail, a running track in your local community or school, or take the open road ahead


On the trails there are softer surfaces and will reduce the impact on your body. They will also slow you down though due to the curvy, rocky, hilly, or whatever else you encounter on the trail’s terrain. You have to be more aware of the course around you and what you’re running on rather than how fast or how far you’re going. It is also mentally relaxing. I love going out and just running in nature. It’s a refreshing change compared to the asphalt you are used to. It’s an enjoyable and pleasant change. You can also breathe easier. I don’t know about you, but running on the road gives my nostrils and lungs all kinds of aromas that aren’t always so pleasant. For example, every time I pass a car I breathe in carbon monoxide, or a building that is pumping out something, or trash cans, or a fast food joint. I want to breathe in grass and trees and breathe good ole fashioned oxygen. Also while on a trail, you get grass and dirt. Grass is soft and low impact; however, there can be hidden obstacles that can lead to a twisted ankle or other injuries. Dirt is one of the big favorites when it comes to running since it is hard enough to get a good surface but not too hard. However, the unevenness of the dirt can be bad for your ankles as well, but will be good for your shins and other impact-related injuries. If you find some sand, it’s so soft you definitely won’t risk impact injuries and it will burn more calories since it uses some of our little-used muscles. But if you are new to sand, it can cause weak ankles to suffer, so begin with some sturdier or wetter sand.

On the track, you can push yourself harder and gives you time to keep an eye on your watch. It also has a spongy surface and can be a happy medium between soft and sturdy. However, long runs in a that oval shape can get extremely tedious. I can do a 400 well, and 800 max before I start singing the Johnny Cash song “Ring of Fire”. Also, if you have calf or IT band problems, it can cause stress to them and shorten the calf muscles as you circle continuously.

On the road, you can push harder too, but with so many obstacles: people, cars, pets, signs, etc, it’s hard to watch the clock. If you struggle with Achilles problems, the asphalt can help while it keeps it in a less-tensed position. You will also most likely encounter concrete, if you live in any city. This may be safer than the road to avoid cars. However, they are one of the hardest surfaces you could pick to run on and may cause more stress on your joints and muscles. This is why it’s good to mix up the two. I like to find a road that I can go back and forth between asphalt and concrete (such as through a neighborhood).

So with all the evidence, the best way to avoid injuries is to mix it up. Incorporate a variety of all the above and more. The thing you need to be aware of is your body and your shoes (some shoes are better adapted to certain surfaces or terrains). Not only will it prevent injuries but it will improve your strength and balance and give you a refreshing change of pace. For example, short distance days go to the track, easier distance days go to a trail, and other times the street. Mix it up and have some fun. Also, use what you have. If you live in the city, you have everything and you can be picky about where to run. If you live in the country, most likely you will have to drive (or run) to get to a track, but you should have everything else.


Also, a slight disclaimer, you may feel some soreness and tightness due to mixing it up because you will use different muscles on different surfaces depending on how your foot hits the ground and avoids obstacles. Don’t give up or say that doesn’t work for you. Give that surface a good week or two as long as you’re not hurting yourself or causing injuries and experiment to find what works for you!

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About Me

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BS, MS - exercise Physiology
EPC - Board Certified Exercise Physiologist

Published Thesis
The impact of three different forms of warm up on performance

Graduate from Midwestern State University, founder of Endunamoo Barbell Club, and Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning. Working to help athletes physically reach their goals and achieve scholarships while spiritually pouring into as many people as possible on all platforms.