The surface we run on, as we would expect, can effect to some degree the stresses on the body during running. The legs change their rigidity in anticipation of the landing surface, and the timing and load of the stress of impact can change by milliseconds and millimeters depending on the surface landing on.
Given this information my recommendations on running surfaces are 2 fold:
- Be careful about making changes quickly in the type of surfaces you run on. If you move from training solely on one surface type to running solely on another (such as exclusively trails to exclusively pavement), you will likely experience some problems as the muscles, tendons and joints of the legs adjust to the changes in impact forces and timing. I recommend making any changes to the mix of surfaces you run on gradually. But if you find yourself in a situation where the changes has to happen quickly (such as with travel or a move), back off on the mileage you run a little bit at first to help give your body a little help adapting to the change in stresses. Then gradually over time you can ramp it back up to previous levels. Remember, the body adapts best to gradual changes.
- You need to prepare your body specifically for the surfaces you will race on. If we know that the body faces slightly different stresses on different surfaces than it makes sense that we need to do a fair amount of running on the surface we plan to race on so that our body is well adapted to that surface and ready for the stresses involved in it. As a marathon coach, I have seen many times over the years where runners (at all levels) failed to do this and it came back to bite them on race day. They did most of their long runs and tempo runs on trails or dirt roads and when they raced their marathon on the roads they had unexpected issues with their feet and different leg muscles or tendons. Prepare your body specifically for the stresses it will encounter on race day.
There is no 1 best surface to run on. Each is different and has its own benefits and drawbacks. The best approach is to understand that and use each according to need, and availability. We have a big diverse world in which to run, understand it, enjoy it, and explore it.
Coach Mark Hadley