4 Best Running Surfaces To Enhance Your Training

Welcome back to another episode of Runner’s High. If you haven’t been with me before, I’m Jessie Funk. And this is a show where we talk about everything and running. Now, today, I want to talk about the best running services to enhance your training. And by that, I mean, I know that you probably run on sidewalks, you may run on the road. But there are other options, you need to consider, things that will make you both faster and more mentally fit.
4 Best Running Surfaces To Enhance Your Training

Welcome back to another episode of Runner’s High. If you haven’t been with me before, I’m Jessie Funk. And this is a show where we talk about everything and running. Now, today, I want to talk about the best running services to enhance your training. And by that, I mean, I know that you probably run on sidewalks, you may run on the road. But there are other options, you need to consider, things that will make you both faster and more mentally fit.

Before we get going, if you haven’t been with me before, hit that subscribe button to stick around for more videos about running, anything and everything you can think of here on this channel. Now, let’s talk about running surfaces. Now, like I said in the beginning of the intro, before we got going, you probably are running on road and on sidewalks, cement and asphalt. If you don’t already know the road, that asphalt is actually softer than cement. So, in terms of shock to your system, if you have the ability to run on the road, it’s going to put less wear and tear on you than if you’re entirely on the sidewalk.

Now, I know that a lot of us do not live in areas that are conducive to doing this. There’s lots of traffic, you need to stay on the sidewalk, and you may be in a place where it’s designed for cars, it’s not designed for people. That being said, sometimes you need to travel a bit to get the best options. I’m going to give you a few options that you need to look out for that are going to help your training.

The first thing you need to look for is somewhere you can run on grass. Grass is my go-to, especially lately, as I’ve been getting back into run training more. I transition out of triathlon training going back to more straight running. And I noticed there’s kind of more aches and pains just from being on that cement and asphalt all the time.

Now, I am fortunate to live in an area where we have a long stretch of road with a huge median in it. It’s a Parkway here in Kansas City that is covered in grass. And there is now a trail in the center of it because it is so popular with runners and walkers to go on this patch of grass. It can actually go, if I go from one side to the other and back, I can get 13 miles in.

So, I can get plenty of miles in on this section. But what I’m using grass for specifically, is actually kind of on recovery days, on long days, when I’m trying to get ready for speed day and I don’t want to beat myself up.

On a long day when you want to recover, you’re trying to get some aerobic fitness in. But largely, you’re trying to put in easy miles and get yourself prepped to do speed work. So, you don’t want to go harder than you have to. And that includes all those shocks to your joints on harder surfaces. Yes, you’re going to go slower, and that is a con of running on grass.

You’re not going to run as fast as you would on asphalt or on cement on the sidewalk. But, you don’t beat yourself up as hard. So, I have been using it specifically on days before I’m going to do speed work. So, right now with my schedule, Tuesdays is long run. Wednesdays because we’re not into speed work yet, we’re still the wintertime, Wednesdays I have tempo work mixed into my long run. So, that’s my speed work, quote-unquote, for the week.

Tuesdays, I go run on grass. Then I feel so much better when I go out on Wednesday, I don’t feel beat up. And I can go actually do that harder work being more prep. So, grass is a go-to for me, if you have any chance at all. Now, there are certain runs I do, where I run from where I live to downtown and back. And grass is really sparse in that kind of environment.

When you’re in Midtown downtown kind of areas, most of it’s concrete. It’s the concrete jungle, right? But there are occasions when there are grass patches. So, I’ll use that as an opportunity if I’m out for a long run, go in that direction, run on the grass patches when I can. Again, we’re trying to reduce the amount of pounding on our body by running on grass so that we can recover faster and reduce the rate of injury.

Now, the downside, the biggest downside of running on grass is that it’s an uneven surface. So, the likelihood of twisting your ankle is much higher than if you’re on pavement. But I actually kind of see this as a pro in some ways. Because when we have that varied surface, you’re not going to be working your muscles in the exact same way.

Also, if you take it easy and you’re careful where you’re going, I believe, I don’t have any studies to back this up. But I believe that it should, over time, increase your ankle strength, and hopefully, ankle flexibility. I don’t know that for sure. So, you’ll have to take my word for it or my judgment at this point. I wish I had some studies to say yea or nay on that. At least that’s my experience that will help. So, on to the next surface and let’s see what else can help your training.

This one should be a no-brainer for anybody who’s done any kind of running for a time. And that is track surface. You can get this in a lot of different places, I’m lucky enough that the trails around us actually have track surface on them. Now, they’re not as nice as an actual track. But the city’s deemed that they should put track surface over cement, which is very, very nice to have, when I’m doing like a long workout. So, there’s a park near us that has a long track on it, or a long trail on it with track surface.

It isn’t as soft or performance-oriented as the actual track. But it’s like a mile and a half long, maybe two miles. I can’t recall exactly. I think it’s around a mile and a half. That’s a much nicer loop to kind of do speed work on where you don’t need that exact 400 meter rep. And you’re not going to be turning quite as sharply.

But if you don’t have something like that in your area, you most likely have a track you can have public access to. And tracks are crucial, both because you can time exactly where you’re going to be for 400 hundreds, 200 hundreds, whatever interval you want to go at. And then you can add on up from there as you do extra laps. But beyond that, because it’s performance-oriented, it’s going to respond well, and put that energy back into you helping propel you forward.

They’ve been designed to do that. That’s specifically what that surface is for. And it’s not going to pound you quite like pavement is. You can go fast on pavement because it’s so hard it does that shock and then it can kind of mess with your joints. So, track surface is essential, not only because tracks are very useful, but because they’re very responsive, when we want to do something faster, and get the most out of ourselves and see good results.

Beyond that, I highly, highly recommend finding some trails to go on. Now, there’s two types of trails. There’s very non-technical trails, and then there’s more technically oriented trails, these are good to break up your training, just from a mental standpoint. When we do the exact same routes all the time it gets boring, your mind becomes lethargic, if nothing else.

So, it’s nice to do these things just to break it up. But also, again, to our point, in the beginning, you break up the monotony and the pounding on those harder surfaces, when you go on track, on the trail, you’re running on some kind of Earth. The actual terrain’s going to vary, you may have some rocks, as always, you’ve got to be careful about that. But you’re going to have dirt, earth, grass, leaves, twigs, something that’s going to be softer than that and give you vary.

The thing about running and varying your terrain is that it works your muscles in different ways when you’re not just doing the same thing over and over and over again. That’s why if we run on a treadmill over and over again, the incidence of injury is going to go up. Because we’re working on a very specific firing pattern with our muscles over and over and over again. Those overuse injuries are from repetitive exercises that happen over time. So, when we are doing that, as a sport, when we’re running, we’re going in a straight line forward, generally speaking.

If we don’t vary it, then we have the tendency to come to a place where we have overuse injuries. Going on a trail varies that kind of naturally, where we’re going to speed up and slow down and kind of take different kinds of steps that aren’t always flat to the ground, maybe jump side to side, depending on where you’re going, and how your footing is on that particular trail. Those things are good for you physically, they’ll help enhance the strength of your joints.

Again, kind of going back to the grass argument that I have that having that varied train should eventually strengthen those connections. And all of those strong connections should add up to faster times when we’re going on the straight flat compared to if you don’t have them. Because remember, from our toes all to our head is an entire chain we have to move when we go on a run. We can’t just have strong hamstrings and say, oh, we’re good. It’s all we need. It’s an entire chain. You need all the pieces, especially the weak pieces to be strong so that all the energy is transferred all the way from our feet to our head to move us forward.

Now my last suggestion for running surface to check out which a lot of people don’t have, we don’t really have so much around here and that is sand. Now, sand is really terrible for going fast. You don’t have a lot of traction, you sink, all those kinds of things. But it is a good muscular exercise. You have to work very, very hard to run on sand compared to any other services because it moves. And unlike snow, which I’m running in right now, and I’m very, very tired of, you don’t have the slip factor that you have.

You just have that movement, because sand is particles underneath your foot, so it moves. But it doesn’t form into a slick sheet when it compresses. So, you get the ability to work your muscles harder and work them a little differently, kind of work on that overall power. Turnover may not be quite as high on sand compared to hard surfaces. But again, just trying to vary your surfaces is one way to enhance your training.

The thing that we like to overlook is that even if none of these things had a physical benefit, they’re going to have a mental benefit. Because when we are being consistent, something I preach about a lot on this channel, consistency. If we’re doing something too consistently, it can get boring. And when we’re bored, we don’t push as hard because we’re not stimulated.

That stimulation is kind of inspiring to us. Right? So, breaking up monotony by going to different locations, trying different surfaces, those kinds of things actually can enhance our overall well being mentally so that we’re ready to push harder on the days that we need to. And we’re not dragged down by doing the same thing over and over and over again. So, what surfaces do you enjoy that I didn’t mention? Leave them down in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.

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