Most folks run from their homes, which are located downtown or in suburbia. Either way, unless you choose to drive to a nearby trailhead most runners have to choose between running on the sidewalk or the road. Which is better?
Running is a Contact Sport
The impact force can be upwards of 5 times one’s own body weight. Several running injuries are a result of the high-impact nature of running. Numerous health care professionals cite improper warm-up, poor running form, and lack of strength for these injuries. While these certainly play a role in avoiding running injuries, running surface is often over-looked.
Interestingly, a study conducted at Harvard, found “There is ESSENTIALLY NO IMPACT TRANSIENT in a forefoot strike. The same is true of some (but not all) midfoot strikes. We have found that even on hard surfaces (a steel force plate) runners who forefoot strike have impact forces that are 7 times lower than shod runners who heel strike.”
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This is usually the surface that most road races are run on. To say that the majority of your mileage should be run on soft surfaces such as dirt and grass is not way off, nevertheless, a certain amount of running must be done on the road to ensure your body can handle the stress it will encounter on race day.
Sidewalk (concrete) Material
The sidewalk is typically composed of concrete, which is said to be upwards of 10 times harder than asphalt. In short, avoid sidewalks as much as possible but be careful when running on the road.
The In Between
Some folks say they feel confined to the sidewalk because it is too dangerous to run against traffic on the road. Fair enough. Try running on the grass between the road and the sidewalk. Chances are you will be switching surfaces every 20 feet due to driveways, but this can make your run more fun, challenging, and easier on your body.
Are You a Minimalist Junkie?
If you are one of the thousands of people who have recently taken up ‘barefoot’ running, you may be at greater risk for injury. People often ask if I recommend the Vibram FiveFingers for their daily training runs and workouts. I typically respond with a brash answer such as, “they are a great shoe if you’re 5’10, weigh 120 pounds, and are biomechanically flawless” (aka: Kenyan). There is a reason you have not seen any elite marathoners sporting these shoes. All that being said, the Vibram FiveFingers can be a great tool at the right time and place.
With regards to place, I would suggest wearing minimalist footwear on a run that will be completed on the trails, grass, or better yet turf.
About the Author: Brandon Laan is a runner, coach, and entrepreneur. He spent his undergraduate days at The University of Western Ontario where he captained the Cross Country Team before fleeing to Hawaii Pacific University for graduate school. He is a Level II Certified USATF coach and holds personal bests of 1:06 and 2:21 in the Half Marathon and Marathon respectively. He also enjoys running to eat, not eating to run…and always will.