When running, I spend approximately 99% of my time pounding the pavement. I enjoy running through neighborhoods, running on country roads, and running on the levee system in Ottumwa. However, every once in a while it is good to mix up the terrain I run on.
Adding in different terrains to run on has many benefits including: changing the scenery, preventing boredom, lessening the impact, and increasing your effort while running.
Running one to two times per week on grass, sand, trails, or even in the pool reduces the impact that cement and asphalt cause, which minimizes injury risk. Pushing off on softer surfaces engages and strengthens more muscles, which can translate into faster times on the road.
The trails I am referring to are wooded trails or “natural” trails. Running on trails is great for strengthening leg muscles and increasing strength. Most trails are covered in branches, rocks, and tree roots. Trails are often uneven and include declines and inclines. All of these elements help to strengthen your leg and ankle muscles and make you focus more on each step. If your running trail has hills, take advantage of them! Running hills has so many benefits, and combined with the benefits of trail running is even better! Remember when you are running hills to learn forward slightly at your ankle and take shorter strides.
Grass is soft. Plain and simple, grass greatly reduces the impact on joints while running. However, as I’ve said in previous posts- running is not harmful to our body (people just think it is). However, sometimes it is nice to soften the impact especially if you are suffering from an injury or sore knee. Running on grass can provide a lot of the same benefits as trail running in regards to the uneven surface. When running on grass, pay attention to the ground and make sure you are aware of the changes in surface (holes!). The last thing you want to do is twist an ankle. The best place to run on grass would actually be at a track, as the grass inside the track is flat (usually used for football) or finding a soccer field.
I love running on gravel. Whenever I visit my parents I always run on a gravel trail right by their house. To me, gravel is the best of both worlds. It provides the softer terrain of grass and trail running, but the continuity of cement and asphalt. I also love the sound of running on gravel. Odd I know.
I do not personally enjoy running on sand, as it is so uneven. However, many people enjoy running on sand, especially along the ocean. I prefer to just walk along the ocean. Sand is extremely uneven and can help to increase ankle and leg strength. With that being said, do not run on sand if you have an injury or weak knees.
Water running is fantastic! There is little to no impact, yet you are still getting a full workout. Water running can be implemented into any training plan, and is especially great for runners overcoming an injury. Running in the water is much tougher, as water is much thicker than air. Your legs are constantly working (even when “airborne”) so the workout is great.