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Thread: Soft Running Surfaces, How Much Does It Really Matter?

  1. #1

    Soft Running Surfaces, How Much Does It Really Matter?

    As a former HS runner, HS track coach and now HS parent with children running I've been around the running community for over 20 years. I've noticed my body (knees in particular) don't hold up very well running on hard surfaces (cement/asphalt). It severely limits the amount of quality miles and runs my body can handle before it breaks down. However, on grass or dirt surfaces my muscles may get sore/tired but rarely if ever do I experience injury. As a result, if I can't make it to a place where I can be primarily on soft surfaces I'll prefer to run in circles (half mile loop) at a local park instead of heading out to the roads. It may get boring but at least it limits injury. I've seen the same thing occur in HS runners, but the subject seems to be taboo for HS coaches to discuss.

    What are your thoughts on running on hard surfaces vs. soft surfaces? What have been your experiences?

  2. #2
    There is no big mystery here, soft surfaces are far more advantageous. From experience (both personal and coaching) I can site example after example. For 7 years I coached at El Toro where we were truly blessed in our training topography. Plenty of hills and miles upon miles of dirts trails all very close by. I would estimate that near 70% of my training there was on soft surfaces. I ran doubles almost daily with little to no injury, and any pains I did feel were more soft tissue damage due to overuse as opposed to impact injuries. As a whole the team seemed fairly low on impact injuries as well (stress fractures, stress reactions, etc.). For the past 3 years now however I have been at Fountain Valley high and my experience here has been completely different. I've had more injured time than running healthy time since I've been here. We've had numerous injuries on all levels (far more than I've ever experienced elsewhere) and I only have the streets of Fountain Valley to blame. There are a few scattered patches of grass but nothing that inspires one to run. The difficulty is that these are still high school kids who want to have fun, not professional or even college runners. Running in the same dull place will help prevent injury but team attrition might be the ultimate price paid. Not all schools are equally privileged, I would love to have the dirt trails of Vista Murrieta but I'm sure they would love to have our daily temperatures. Everybody just has to make the best of their situations. If you are fortunate enough to have soft training surfaces at your disposal though I would highly recommend using them to the utmost.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Bay Area
    This is my 5th year coaching the high school team. My first three years, we used to van as much as we could to trails to avoid running on the roads. While it was great to run on those surfaces, it really put a strain on our practice time as half of our practices was getting to and from those trails. The past two years, we have used what we have around our school and that's worked out fine and given us extra time to do more than just run during practice. I try to do our warm-up exercises on soft surfaces and meet with kids at trails when we have non-school days. You just have to be creative and make what you have around you work.

    The obvious key is the kids need to run during the summer. The kids that struggle with injuries (trails or not) are usually the ones that come into the season starting from scratch.

  4. #4
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Boyle Heights/East L.A.
    In Boyle Heights where our school is located (one block East of the 6th street bridge near downtown LA), we have nothing but sidewalk within a 6 mile radius. Trying to run 60-80 miles a week through this would be disastrous in regards to impact injuries. We have a turf football/soccer field (no track) that is 5 laps to a mile and we do ALL of our warm-up, recovery runs, and strides on it, barefoot. We have access to one van which we get to use once a week, and I get the guys out to a dirt trail for their tempos. We meet on Saturdays at different trails for long runs.

    When I first took over 3 years ago, we did all of our runs (with a young team, about 35-50 miles a week) on the streets, and I had many injury problems. Once I began using the field for our recovery runs, etc. (now 30-40% of our mileage) we now run practically injury free, with a few of my guys averaging 85 miles a week throughout the season. In the beginning my team hated running on the field (ridiculously boring), but now prefer it because they feel the difference in their legs during hard workouts the following day.

    Personally, at 39 years old, I CANNOT run doubles unless at least one run is on a soft surface. If I am able to run both runs on soft surfaces, I feel great. If I'm forced into two runs on the road in a day, my body will be absolutely shot the next day. The difference is night and day.
    Salesian (SS)
    Boyle Heights Distance Project
    "By Endurance We Conquer"

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