Concrete is a much harder surface than asphalt or macadam.
It’s the worst commonly encountered surface that you can run on and should be avoided like the plague. To compare the
“hardness” of concrete and asphalt, hit each surface with a hammer and see how it feels to your hand and arm.
You will find quite a difference. You will leave a dent in the asphalt, but not in the concrete.
When running, your feet strike the surface with a force
of up to 6 times your body weight. And unless you land dead midfoot all that force is concentrated on a very small landing
surface. For a typical heel striker, it’s maybe a square inch or two. Let’s assume that a person who weighs 120 pounds lands at 5 times body weight with a heel strike
that covers two square inches. That’s equivalent to an initial strike force of 300 pounds/sq in (equivalent to 3600
pounds/sq ft) upon contact. If asphalt is really 10 times “softer” than concrete, as the study that Bill mentioned
said, that would make a big difference in initial energy dissipation vs that which shoes, normal pronation and body structure
have to absorb. (BTW, that’s also the problem with a non-overpronator using stability or motion control shoes. They
unnecessarily restrict normal pronation, which is a natural shock absorption biomechanic, and result in an increase in the
force that the body’s skeleton and joints have to dissipate.)
I can tell a very distinct difference in how running
on concrete feels compared to asphalt. There are a couple of wide concrete sidewalks that I cross during an 8 mile run on
the B&A Trail. I really know it when I cross over them. I would not want to run a marathon that is mostly on concrete.
I don’t even like to run 10k’s on concrete.
Actually, there are a few other surfaces that are even
harder than concrete, such as brick, stone and steel. Fortunately, they are seldom encountered when running. I’ve always
thought the people who run regularly on the brick waterfront promenade in Baltimore’s Inner Harbour were being foolish. And steel is a surface that is usually encountered only
when running on the deck of a ship…..like a few hardcore marathoners did in the 2001 Antarctica Marathon when weather
conditions prohibited running on the snow and ice.
The state of Georgia
announced plans to build a concrete walking/running trail a year or so ago in the Atlanta
area. A Mervite who is a very good runner (Emorydoc) led an effort to try to get them to construct it of asphalt or macadam
instead of concrete, but a construction company that does a lot of business with the state “donated” the concrete.
So the state chose to go the cheap route instead of considering what was best for the intended purpose.
If most of your running is on concrete, I would put
that at or near the top of the list of suspects for recurring injuries. You would be much better off running on grass or dirt
alongside the concrete, if you have that option.
NOTE: This article merely makes the case that asphalt
is easier on your joints than concrete (When given the choice between a concrete and asphalt path or trail). HOWEVER, everyone
is advised to be extremely careful when running on ANY surface. It is NOT advised that you run on streets and other thoroughfares
because of the obvious danger caused by passing cars, traffic, etc. Always err on the side of caution.