Running on a paved or unpaved surface?

Rob veer
Rob Veer Vrijdag, 2 oktober 2015
Running on a paved or unpaved surface?

Variation during running is both fun and good for your body. Alternate fast and short with long and easy. But also make sure you regularly choose a different route and surface type. When doing so, keep the advice of trainer Rob Veer mind, however: "Proceed with caution and introduce changes gradually and incrementally.

Some runners tick away all their kilometres on asphalt, concrete or pavement. Others are horrified by the thought; they swear by unpaved roads in natural areas. While everyone has their own preference, sticking to the same route all the time is not a good idea. For example, it makes running rather boring, which makes you more likely to skip a week. Or worse: stop running entirely. Always following the same route can also put your body out of balance, leading to injuries.

Benefits of alternating

Changing routes and surfaces is good for the development of your motor skills. Moreover, you are less vulnerable when you regularly run on a different surface. If you then unexpectedly find yourself on a different path than you are used to, it won’t be a problem. Your body also becomes stronger when you vary your training stimuli, such as when running on a different surface. Your body constantly adapts to the type and irregularities of the surface you run on. Your posture, centre of gravity and balance change and so does the functioning of your muscles. This is because our body works like a spring system – after taking just one step on a different type of surface, it adapts in terms of leg stiffness and balance to accommodate the change.

Alternating and reversing your route

When you’re running in the woods it’s easy to vary between the ample soft and hard surfaces. Take a hill now and then, and accelerate upwards if you can. Another easy way to break your routine is to run your regular route in reverse every other week. Small variations make a big difference. When training for a longer distance, it is smart to go even further in doing so, because new routines also make you mentally stronger. If you are running a race, for example, you will not be discouraged by an unfamiliar course.

Many runners vary in this way: long endurance runs on the paved road and at the weekend a trail or at least an unpaved path in a nature area. You can also run fast intervals on the athletics track and perhaps even have an occasional run on the treadmill at the gym. General advice from Rob Veer when training for a competition: “First of all, train on the surface on which you are running the race, and then vary it by adding other training sessions on a different surface.”


A sandy forest path or a strip of black asphalt along a canal? As a runner, you don’t always have a choice when it comes to the surface your training on. Does it matter? “Yes, it matters a little. Things tend to go wrong when you change the surface too quickly”, Rob explains. “If you build up the training load very gradually, your body has enough time to adapt to each surface. But in some transitions and situations it is ‘code orange’”, the experienced trainer says. Use caution in the following situations:

  • From unpaved to the athletics track
    You train on dirt tracks in the summer. In winter, you work out two times a week on the synthetic athletic track.
    Risk: Increased risk of problems with the shins (shin splints) and Achilles tendons.
  • From unpaved to asphalt
    You have done all your long endurance runs on dirt tracks in preparation for a marathon. The marathon course is 42.195 km of asphalt.
    Risk: You may experience severe calf and thigh pain, and possibly even cramp, early in the race.
  • From road to trails and mountains
    You have run a number of half and full marathons and now you want to focus on trail and mountain running.
    Risk: You have an increased risk of sprained ankles, knee, back and hip strain, and injuries from falls.
  • Convex roads
    A final thing to watch out for is “convex roads” – roads or paths that slant on both sides down towards the gutter. They force you to use an asymmetrical gait pattern, which in the long run can saddle you with annoying strain injuries.
Rob Veer
Geschreven door

Rob Veer

Rob gaf als 16-jarige zijn eerste hardlooptraining en doorliep alle relevante trainerscursussen van de Atletiekunie. Hij begeleidt hardlopers en triatleten via, van absolute beginner tot internationaal topniveau. Rob Veer is één van onze experts en bij hem kun je terecht met al je vragen over training.