Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Should You Run On Grass Or On The Road?

After my 3 knee operations, I was paranoid about running on any other other surface other than grass. Virtually all my run training was done on grass. Yes, you read correctly, even when it meant I had to do multiple rounds/ loops around any field I could find. Some of you reading this could probably recall seeing me going round and round the patch of grass while I was running. I thought that running on grass and its softer surface will be more gentle on my joints.

And I guess I wasn't alone thinking like this. I'm sure many of you runners out there would have met some runners, coaches etc who will swear that grass and soft running surfaces are much better. So here's a topic most runners will be keen to know. Is running on grass better than running on the road. I saw an article on this topic by some Australian researchers last week. Please read on if you wanna know more.

The runners studied did 2 runs, a 10km run at 75-80% V02 max and a 10 x 1km interval session at 90-95% V02 max. The 2 runs were done on both grass and a bitumen road surface (road). The researchers measured blood & urine samples collected before, immediately after and at 3 and 24 hours after exercise.

Here's what the researchers found. There was no difference between road & grass in terms of leg inflammation and other effects measured (if you wanna know, they measured IL-6, hemoglobin & haptoglobin levels, iron and ferritin to analyze hemolysis and hepcidin).

Hard interval training on the other hand produced more inflammation than lower intensity training.

So now you know, running surface doesn't really matter. Just run, remember you can, with pain free running.


Peeling P, Dawson B et al (2009). Training Surface and Intensity: Inflammation, Hemolysis, And Hepicidin Expression. J of Med Sci Sports Ex. 41(5) : 1138-45.

*Picture from Flickr


  1. Thanks. I will still do most of my training around the grass, but not because the amount of literature about on road running has made me phobic of other surfaces.
    I am young, but old enough so that all my joints have fully developed. I run around a grass field x 25 for most sessions. It is incredibly tedious. I have found more foot and ankle related soreness than shin splints/knees. This is probably related to more 'minimal' footwear but also the fact the grass fields have problems of themselves. Trails and grass fields are by no means perfect, the surface integrity of them can be downright dangerous, unless they are meticulously maintained (which the majority available to the public are not) they will have divots, weed patches, mud/dirt areas etc. All which can lead to foot/ankle stress or injury just as much as running on a hard surface of concrete or tarmac can lead to shin splints and other muscle inflammation (or so until studies have proven that isn't necessarily the case more than grass)
    From my years of running I'm inclined to believe that it is more about the incline of the surfaces. It doesn't matter whether it is grass or road, if you are banging down your feet at high velocity going down a hill or placing a heavy load on your body going up a hill continuously than that uneven intense exercise is more likely to cause stress problems. Hill work is important but if your runs involve hill after hill after hill then unless you are going to be pursuing mountain running your gait will be altered (most likely from you leaning forward going up hills all the time) your stride will become inefficient and flat track rhythm interrupted. Unfortunately I live near the coast and that means I encounter six major hills on my 12 km road run (as it is out and back not point to point it doubles to 12.)
    As a consequence of that (and reading the fear-inducing literature on evil roads) I have limited myself to the tedium of running the perimeter of an old community football field over and over. Remember surface is only one factor (and with running according to what those researchers found barely make a lick of difference) footwear is important to protect your feet as well as the taking into account the inclines/declines of the courses you run. The great myth out there is that running on grass surfaces can protect you from stress fractures, of course it can't! What can protect you is running sensibly, that means not placing a disruptive uneven load on your legs (having most training sessions going up multiple hills is not advantageous. one specialised hill session a week max is suffice for strength for most high mileage AM/PM session runners.)

    I can't say roads have never killed anybody (of course they have) but they don't deserve the reputation that they have been given as 'evil', equally a misnomer is grass as the saintly havens for runners. Both can cause injuries, it is for the runner to use their head (and their legs) 'listen' to their body and have some common sense. A balanced routine would include a mix of road and grass (probably weighted in favour of grass fields especially if you live in hilly, coastal areas)

  2. Hey! Do you use actively online social communities?