If you run a poll among long-time runners, concrete surfaces will usually emerge as the least preferred terrain to run on. Estimated to be 10 times harder than asphalt surfaces and of course grass, concrete roads and pavements are infamous for causing injuries, though studies in the field are not conclusive. What is certain, however, that concrete surfaces can tend to send more shocks up your body with each stride, and improper running form and technique can greatly increase your chance of injuries. At the same time, most city dwellers who don’t like treadmill running have little choice but to fall back on concrete pavements for their training, and several big-city marathons feature long stretches of concrete as a part of the route.
While the largely flat and unvarying character of concrete can contribute to faster times, training for these races can be challenging, and one needs to ensure they are preparing for the surface, as well, as the distance. Here are a few ways to ensure that you get the best out of your training while running on particularly hard surfaces, while remaining injury free.
Wear the right shoes
Your feet are going to need all the protection they can get while pounding a concrete pavement, so go with a pair that is flexible, has all-round cushioning and absorbs shocks effectively. This is especially important for those unused to running on such surfaces. Stick to shoes that are designed for road running – these come with a thinner tread and extra cushioning to support the impact of running on hard surfaces. It’s also important to replace your shoes once the elasticity starts wearing off – this will happen every 800-900 km – to ensure that your feet remain protected at all times. Once your feet are accustomed to running on hard concrete, you may switch to racing flats for faster times.
Train as per the race
There’s no getting around training in concrete if the better part of the race you’re preparing for is on a similar surface. Just like you must train the distance you’re aiming to finish, similarly, it pays to workout in conditions that are as close to race day as possible. As you inch closer to the date, increase your hours on concrete and make it a part of your training at least 2-3 times a week, and include concrete or hard surfaces during your long runs. Even as you taper in the days before the race, ensure you are getting enough mileage on concrete.
Warm up strong
Warming up is particularly important while training on hard surfaces to get your muscles and joints used to the impact that will follow. Pursue a routine of knee-to-chest workouts, ankle rotations and dynamic stretches, followed by aerobic routines like spot jogging to increase your heart rate and loosen up your muscles. You’ll feel the impact after the first few practice sessions, but your body will eventually get used to the surface and respond to your training. Recovery after concrete runs is equally important to be in shape for your next session. Foam rollers, ice baths and gentle yoga poses can go a long way in easing the stress on your muscles after such training. Your joints and muscles need time to recover from the pounding they receive, so never over-train on hard surfaces.
Perfect your form
It helps to remember that concrete by itself does not cause injuries; poor running form on the surface does. Improper technique coupled with the hard surface can make you vulnerable to shin splints and stress fractures. Pay particular attention to how your foot lands in every stride, and train yourself to avoid forceful landings or over striding, which leads to buckling of your knees. Keep your strides short and try to evenly distribute your landing weight on the forefoot and ball of the foot, this minimizing the impact on your heels. Similarly, maintain proper running posture; stand tall and lean forward without bending at the hips, and use gravity to ‘pull’ yourself forward along the course.