Milwaukee Edition

Ground Rules for Runners

A Guide for Running on All Terrains

Many fitness-seekers run because it’s so simple and adaptable. Running can be done in groups, pairs or alone, with little equipment, skill or planning needed. Anyone can run virtually anytime, anywhere—an indoor treadmill, scenic trail, beach or sidewalk. But all surfaces are not created equal. Recently, opponents of running on hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt claim they are more apt to cause injuries or pain than dirt or grass.

According to body-movement researcher Daniel Ferris, Ph.D., director of the Human Neuromechanics Laboratory at the University of Michigan’s School of Kinesiology, no evidence currently supports the theory that running on harder surfaces leads to more injuries. “However, we see a difference in the injury types,” he reports, noting that it’s likely related to differences in how people strike their feet on different surfaces, thus delivering a different stress load to the rest of the body. Running on hard surfaces is more often correlated with issues like plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendon injuries; softer surfaces are more often linked with soft-tissue injuries such as knee problems.

According to Michael Sandler, a running coach and author who has developed a variety of helpful resources on mindful running (, being present is paramount to safer running on varied surfaces. “Enjoy music while running, but you have to be tuned in to your surroundings, too,” says Sandler, currently based near New York City. “Sometimes runners get injured when changing footwear or surfaces without being aware of how that affects their running. You’re more likely to move faster on cement, than on grass; each surface dictates a different stride.”

Some softer surfaces such as grass, trails and sand tend to be more uneven, which can lead to trips, falls and related injuries and require more exertion. In a recent University of Michigan study, walkers expended up to 25 percent more energy on an uneven surface than on a smooth one, while runners experienced no difference in exertion levels. This benefits those that may be walking for weight loss, accelerating calorie burn.

Helpful Change-Ups

Ferris recommends that runners and walkers mix up terrains to recruit different muscle groups and make them work in new ways. As a result, a strong inland runner may struggle to complete a run on a beach, which draws more upon the calf muscles. Whether it’s a change of surface or training shoe, Ferris cautions to ease into it, rather than making an abrupt shift.

We are like water flowing downstream: Water moves differently when interacting with rock and sand. If we’re present when running on different surfaces, we can move more effortlessly and float along with the surface,rather than fight with it.
~Michael Sandler

Gail Fuller, a 10-time marathoner and certified running coach in Silver Spring, Maryland, believes that variety is the spice of running. “I love to switch it up; I get bored easily. I’ll run on trails one day, tracks the next,” says Fuller, an asthmatic who took up running 13 years ago to mitigate its effects.

Fuller encourages new runners, even those with preexisting conditions, to consider different types of runs. “I recently coached a woman working toward her first 5K in Baltimore. She said she had bad knees and only felt comfortable running on a treadmill,” relates Fuller. “We’ve slowly worked in trail runs and hill work to the point where she now enjoys training on hills to get strong for a race.”

However, Fuller ultimately tells runners to follow their body’s intuition regarding training. “I dislike treadmills, so I don’t use them. If you don’t like something, even if another seasoned runner recommends it, don’t do it,” she counsels, recalling her own unhappy event runs on Venice Beach sand and a New Jersey boardwalk. “Your body will tell you what it needs.”

Being conscious of the mind-body connection can deepen the benefits of running and other workouts—mentally, physically and spiritually—according to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, worldwide leader of the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, nine-time marathoner and author of Running with the Mind of Meditation. “Instead of spacing out [during] exercise, say, ‘I’m going to be present and relate to my breathing and movement’,” he counsels. “That’s healthy for the mind and the body.”

Whatever’s beneath their feet, mindful runners can discover the joys of physical and mental synchronization.

Connect with freelance writer April Thompson, of Washington, D.C., at

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

A Local Author’s Journey of Healing From Grief

Wauwatosa author Mary Lou Bailey tells the tale of how she gained strength after a loss in her book, I Am My Own Rug, released this past November through Broken Wing Press.

White Conch Dharma Center Presents Tonglen Meditation Workshop

Domo Geshe Rinpoche, Buddhist Lama of the Tibetan tradition, will teach Taking Suffering into the Heart of Compassion–Tonglen Half-Day Workshop, from 2 to 5 p.m. March 10, at Unity Church, in Wauwatosa.

Sample the Area’s Best Chili While Supporting Independent Radio

WMSE 91.7 FM radio, a nonprofit, listener-supported radio service educationally licensed to the Milwaukee School of Engineering, will hold its 16th annual Rockabilly Chili Fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., March 11, at MSOE’s Kern Center.

Local Farmer Open House Educates on Farm-to-Table Agriculture

Few things are as delicious as locally grown farm-fresh food, and subscribing to a community-supported agriculture program brings that food directly from a local farmer to the table.

Drink a Little, Help a Lot Fundraiser to Help Children in Malawi

Milwaukeeans will have an opportunity to help support construction of a new school in the eastern African nation of Malawi through the Drink a Little, Help a Lot fundraiser, hosted by Milwaukee area residents Niyati Desai and Claire Lang.

Rise Yoga Studio Off ers Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga for All Abilities

Paula Evans offers a flowing style of yoga that connects the movement of the body with the breath. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Sri T. Krishnamacharya developed Ashtanga during the 20th century.

Letter from Publisher

Today Milwaukee has a diverse, sophisticated palate that includes vegetarian and vegan restaurants and a range of international cuisines that were difficult to find in the area a decade ago.

Outpost Natural Foods

Now over 22,000 owners strong, Outpost is a testament to society’s shift toward healthy food awareness.

Leafy Greens Lower Risk for Heart Disease

Teenagers that eat few leafy greens are at triple the risk for enlargement of the heart’s left ventricle, reducing blood pumping volumes, than teens that eat greens.

Physical Activity Deters Alzheimer's

Walking, dancing, gardening and other physical activities significantly improve brain volume and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Gooseberries are Good for the Gut

Malaysian subjects with gastrointestinal problems had less pain, vomiting and sleep loss when receiving an ayurvedic remedy known as Indian gooseberry.

Saunas Lower Blood Pressure

Four to seven saunas a week halved high blood pressure risk in a study of 1,621 Finnish men.

Add your comment: