A Guide to Running Surfaces: Where Should I Run?


One of the best parts of running is the variety of places you can run. The simplicity of lacing up your running shoes and heading out to a trail, a road near where you live or work, or the local park.  There are also indoor options like a treadmill or indoor track. 

With those options in mind, here are the pros and cons of each type of running surface.


Paved surfaces are the most common places to run.  If there is a sidewalk or paved path, those are the safest options because they are designed for pedestrians.  If you are running on the shoulder of the road, there are some safety considerations to keep in mind. 

Wearing bright or reflective clothing will help you to be seen.  And facing traffic as you run will allow you to see oncoming traffic.  You’ll want to pick roads with a wide shoulder so there is plenty of room to move to the side if needed.  And stay alert to your surroundings.  

Pavement is a harder surface to run on which allows you to push off the ground harder to run faster.  But it may be a little harder on your joints.  Picking a shoe with enough cushion and following a program to increase distance gradually helps manage the extra impact.  


The size of the gravel makes a big difference in how running on this surface feels.  Small gravel can be a soft surface to run on, especially when it is a path intended for pedestrians or a gravel road. 

Larger gravel adds more challenge because the body has to work harder to stabilize.  All of the muscles of the lower leg and ankle are used a lot more running on an uneven surface compared to a flat surface.   

Dirt or Grass

Dirt and grass are arguably the softest, easiest surfaces to run on for the joints.  Either of these surfaces will absorb shock more than pavement.  The thing to watch for is obstacles that can be a tripping hazard. 

On dirt trails, you may find roots, rocks, mud, or holes along the way to watch for.  And with grass, you may have the same obstacles but they can be hidden depending on the height of the grass.     

Trail Running

There is a huge range of trail types from flat, groomed trails to technical mountain trails.  If you are running a trail race, training on trails will prepare you for race day.  

Knowing what to expect for the trail you are running is key for preparation because there is such a wide range of trail conditions. 

You may need trail shoes if the trail is more technical or specific safety equipment. On trails, you’ll find similar obstacles to dirt like roots, rocks, water, mud, downed trees, steep hills, or even animals in some locations.    

Find a Running Track

You may have a school nearby with a track that you can run on.  Some schools allow the public to use their track and some do not, so it’s best to call and ask if and when the track is open for public use. 

Track surfaces can also vary between cinder, asphalt or polyurethane.  Synthetic track surfaces like polyurethane are soft surfaces that absorb impact and cinder or asphalt are harder surfaces.  

Treadmill Running

If you have access to a treadmill, it is very convenient to be able to run anytime you want, no matter the weather outside.  Most treadmills are cushioned, so it is easier on the joints than running on pavement.  It can also be safer without traffic or tripping hazards to navigate.  And it allows you to control your pace a little easier than running outside. 

The downside of a treadmill is that most people find it boring compared to being outside.  And there is little variation in how your foot hits the ground or side to side movement which you do get running outside.  

As you are starting out, it’s great to try out different places to run and see what you like.  That will help you find what works best for you and to stay consistent with your training. 

If you are training for a race, it’s always a good idea to train on a similar surface to the race.  But you can add in some other surfaces based on your needs and wants.  And as you try out some new places, you may discover another side to running that you love! 


Running is an excellent way to improve your overall health and well-being. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic diseases, and boost your mood and energy levels.

Whether you prefer running on a treadmill at the gym, exploring a local park or trail, or hitting the pavement in your neighborhood, there are plenty of options available to suit your preferences and needs. By making running a regular part of your fitness routine, you can enjoy all of these benefits and more for years to come.

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