Types of Tracks
Whether you run competitively or recreationally, the type of surface you run on can impact your speed, your technique, and even your physical health. While a comfortable surface can improve your running experience, a hard surface can wear down your body over time, particularly your joints. You may even feel it as you practice. That said, no two runners are alike and each may prefer a different surface. Each has its own advantages.
A synthetic track surface is durable, weather-resistant, and reliable. The spongy texture of synthetic athletic surfaces provides good shock absorption and a stable tread. Because synthetic tracks are an independent system from their environments, they will not erode over time and can be maintained with minimal effort. This translates into even surfaces without surprises. Because of the material and construction, athletes can use the track even during drizzly weather without having to worry about getting caught in the mud. Synthetic tracks are also well-suited for indoor or stadium fields.
Grass and Turf
Running through fields of grass is easy on your joints because the turf provides a nice cushion and the dirt beneath is kept from being too tightly packed by the roots of the grass. You may even be able to run barefoot if the field is well-maintained. However, on rainy days, the grass can be dangerously slippery or suck your shoes into mud. It is also hard to find a good stretch of grass without dips or holes, which can be a hazard if you stumble into one accidentally.
Dirt tracks are a mixed bag. In ideal conditions, they should provide decent shock absorption (although not as much as turf) for an easy run. Most traditional cross-country tracks will be dirt and offer scenic trails. On hot days, though, the dirt can dry out and become as hard as asphalt from dense packing. A loose surface layer may also create a slippery tread for runners. As with other natural surfaces, dirt tracks may be pitted with dips and potholes from animal activity and the forces of erosion. If a dirt track isn’t routinely maintained, you may see it return to nature in a short amount of time.
Asphalt is harsher on your joints than (generally) dirt and turf surfaces because it offers a harder surface, but this property also allows you to break out with faster run times. Another down side, though, is that on sunny or hot days, the asphalt will seem to radiate the ambient heat onto you as you run. If you run on this surface, which some city dwellers are limited to, make sure that you are hydrated and have well-cushioned and supportive running shoes.
Note: Concrete surfaces are significantly harder than asphalt ones and are not suited for intense training.