Monday 19 February 2018

Catherina McKiernan: 'Variety is key when running'

Catherina McKiernan
Catherina McKiernan

Catherina McKiernan

When I was growing up I used to run around the fields on the family farm in my bare feet. It is a fabulous feeling to run freely and feel the ground underneath you. Grass is my favourite surface to run on and I continue to do most of my running on grass or trails.

For all my marathon training I did 90pc of my running on grass. People often say that if you are racing on the road you should do the majority of your running on the road but I believe that parks, golf courses and football pitches provide the purest and most natural surface for running.

While grass is soft and easy on the legs in terms of impact, it actually makes your muscles work hard. This builds strength and means you will notice the difference when you run on the road. If you can find a flat, even stretch of grass it can provide an excellent speed work surface.

It can help to vary where you run and the different surfaces – but remember each has its own advantages and drawbacks


A wood chip trail through a huge forest is the ultimate distance runner's treat. Years ago in Finland I went for a 'little' run two days before a race in a beautiful forest adjacent to my hotel. I enjoyed it so much that I lost sight of where I was going. Because it was so close to race day, I didn't want to run for too long but I got lost. Two hours later I got back to the hotel!


Many people run on the road as it is the most convenient to their home. It's also easy to measure distances and it's simple to keep up a steady rhythm. However, it's important not to run on the camber which is the unevenness on the side of the road. This can result in tightening along the outside of the thigh which results in friction at the side of the knee which is called ITB syndrome.


If you are running at a beach you get the sea breeze and surroundings as a bonus. Flat, firm sand can be a near perfect running surface. Avoid running on soft sand, which although great for building leg strength, results in a higher risk of Achilles tendon injuries. Also though the sand is firmer at the water's edge, the tilt of the surface puts uneven stresses on the body. It is probably best to limit runs on the sand to shorter distances.


This delivers the most shock of any running surface to a runner's legs. Try to avoid running on it as much as possible or you will pick up injuries.


While most people think these are surfaces for fast runners, these tracks are more versatile than that. Being exactly 400m makes measuring distances and timing sessions easy. With two long curves on every lap, ankles, knees and hips are put under more stress that usual. Longer runs also become tedious.


These are much easier on the legs than roads. I did a lot of my fast speed sessions on a cinder track. If cinder tracks are well kept they are one of the most comfortable surfaces to run on.

Overall, you might ask: "Is there one best surface to run on?' That's the million dollar question. Like everything in life, I believe that variety is the key.

Twitter: @cat_mckiernan


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