Best Running Surfaces: Pros, Cons, and Tips for Every Runner

Running is a versatile and accessible exercise for people of all fitness levels. Here in Knoxville, we have a large variety of options when it comes to running terrain.  Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or a casual runner, the surface you choose to run on can significantly impact your training experience. This blog post will explore the pros and cons of different running surfaces, ranging from the familiar pavement to the softer trails and everything in between.





Consistency: Pavement offers a consistent and stable surface, making it ideal for speed training and monitoring progress.

Accessibility: Easily accessible in urban areas, allowing for convenient and regular training sessions.

Variety of Routes: Urban environments provide many options, keeping runs interesting and engaging. Knoxvillians, check out our awesome greenway system with over 112 miles of paved and soft surface trails. Our Quest Health & Performance office backs up to the Bearden Village-Sutherland greenway, so we love the run-ability from here!




Impact: The hard surface may lead to increased impact on your body while running.

Monotony: Regular pavement running may become monotonous, affecting motivation and enjoyment.





Cushioning: Grass provides a softer surface, reducing impact on the body while running.

Varied Terrain: Running on grass engages different muscle groups and challenges balance due to its uneven nature.

Natural Beauty: Enjoying the outdoors in parks or fields enhances the overall running experience.




Maintenance: Uneven terrain can pose a tripping hazard, requiring increased attention during runs.

Weather Dependency: Wet or muddy conditions can make grass slippery and less enjoyable.





Scenic Routes: Trail running offers stunning natural scenery, making it a visually rewarding experience.

Low Impact: Softer surfaces reduce the impact on the body.

Variable Terrain: Trails often include uphill and downhill sections, providing a more varied and challenging workout.

If you’re in the Knoxville area, check out the numerous trail-running options at the Urban Wilderness

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Technical Challenges: Uneven terrain and obstacles may require increased focus and agility.

Limited Accessibility: Trails may not be as accessible as urban areas, requiring additional travel time.





Controlled Environment: Treadmills offer a controlled and predictable environment, ideal for specific training goals.

Shock Absorption: Most treadmills have built-in shock absorption, thus reducing the impact on joints.

Weather-Independent: Treadmills allow for consistent training regardless of outdoor weather conditions.




Monotony: Aka the “dreadmill”, some runners find treadmill running monotonous and less enjoyable.

Lack of Variation: Treadmills lack the variety of natural outdoor terrains.


The choice of running surface ultimately depends on individual preferences, fitness goals, and the availability of suitable environments. In Knoxville, we have a wide-ranging variety of options for running surfaces that can be explored. If you’re struggling with aches and pains while running, changing up your surfaces may help. It will change up the muscles used during your runs. However, if you’ve tried changing up your running surfaces and only get temporary pain relief, reach out to our running-specific physical therapists here at Quest to help solve the issue so you can run to your full potential. A well-rounded training program may include a mix of surfaces to reap the benefits while minimizing potential drawbacks. Whether pounding the pavement, navigating trails, or enjoying the softer touch of grass, runners can tailor their training experience to enhance overall fitness and well-being.

Dr. Matt Fansler, PT, DPT, OCS
We help endurance athletes (from beginners to pros) train and cross the finish line faster and injury-free!


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