Which Is Harder to Run On? Concrete vs. Asphalt for Runners

Posted: May 27, 2015

I recently came across an article posted on Facebook from a fellow Charlotte triathlete about concrete vs. asphalt paving surfaces for runners. This article piqued my interest for a couple of reasons:

  1. I am an avid runner and just started into triathlons a couple of years ago. 
  2. The article's author, an accomplished professional triathlete and PhD in organic chemistry, discusses concrete vs. asphalt surfaces for runners, which occasionally comes up as a discussion topic during design meetings over a proposed boardwalk or pedestrian bridge site structure.

In the months following Hurricane Sandy, many large commercial boardwalks were undergoing redecking or complete reconstruction efforts to repair the damage caused by the storm surge and high winds. Some of these commercial boardwalks (Long Beach Boardwalk, Coney Island, Rockaways Beach, etc) had been hit especially hard by the hurricane; in certain areas, large chunks of wood boardwalks were ripped up and tossed several hundred yards away. The ensuing debate over how best to rebuild these structures, between wood, concrete or composite decking (or a combination of these boardwalk materials) grew heated among city officials, local residents, tourists, engineering firms and general contractors.  

Many residents and repeat tourists who enjoyed walking and running on these large boardwalks felt that running on concrete would be strenuous on the joints, more so than a wood boardwalk, composite decking, or an asphalt surface. I wanted to present an opposing viewpoint to the commonly held belief that concrete is a bad choice for runners, as discussed in depth in this article shared by Run with Theoden.  

It's worth noting that concrete is generally the most consistent surface material, while asphalt is typically cambered. 

As a quick summary- the author Jonathan Toker, PhD, presents the scientific evidence behind surface hardness - stating that "the hardness difference between concrete and asphalt is insignificant when running in shoes, because the cushioning afforded by shoes far exceeds any cushioning provided by those surfaces." Regardless, runners will have their own personal preferences for running surfaces. 

PermaTrak's boardwalk system has an integral color and top surface texture, which can make it difficult for most people to figure out what material they're actually running or walking on. Keep in mind, PermaTrak is a reinforced, precast concrete materialI have been to multiple tradeshows with sample PermaTrak treads (precast concrete) where visitors to the booth don't believe it is concrete until they try to kick it or pick it up! 

On this same subject of asphalt vs. concrete surfaces for runners, we asked some triathletes who had just finished Leon's Triathlon at Wolf Lake, IN about running on our PermaTrak boardwalk, which was part of the race courseThese athletes were running on 5.5'' thick PermaTrak precast concrete treads. Many believed they were running on a composite decking or some type of "softer" surface. Hear what they had to say by clicking below: 


Feel free to weigh in using the comments section below. 

Topics: Boardwalk Materials