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The Treadmill, The Outdoors, and The Flinch

I recently downloaded The Flinch onto my Kindle, and I definitely think it’s worth the quick read. It’s free, short, and although no Atlas Shrugged, it definitely gives you something to think about.  The basic idea behind the book: stop flinching, start putting yourself in those not so comfortable situations, and become a better person because of it.  Something a friend said to me earlier this week caused me to reflect on the relationship between this book, treadmill running, and outdoor running (odd, right?).  I was asking her why she didn’t want to run outside and she said that it was easier to reach her mileage goal on the treadmill than outside.  And yes, she is absolutely right, but what is more important?  Running X amount of miles or running those miles outdoors, in unpredictable conditions?

I use to do all my runs during the week on a treadmill and my long Saturday runs outdoors.  I got injured, I got bored, and I began to cower from the cold and the rain.  Somewhere along the road, I realized treadmill running was not the best thing for me.  I altered my stride too much, it gave me bad running form, and it certainly didn’t prepare me for the 40 degree pouring down rain marathon I did a few years ago.  Over the years, I have learned to embrace the hills, the cold, the heat, and the rain, not as obstacles, but as uncomfortable situations that make me a better runner.  Not to completely ignore the benefits of treadmill running (because it is a great form of exercise), but there is something about being outdoors in the cold/rain/snow/sunshine, running up hills or through trails, that can never compete with the endless running on the belt.

Thinking about this led me to spend some time researching what other runners, doctors and studies had to say about the debate.  It seems well agreed upon that any form of running is great exercise,  but outdoor running tends to produce those conditions that make us stronger, faster, and a little tougher.  Here are some things to think about:

1) Treadmill running offers no wind resistance.  Yes, it is possible to encounter calm conditions outdoors, but the reality is, you can’t control the weather.  Training with a little wind in your face is good for you.

2) When running on the treadmill, your terrain is pretty consistent.  Unless you up the incline, you’re running on a flat, smooth surface.  However, come race day, you more than likely will encounter a hill or two along with a few potholes.   Not avoiding those hills and varying your terrain  does something good for those calves and makes flat races seem like a walk in the park.

3) Running indoors is typically done in a nice climate controlled environment.  Therefore, when we stick to only treadmills, we learn to avoid all weather that isn’t ideal.   There are two issues with this.  First, few races are run indoors (could you imagine 1,000+ runners racing a marathon on a treadmill?). You should train in similar conditions to race day.  Second, how will you ever learn that the rain won’t make you melt unless you get outside and pound out a few miles in the puddles?  Bad weather won’t ruin you, it just isn’t ideal.  However, once you learn you can make it through bad weather conditions, you open your running world up to endless possibilites.

Finally (and I think this is the most important):

4) Studies have shown that when running outside, runners will run further and faster with a lower rate of perceived exertion than when running on a treadmill.  In addition, studies have demonstrated that the overall feeling of accomplishment is greater after a run outdoors versus a run indoors.

Of course, one cannot deny the many benefits a treadmill can offer when used correctly.  Just check out this great video of Kelly Gonzalez demonstrating how to incorporate intervals into a treadmill workout.  Even some Olympians do up to 80% of their training on a treadmill.  But I am willing to bet that those people possess a level concentration and determination that make their workout as challenging, if not more, as any run outdoors.

Going back to my friend’s comment and The Flinch – sure some of these things are not fun (when was the last time you were super excited to run in 15 degree weather?), but once you embrace the challenge, it’s not so bad.  You will live and you will be a better runner because of it.

Happy Trails and Happy Running,

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. I could not agree more. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get into a comfort zone without even realizing it. The treadmill example is great as it relates to running, but the same example can be applied to so many facets of life. Good read!

    February 3, 2012
    • Hank, you should definitely check out The Flinch. I think you would appreciate it. It talks a lot about how as adults, we learn to avoid uncomfortable situations, which in turn, keep us back from the things we really want in life. It’s a free download and a short book so certainly worth checking out. Have a great Friday!

      February 3, 2012
  2. I totally agree. I would brave almost any weather condition before running indoors. If I have to run indoors (for safety reasons–it gets dark so early in the winter!) I do an interval workout to keep me from getting bored. I’m interested to look into “The Flinch.” Thanks!

    February 3, 2012
  3. I used to be a mostly treadmill runner in the winter, too, and then forced myself to do my marathon training outside last year and felt much stronger for it. I still have to do some treadmill runs with a toddler but try to do the interval runs then, so at least the time passes quickly and I know I”m working hard. It’s easier this year since we just moved south… I really hate forcing myself to get out in the cold!

    February 3, 2012

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