For as long as treadmills have been around, runners have wondered if running on a treadmill can really replace running outside on the road. Some have even gone so far as to say that treadmill running is actually better for your training. Well, like everything else in the world, the real answer is…It depends. This winter our house became the proud owner of a new treadmill and having never owned one before I was unsure how I would find it. I will put my bias right at the top here, I may never train outside again.
When it comes to running, both treadmills and road running have their advantages and disadvantages. A treadmill offers a controlled environment, allowing for more accurate pacing and comfort. It’s also more convenient as you can run indoors regardless of the weather. However, some will say it can be harder to stay motivated as the scenery doesn’t change and yet can feel very repetitive. For me, I don’t mind the repetitive nature of the treadmill, in fact, I sort of embrace the boredom. I love the idea of knowing that I will be able to get my workout in and hit my target metrics without having to worry about weather or terrain changes. I also run early in the morning and it took a lot of motivation to get all bundled up and get lights on, and even with all that some days running didn’t feel as safe as I’d liked.
If you chose to run on a treadmill some easy advice, make sure you have a fan on you, without the air moving by you like running outside your body won’t cool itself the same way, so for me, a good fan (or 3) is a must. Also, I like to keep the incline at .5% as a minimum, some will say a 1% incline more closely mimics outside running, but for me, .5% is enough.
On the other hand, road running offers the chance to explore new places, take in the scenery, and enjoy the environment. It also allows you to practice running in different terrains, such as hills and trails. However, running outdoors can be more challenging as you have to deal with weather, terrain, and the possibility of running into traffic. While being outside doesn’t give the advantage of the machine setting the pace, it does help you learn to pace yourself, which if you plan to race is an important skill. Since the terrain will change with each step outside this can slightly decrease the repetitive nature of running. It can also be important to remember that if you are training for a race, that race will most likely happen regardless of the weather, so having a little experience running in less-than-ideal conditions can be important for your performance come race day.
While I’m 100% converted to a treadmill runner in the winter, I expect the spring to change my behavior. I know that I will love having my trusty treadmill to fall back on if the weather isn’t ideal for running outside. For me, a person who lives and trains on a very strict schedule, the treadmill has been a game changer in my training.