Reader to Reader: Running Outside v. The Treadmill

What's the best way to get used to running on the roads after clocking up all your miles on a treadmill? Here are your suggestions


Posted: 6 August 2007
by Catherine Lee

Running on roads can be quite a shock to the system if you’re not used to it,as this week’s questioner has just discovered. Disappointed in his performance and struggling to see past this temporary setback, can you offer him practical training advice to help him succeed in pounding thestreets?

"I have just started running outside (with a GPS watch), whereas previously all my running was on a treadmill. I've found it so much tougher outside, it's really depressing! Either I stick to my treadmill speed and can only manage half the distance I would normally expect to do, or I run at a comfortable pace, which is about 1mph less than Iwould normally run indoors. Is this just me or do others find a big difference?" Ben Gillam

Your best answers

  • Listen to your legs not your watch
    I started off running on a treadmill and, like you, had a big shock when I started running outdoors. Having said that, once I got used to running outside I've really never looked back. It’s easier in lots of ways to ignore the GPS and run at a pace that’s comfortable. You know your legs can move at pace from the treadmill work, so you'll easily get that back outside. People might look at you oddly, but you’ll stop noticing them after a while. Now I just remember that I can do something that they evidently can't, otherwise it wouldn't be odd enough to them to stare! – Wotsit
  • Don’t be ashamed to walk if you have to
    Just stick at it and slow down. I started running five years ago and it was on a treadmill. I got up to about 20 minutes. First time outside, after two minutes, I was absolutely dying. It was so much harder! I simply slowed it right down on a two-mile run and would have a two-minute walking break halfway through. As the months went by I slowly started picking up the pace and eventually the walking breaks went. A few years on, I'm now a marathon runner and gone from a size 14 to between an 8 and a 10. So stick at it, it's worth it in the end. Oh, and by the way,you'll burn a lot more calories outside - what an incentive! – Little Lizard
  • A little fresh air can work wonders
    Find some countryside or a park (even your high street), get the soles of your trainers muddy, take the jeers and sneers from the local hoodies and indulge in the true spirit of running. England is a beautiful place, so get out there and see it rather than watching MTV or the other drivel that is on in the gym. As long as you are as consistent with your road running as you were with the treadmill, your fitness will come on leaps in a short space of time. – carl gardner
  • Use your training time to explore your local area
    If you have any interest in racing I would advise that you spend most ofyour time training outside. Save the treadmill for intervals or threshold sessions. This will allow you to simulate race conditions i.e. hills, wet, cold, uneven ground etc. and also discover what your actual pace is, rather than a treadmill pace. It may help to find a partner to run with or to join a local club. I found the latter was the best boost for my training as I found some new routes, could train all year round and got to put in a longer mid-week session. – Jason Wilson
  • Break free from your demoralised gym persona
    I hate treadmills as they always seem to be placed in front of mirrors or windows. There is nothing worse than the sight of me running, so I end up getting all upset at the reflection of me getting red, hot, and sweaty. Outside I can be the graceful gazelle I imagine I am without having the illusion shattered by a mirror! – SlowCharlotte
  • Combine the benefits of both to see all-round improvements
    I always ran on the road, then joined a gym and used the treadmill a bit. The result? It's shortened my long loping 11-minute-mile stride into a shorter nippier nine-minute-mile running style (I’m too worried aboutfalling off the back!). It’s also made me run more upright rather than looking like I'm stumbling along. Treadmills are great for doing speed sessions, but nothing can replace the fresh air endorphin rush that I get after a really good run. Mix and match, but think of them as two separate entities rather than comparing. – E :-)
  • Structure your sessions according to your goals
    • It all comes down to why you run. If it’s for fitness, it does not matter that you are slower outside, a workout is a workout. Follow a training plan and you will get faster and fitter. If you are training for a race (highly recommended, especially somewhere different to where you live and train), then you need to run outside. If you run because you love running then this is a moot point - who in their right mind wants torun on the spot breathing in stale air? As for jeering idiots, the population is getting fatter while you’re getting fitter, so think happy smug thoughts. – Wil-der-beast
  • Increasing the belt speed is the best way to mimic running outdoors
    Running on a treadmill is easier than running outside. I tend to set my treadmill to one mph faster than my outside speed to get the same as an outside workout. I personally wouldn't set an incline on your treadmill to replicate running outside as it doesn't use the leg muscles in the same way. Although that's good for all-round toning, if you clock uploads of miles on the treadmill it'll build up your calves in the wrong places. – CraigB
  • Let the treadmill dictate your pace
    I'm convinced that treadmill running is harder. Over the past year, I've ended up having to do a lot of my speedwork sessions in the gym on a treadmill, simply because I'm doing them in my lunch hour and there are no usable roads nearby. My times are now significantly faster on the roads, even when I'm doing the same distances at the end of a triathlon. I think the difference is that when using a treadmill, you can force yourself to run at a set pace for a set amount of time, regardless of how you feel. I never touch the speed controls once I'm up and running. I find that's a good discipline for when you're running outside - I'm less tempted to back off when I feel like I'm tiring. – wickett
  • Boredom can be a sign that you’re not working hard enough...
    Treadmills are softer on your legs than the road, thus serving as a handy ‘off-road’ alternative. I've never understood how anyone can claim to get bored on the treadmill. When I'm on it, I’m 100 per cent focused on keeping going at the pace I'm going at, so boredom doesn't come into it. I would only ever get bored if the pace was so much slower than my capabilities that the session was pointless. – moonferret
  • ... or a great test of your mental endurance
    I do all my training on the treadmill at this time of the year as I live in a very warm place. I find that it's easy on the legs, making it easier to run outside. I have even done 3½ hours of continuous running on my treadmill. I think it's very good training for will power,especially when doing a long-distance race. I don't agree that the treadmill does half of the work for you. If you stop running you willfall backward. You have to work your legs the same way as running outside. It's very common for beginners to run too near the front board and hit their feet there, losing balance. Try running near the back, though this will take time to get used to. – UltraSpud
  • Making time to run is more important than where you do it
    I just adore the treadmill - I'm addicted to the thing. I find that when I run outdoors I have this mental block and my brain is saying "How much further? I can't do this!" I'm sure it's better to run outside, but if like me you're at home with two kids 24/7, then a treadmill will just have to do! At least I'm managing to run five times a week. – Slim722

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I'm new here, so apologies if this has been discussed before!

I have just started running outside (with a GPS watch), whereas previously all my running was on a treadmill.

I've found it so much tougher outside, it's really depressing! Either i stick to my treadmill speed and can only manage half the distance i would normally expect to do, or i run at a comfortable pace, which is about 1 mph less than i would normally run indoors.

Is this just me or do others find a big difference? For what it is worth, my outside run is mainly round the local park, and about 20% of it is on road.
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 13:56


Nam
do you set your treadie at an incline of 1.5 or 2?
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 14:19

I tend to set my treadmill to +1mph to my outside speed to get the same as an outside workout, so yours sounds about right. Running on a treadmill is easier than running outside :)
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 14:20

My gym is like walking in to a time warp. I swear the average age of equipment is more than average age of members.
Anyway, as a result the treadmills don't have a facility to add any incline, so i run "flat".


Posted: 27/07/2007 at 14:22

I personally wouldn't set an incline on your treadmill to replicate running outside as is doesn't use the leg muscles in the same way. Although that's good for all round toning, if you clock up loads of miles on the tready it'll build your calves up in the wrong places.
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 14:22

Ben - No problem there, just run comfy and work on the distance first. The speed will come later.

It's all good.

Pick a race and have fun :)
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 14:24


Nam
Outside you use forward and upward propulsion, whereas the treadie does half the job for you due to the ground flying beneath you. Incline imitates it a bit but I'd say just get out there.
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 14:25

ok, that's a great help. thank you.

I won't stress now about having to match my treadmill times when i am outside!
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 14:30

Getting out there and seeing the local area whistle by as you struggle up your own version of Everest is what outdoor running is all about. There is no comparison as far as I'm concerned. Treadmills are way to easy to get off and offer no challenge what-so-ever in my humble opion.

Most runners I know would rather have nothing to do with a tread mill even if it's snowing outside!

Get out there and breath some fresh air. Your body will catch up quicker than you think!
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 15:35

you are dead right there marc -outdoors all the way.
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 15:38

I think outside is easier - purely from a boredom perspective. I get soooo bored on the treadmill, whereas getting out and about offers more to keep you going.
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 15:44

There is no doubt running at the same speed on a treadmill is a lot easier. I can run 10km in under 34mins on a treadmill, but 38mins is about where I'm at on the road. I do about half of my sessions on the treadmill and half on the road. When on the treadmill, I find that it acts as a superb "pacemaker" and doesn't allow me to "slack". I set the speed, and either maintain that speed throughout, or move it up slightly, never down. It's also softer on your legs than the road, thus serving as a handy "off-road" alternative.
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 15:51

Well having gotten over the initial shock of planning a 6 mile run (Comfortable in 45 mins on a treadmill) and then having to walk after 4 miles and eventually taking 55 minutes to complete the run, I am now improving outdoors. Although i still find it frustrating that i can not do the times/speeds i am used to on a treadmill!

I always quite enjoyed treadmill running as i could "shut off" for a while, and just get into a comfortable rhythym (also i could watch sky sports which i don't have at home!).

I have to admit i still prefer treadmill running at the moment as i dont have to get odd looks from people as i wheeze past them while they are walking their dog, or avoid the various obstacles that invariably get in the way etc. etc.

That said i'll stick with outdoor running for now, as i want to go in for a few races and i know treadmill running alone would not be ideal preparation.
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 15:53

Boredom factor aside - I'm convinced that treadmill running is harder.

Over the past year, I've ended up having to do a lot of my speedwork sessions in the gym on a treadmill - simply 'cos I'm doing them in my lunch hour, with no usable roads nearby.

My times are significantly faster on the roads - even when I'm doing the same distances (eg 5k or 10k) at the end of a triathlon. Rarely get sub-20 5k indoors, but outside (during tri), no problem at all.

I may just be a freak though.
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 15:58

I think the difference is that, when using a treadmill, you can force yourself to run at a set pace for a set amount of time, regardless of how you feel - I never touch the speed controls once I'm up and running.

I find that's a good discipline for when you're running outside - I'm less tempted to back off when I feel like I'm tiring. Does that make sense? It does to me, anyway.
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 16:03

makes sense to me, but surely if you're less tempted to back off when a speed is set on the treadmill, your treadmill times would be faster than road times?
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 16:05

I never get sub-20 5k on the treadie either - but then again I never get one outside.
However, I agree with Wickett - I find it easier to do anything other than intervals outside and my pace is better (although still a plod!)
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 16:05

I hate treadies - hot and stuffy, no air, sweat pouring off and dripping down your nose, boredom, pretend Arnie Schwarzeneggers poncing about, versus fresh air, varied scenery, and my dog running with me, no contest. Give me outdoors every time.
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 16:06

I find treadmills harder also,, I can never get a sub 20min 5k on a treadmill,

So if ever running indoors I just ignore the numbers and step up the speed until it feels OK, and try and up it for the last few mins.

No numbers to distract you outside,, just hills!
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 16:11

I can run faster outside than on a treadmill too...I always feel a bit freaked out trying to go fast on a treadie and think I am going to fall off. Then there's the fact that you get so HOT and its so BORING.
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 16:42

Well, I do all my training on the tready this time of the year as i live in a very warm place.

I find that it's easy on the legs, making it easier to run outside.

I don't agree with the tready doing half of the work for you. If you stop running you wil fall backward. You have to work your legs the same way as running outside.

About fear of falling. It 's very common for the beginners to run too near the front board and hit their feet there, losing balance. Try running near the back. It takes time to get used to it though.

I have done 3h30m of continuous running on my tready. I think it's very good training for will power, especially when doing a long distance race.

I find that watching TV distracts too much. I just listen to some very loud music.

good luck
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 18:45

Ben
I think you have to consider why it is that professional runners don't train on treadies. All their work is done on road and track because tready running doesn't prepare you properly for road running. Good for keeping fit but not for successful racing.
JJ
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 19:45

I like both, depends on my state of mind. I find the tready easier in some ways because I can just shut off and I feel safe. It's also easy to stick to a speed.

I don't feel so much of an achievement though running on a treadmill as I do outside because I haven't covered any distance per se
Posted: 27/07/2007 at 20:32

Hi JJ,:o)

I have head that lots of high class athletes do their winter training on the tready.

I know this is true here during the summer.
Posted: 28/07/2007 at 15:52

Hi guys

As a question that pops up quite a bit here on the forum, I thought this would make a good Reader to Reader question this week.

Look forward to hearing more of your advice...

Thanks

Catherine :o)
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 09:52

Hi, I use a tready as a handy way to break up my training. It is alot easier on the legs and i also find the hill programmes on them quiet good fun.
I would never replace outside with a tready but as I go to the gym with a friend also has more social ideals attached (ie she can walk while I run and still chat).
It is alot hotter in the gym which I think has helped my endurance. And yes it can be boring but I usually use the time to zone out, chat to my friend or "people watch" - how does that lady mange to make it look like she is dancing on the stepper................
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 10:41

...or how can she read Harry Potter whilst she's running!
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 10:51


RKM
I currently do most my training on a treadmill and actually find the pace transfers pretty much the same when running/racing outdoors. One thing I do actually think the treadmill does definitely help is maintaining a consistent pace. I find that most my races have a pretty even pace. I am hopefully getting a garmin within the next few weeks and will then switch to more runs outside. I think I'm too used to knowing my pace and distance and hate not knowing this. I do have to admit that after every race I do it gets harder to run inside because of the boredom factor. But I still think the treadmill's very useful when it comes to doing shorter more intense training like hill reps/speed/tempo etc, although doing any run longer than 2 hours on a treadmill does have to be the most boring thing ever.
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 11:14

I find running on a treadmill nearly impossible, the monotony is soul-destroying. Also, having to run and stare at my gormless expression for ages does not help.

Running outside is a completely different matter, you can take in the vista, vary your pace instantly (instead of having to fiddle with controls), and you don't have the constant whirring of the treadmill in your ears (no matter how loud you have your ipod).

Running outside could almost be described as a spiritually uplifting experience, whereas the treadmill is like a diabolical grind.

(Apologies for the excessively flowery descriptions.)
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 11:42

I have a treadmill at work so try to get a session in on my lunchbreak each day. I've found I'm a lot slower on the treadmill than outside and tire quicker. I think it must be different for everyone.
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 12:17

I run on the treadmill on a Friday morning at the gym. It overlooks the car park so I can have a good nosey at all the cars and work out which one I'd like. Also, handily, I can see Nora the resident OAP with her "gym kit" wheelie suitcase arrive. I know that I've then got 5 mins to speed up and get off before she appears in her sensible cardi, blouse, trousers and granny shoes to walk on the treadmill gassing to her other scary friends.
Like Holly I feel that it's sometimes safer.
I'm definitely slower outside which I found demotivating but then I joined a running club with lots of lovely slow people in and I'm now training for a half marathon - with 3 outside runs and 1 treadmill session a week.
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 12:39

I work in a gym and so its my job to encourage people to use a treadmill, but personally I find them the most tedious, morale sapping machines invented. I used to manage a 5k once a week on them, but I can't even do that now. For me they take the joy from running and turn it into a depressing clock watching event. Find some countryside or a park or yr high street, breathe some non airconditioned air, get the soles of your trainers muddy, take the jeers and snears from the local hoodies and indulge in the true spirit of running. England is a beautiful place, get out there and see it, rather than MTV or the other drivel that is on in the gym. As long as you are as consistent with your road running as you were with the treadmill your fitness will come on leaps in a short space of time. Ultra spud, you deserve a medal for 3hrs 30mins on a treadmill.
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 12:53

Some research has been done into the treadmill v real world running.

Check out
http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/treadmill.html

Some of the best runners on the RW Forum do a lot of treadmill running. And even a plodder like me finds the treadie invaluable in winter when the track is covered in ice for weeks on end.

But if I come out of the gym and attempt to run the last half mile home, it feels sooooo hard!
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 13:56

It all comes down to why you run. If it’s for fitness; it does not matter that you are slower outside, a work out is a work out. Follow a training plan and you will get faster and fitter. If you are training for a race (highly recommended, especially somewhere different to where you live and train), then you need to run outside. If you run because you love running then this is a mute point, who in their right mind wants to run on the spot breathing in stale air, nasty.
As for jeering idiots, the population is getting fatter while you’re getting fitter. So think happy smug thoughts. Good luck.

Posted: 31/07/2007 at 14:15

I hate treadmills, they always seem to be placed in front of mirrors or windows. There is nothing worse than the sight of me running, so I end up getting all upset at the reflection of me getting red, hot, sweaty and not being at all graceful.

And that's all before the boredom threshold of 5 mins has been reached.

Outside I can be the graceful gazelle I imagine I am without having the illusion shattered by a mirror!
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 15:39

Hello all,

I had the same problem as you Ben when I moved from the treadmill to the real world - couldn't even manage to run for half the time outside. Was very disheartning. Another forumite suggested I was trying to run too fast, and that I should slow down. I didn't think I could go much slower but I tried, and running became so much better. I really enjoy running outside now. I've got a lot of weight to lose so i'm doing at least 1 run indoors to save my legs/knees a little, but I prefer outdoors. One thing I have found is that running a steady pace on the t/mill has helped me maintain a steady pace outside which is good. I'm a bit of a plodder, but i'm not worried about that!
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 16:10

Hi there. Tricky one this one.
I did most of my preparation for my first half marathon in St Albans earlier on this year on the treadmill with an aim to finish in 1h45m.
Then one day I run outdoors and found it much harder, but, as the weather was nice, I started running outdoors more often. In the end I finished in 1h47m.

Now that the weather isn't so great, I've gone back to the treadmill as personally I don't fancy running in the mud/rain/cold too much. I think a balance of treadmill/outdoors is good. The treadmill can help you pace yourself (especially if combined with a heart rate monitor) and build up the miles durig the winter, but running outdoors will prepare you for the real thing.

Also, if as I do you combine a bit of weight lifting with your running, sometimes it is just easier to jump on the treadmill straight after the weights, it's handy to have everything in one place.

And finally, so sorry for the lenghty diatribe, the treadmill is more mentally fatigating, which is not bad training either if you plan to run long distances.

Take care everyone.
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 16:16

I had the same problem too! I am a newbie and have only been running properly for a few weeks now, currently on week 4 out of 15 week 1/2 marathon schedule. I was trying to use the running machines in the gym before I started training properly, thought I was doing well and would find outsode training fine...how wrong was I! Couldn't manage half of my distance and ran like a snail (you know what I mean!) but stuck with it and am sooo glad I did! It was hard at first but gets easier thank goodness! Only 4 weeks in but you won't see me on a treadmill again unless it is hammering down with rain!
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 16:19

Hi all,

Well I am officially a freak!! Apart from being a newbie of 8 weeks and before this never ever run apart from a horrendous cross country running experience at school. I came so far last, that everyone was showered and changed by the time I came in!!!

Then I discovered a treadmill. I just adore the treadmill........I'm addicted to the thing! I find that when I run outdoors I have this mental block and my brain is saying "how much further, I can't do this!!!"

Until..............

I went to Brighton this weekend and discovered the popular run along the front and WOW!!! I WANT TO MOVE TO BRIGHTON AND RUN EVERY DAY ALONG THERE!!!!

It was brilliant and I adored running outside. I saw plenty of fellow runners and power walkers too!

I did take the general forum advice of running slow and it worked, I managed my first ever non stop 1 mile run, in around 11 mins. I was so pleased.

Anyway I'm waffling now, what I'm trying to say is, if you have the perfect route then I'm sure it's better to run outside, but if like me you're at home with 2 kids 24/7, then a treadmill will just have to do! At least I'm managing to run 5 times a week.
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 16:31

One thing I've never understood is how anyone can claim to get "bored" on the treadmill. When I'm on it, 100% of my mind is on keeping going at the pace I'm going at, so boredom doesn't come into it. I would only ever get bored if the pace was so much slower than my capabilities that the session was pointless.
Posted: 31/07/2007 at 16:40

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