Reader to Reader: Running Outside v. The Treadmill

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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