Treadmill vs. the Open Road

Wes, in a comment on one of my previous posts, asked for my opinion on treadmill vs. the open road, as it pertains to training. While I am not an expert, I do tend to pontificate on subjects, and can at least offer some form of point/counter-point in this area.

Treadmill Pros
  • Generally inside, in a climate-controlled environment. Very handy when it is freezing, roasting, hailing, blizzarding, etc. Not a big deal in spring, fall, cool summer nights or balmy winter days.
  • Precision in terms of workout - you know exactly how far ran and how fast you did it. Very useful when it comes to charting progress.
  • Convenience - my treadmill comes attached to my local YMCA, which has a child watch program. Without it, my running times would be much more limited, and it would probably be a bit detrimental to my sanity as well.
  • Good for repetitive speed or hill workouts. If the 'mill has a "Interval training" program, you can set it to alternate between a slow jog on flat ground and a fast run up a hill, just by hitting a button.
  • Safety - no problems wearing an iPod or some other mp3 player/discman/walkman, and there is no need to carry pepper spray or wear reflective clothes (unless someone at the gym is a real creep.)
  • Soft impact - useful when recovering from an injury.
  • First aid - you get hurt on a treadmill, or feel signs of strain, you can stop and not be 3 miles from home.

Treadmill Cons

  • It's boring as heck. I always feel like a human hamster when I am on one of those things - there should be a giant water bottle and some food pellets.
  • It's hot. You're not moving, so it just feels so much hotter than being outside in the same conditions.
  • It's potentially disingenuous. Treadmills don't factor in things like wind resistance, so you either have to bump up your speed a little or increase the incline. Or, just understand that, while you may do 6.5 on the treadmill, if it has a natural 0 degree incline, you probably won't run that fast on the road.
  • Refuelling problems - if your gym is like mine, they really frown on using Gatorade, Gu, etc during a workout. This is okay for a short run, but if you want to do something longer than 45 minutes, it might be an issue.
  • And, many places dislike someone using a treadmill for more than an hour, which makes long runs a little dodgy.
  • Blaine does a very good post with some other cons of treadmill running.

Open Road Pros

  • Variety in the scenery - you are going somewhere, and you know it. You're not staring at a wall, a TV, or someone's rear end (well, probably not the last one, anyway), for an hour at a time.
  • Variety in terrain and weather - it helps you get used to downhills, rain, sun, wind; you name it, and the great outdoors has it. And, sooner or later, you will probably race in it. If all of your training is inside, at 70 degrees, then the first 35 degree, freezing drizzle race is really going to mess you up.
  • You can use Gu, Gatorade, etc without any wories. Just don't litter.
  • No time restrictions - they don't roll the roads up at sundown; with a little care, you can run around your neighborhood at almost any point in the day.

Open Road Cons

  • Remember the reflective clothing and the pepper spray? You may need those. There are a lot of nasty critters on the open road, and some of them walk on two legs.
  • Danger factor - despite all precautions, some drivers or cyclists simply will not see you, underestimate your speed, or do not care. If you listen to music, keep it very quiet - because you cannot afford to tune out road noise or other runners, cyclists, etc.
  • Injury - if you get hurt, or cannot continue, you might find yourself a long way from home (or, for that matter, anywhere else. One of my long routes has a 2 miles stretch with almost no houses. . . .definitely not a part to get hurt when running).
  • Hard surface - asphalt is harder than a treadmill. Your legs will take a pounding, and it can take some getting used to.
  • No babysitter - if you need someone else to watch your children, this becomes a huge factor when running on the open road.


Blogger Wes said...

Richard, all I have to say is, Wow! Thanks for taking the time to post such a thoughtful response. I echo pretty much all those things you said. Many of them remind me of recent passages from "No need for Speed", which I am currently still reading. Seems a lot of runners share the same experiences and opinions (on some things :-)

I went for my second "outside" run today, and I thought I held up pretty well. Still a long way to go, but a lot of time to make it there. My big problem is my neighborhood is so hilly. I'm not in any shape to be taking some of these hills, and I don't want to try yet!

I also appreciate your excellent comments on my last post. I think I'll stick to 5Ks this year, and work on the 10K thing next year. I would like to get my training runs up to 6 miles this year, but I don't think I'll be ready to race that.

C ya, and thanks again!


11:14 PM  
Blogger Running Jayhawk said...

Interesting perceptions.

I usually find that 30 minutes on the treadmill makes me want to scream. I definitely have the hamster syndrome when I'm on that sucker.

8:15 PM  

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