As runners in the 21st century, we’re fortunate to have multiple options about where to get in our miles. Race training cycles can be lengthy and timing is complicated, and we often find ourselves striking a balance between running outdoors and on the treadmill. There are pros and cons to each option, so it is important to be informed about the best place to do your workout each day in order to plan your schedule accordingly.
Of course, the sport of running originated outdoors, and many runners prefer to get in their miles while enjoying Mother Nature. With nearly every race being held outside, outdoor running serves to acclimate runners to race conditions. Friction from uneven road surfaces, harsh weather conditions, and high impact from roads and concrete may sound like negatives, but these are all issues runners will be required to face during races. Conditioning the body to tolerate impact is important for distance running and racing, so it is recommended that those training for races do the majority of their miles outside. However, runners looking to get in their miles outdoors with reduced impact can choose to run on trails or dirt multi-use paths. Running outside is also fun! The ever-changing sites, beautiful scenery, and interaction with other runners certainly make the miles fly by, and this facet of outdoor running continues to be the most compelling reason many runners head outside, no matter what the circumstances.
Running on the Treadmill
Indoor running offers many advantages of convenience – it’s safe at all hours of the day, it offers the option to stay at home with kids when childcare may not be an option, and the weather and footing are always perfect. To be certain, the treadmill can be a great option. However, along with these positives come some negatives as well. While speed work is easy to program and it is possible to hit the correct pace every time on a treadmill, runners who rely on the treadmill for pacing may struggle with knowing what a pace feels like outdoors. Additionally, the belt of the treadmill is smooth and is self-propelled, eliminating friction that outdoor surfaces present. The good news is that increasing the treadmill incline to 1% effectively simulates the conditions of running on a flat surface outdoors, so runners who utilize this strategy will not be adversely affected. The treadmill can also impact biomechanics. The propulsion of the belt reduces hamstring engagement and focuses on the quadriceps because the motion of the belt helps the body finish the full cycle of the stride. Although most treadmills don’t feature the option of downhill running, the majority are programmable to simulate the inclines and flat surfaces of a race course. Runners training for a race with large downhill components should spend plenty of time outside on downhill stretches to condition the quadriceps to the pounding they will take during the race.
Both indoor and outdoor running offer distinct advantages and disadvantages depending on your goals and circumstances. No matter what, it matters less where you get in your miles and more that you’re out there running, so go where makes you happy (now that you know the facts)!