Treadmill vs. Outdoor Running

A Stay-At-Home Mom’s Journey to Better Health

After the birth of my daughter in 2014, I decided it was time to get back in shape. A friend of mine started a challenge group, and for accountability reasons, I jumped on board. It was just the kick in the pants I needed to get my weight loss plan started. I I did very well, ten pounds shy of where I wanted to be.  Due to the age of my children and where we lived, many of my running hours were spent on a treadmill. While I understood the importance of running outside in the elements, unfortunately, our family schedule did not allow me the opportunity.

During this time, I thought it would help if I had a running goal. So, I decided to train for a half marathon (with the dream of a full marathon in the back of my mind). Through conversing with a family friend, I found myself setting up a meeting with a retired university track coach. I was super stoked to meet this man.  Receiving advice from those who have experience is something I treasure greatly.

We sat down at our mutual friend’s house and began to talk. He suggested that I start with a few short road races to get into the groove of racing. Okay, this is good advice. Then he was gracious enough to give me a speed-work schedule. I took the paper and put it in my notebook, where I have it to this day.

While I was thankful to be in the presence of genius, I was also a bit put out. The thought of running on a treadmill seemed beneath this man, and all my efforts were worthless. For weeks after our meeting I did nothing. I was too embarrassed to run a treadmill. It was not real running. Kinda like cheating. It took me quite a while to get over this mindset. Finally, I overcame and started running again…on the treadmill. I realized, I am a stay-at-home mom with small children.  My options are somewhat limited.

So, what is the difference between running on a treadmill vs. outside?

My son, Rider, and I after the Sneakers and Spurs 5K in Sheridan, WY. First race I ran with a jogging stroller. Rider loved it!

Is there a benefit to one over the other and how does that affect the individual and their performance. Personally, I would LOVE to run outside every day.  However, due to circumstances, I have to find another way to get my miles in. Therefore, I decided to work on different techniques while running in place. This is what I have discovered from my research.

Benefits of Running on a Treadmill

One of the main reasons people choose treadmills is the safety factor during the cold months. Running outside in the winter can be very risky. The roads may be slippery, it gets darker earlier, and temperatures can actually hinder a runner’s performance. Running outside in the cold can also compromise a runner’s form, cause muscular tight spots or worse inflict injuries. Being out of commission due to an injury has to be a runner’s worst nightmare.

If the fear of boredom still lingers, here are some helpful points to keep in mind while putting in the miles inside

  • It is proven that while running on the treadmill a runner will take shorter strides, as well as, higher stride frequencies. Use this knowledge to improve form while reducing impact.
  • To get a truer to the road run, set the incline anywhere between 0.5% – 1%. This will also account for the lack of wind resistance.
  • Running on the treadmill can make the effort feel higher. So, remember do not run by the pace indicated on the screen or your watch, but by feel and effort.

Some Pitfalls of Running on a Treadmill

Treadmill running can become very boring very quickly. Staying in one place staring at the same thing for any length of time can cause a person to give up before they even start. When I first brought our treadmill home, I set it up in a bedroom facing the door which led my eye down a dull hallway. Bad idea. Super boring. I tried to spice things up with a film (I do not recommend Anne of Green Gables). Still did not help. Finally, I moved it out onto the “four seasons” sun-room. It was a hit! Although extremely chilly in the winter, I was able to gaze upon the beautiful outdoors. Almost like I was running outside.

What are some ways to reduce boredom?

  • Make a playlist of your favorite tunes in an order that coincides with your workout. I put slower songs toward the beginning while warming up. Followed by high-intensity songs when it is time to run faster. Throughout I add punch music, like the Rocky theme, to add a little kick.
  • If a television is a better motivator, pop in a high action video. Again Rocky III or IV is a good choice to get the body pumped and moving.
  • If the option is available, face a window. One thing that drives me bonkers at our YMCA is how they turned all the cardio equipment toward the inside (facing the televisions). Call me a weirdy, but I would rather have the sun shining on my face than my back.

My Overall Take Home

Today, I do long runs outside, Saturday or Sunday mornings, and my three short runs inside on the treadmill. When running inside I like to work on the psychological struggle, speed, inclines, distance and weight resistance for the upper body. On long runs outdoors, I focus on mileage, the elements, terrain, various speeds and enjoying the beauty that surrounds me. Do I feel guilty for not running outside more? Yes, more than I would like. Yet, I have come to realize this is my situation. I have three young children who demand my attention. Leaving them alone in the house for hours to get some”real” run time is not an option. I do what I can with what I have. Will I ever cross the finish line first? No. Will I break records or qualify for the Boston Marathon? No. But what I will have accomplished is exactly what I set out to do. With the best part being the three little kiddos waiting for me at the finish line.  Proud that their mother finished, regardless of how she trained.

Greeted by Paisley and London at the finish line of the Antelope Butte 8 Mile.  Seeing their smiles was definitely worth the pain.

3 thoughts on “Treadmill vs. Outdoor Running”

  1. Great article! I prefer running outside too, but you can’t beat the treadmill for convenience. Especially since I live in Canada, its the only way to go during the snowy months. When training for my second half marathon, I did 80% of the training on the treadmill, and I ran my best race ever. I agree that threat of boredom is one of the harder things about running on a treadmill, but a killer playlist really helps!


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