Running: Treadmill vs. Road

running-treadmillIt was dark this morning when it was time to go work out. It was also kind of rainy. School started today in my neighborhood, and that combined with the dark signal that summer is definitely coming to a close. Kind of sad. I enjoyed this summer because I’ve spent lots of time outside.

I have come to love running in the morning outside. Long runs, short runs… even though my route is the same most days, there’s always interesting stuff to see and having a destination somehow gives each run a purpose, even if it’s just to get home again. Outside, there are hills and changing weather and trees and other runners and it just breezes by, even on slow running days.

Today though, since I needed to do my last brick workout before next Sunday’s race, I had to go to the gym. I actually prefer the stationary bike because I don’t have to worry about cars, but even though I don’t know what I would have done without it in the beginning, I now understand  the nickname I see so often for the treadmill – the dreadmill.

Running after biking is just not my favorite thing to do, under any circumstances. But doing it outside is a whole lot easier than jumping on the treadmill after a 10-mile bike. The treadmill doesn’t really allow for those points where I need to go slower or faster and because I don’t see my landmarks, it’s just me and the minutes.

Don’t get me wrong. The treadmill has its purpose and I’m sure as the weather gets colder I will be spending more and more time getting to know it and admire it again.

Without the treadmill, I never would have made it through Couch25K. Without the treadmill, I never would have become a runner. When I was interval training, those seconds, then minutes, ticking by made building up to running possible. It gave me the confidence that I could do this. The first couple of times that I took my new legs out on the road, I thought I might die and wished that I could do a triathlon in the pool, on the stationary bike and on the treadmill. But they don’t let you do triathlons in the gym, so I sucked it up and got better at running outside, never in the beginning thinking I’d ever trade the treadmill for the road in my heart. But I have.

This morning, I ran 2 miles after a 10-mile stationary bike training. I had to throw my towel over the readout so I couldn’t watch the minutes ticking by. It felt like an eternity. I tried playing with intervals, going faster, raising the incline. It still felt like an eternity, and it was only 23 minutes. I tried concentrating only on the music piping into my ears. I tried focusing on other people in the gym (there aren’t too many to focus on at 6:30 am). Maybe I was just tired, but the run felt long this morning and it was a short one.

Maybe I just wasn’t prepared for the transition back to running on the treadmill again. I certainly wasn’t ready when I transitioned to running on the road. I’m sure I will come up with ways to make the treadmill interesting again as I know I will be spending more time with it as the days get shorter and the air gets colder. Maybe by next Spring, I’ll be faster!

At least now I know that to mirror resistance on the road, I need to keep the treadmill at an incline of 1. That will make transitioning back to the road a whole lot easier. That and that I plan to run outdoors any chance I get during daylight hours.

How do you cope with treadmill boredom?

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Fran on September 9, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    I can’t compare running outside with the treadmill. Since I’ve started running again in March I always ran outside and never in the gym. I hate to be on a thing that doesn’t move forward when I’m running 🙂 and in my gym I look at a boring road.

    This winter I won’t be running on the treadmill either, I continue running outside only instead of 3 times a week I’ll go 2 times a week: a long run in the weekend during the day and a short one in a lighted area on a weekday.


  2. I have to admit I have never run on a treadmill except at a running shoe store. But I have a gym membership starting in October so I am sure I will use it some this winter. I think I will stick to listening to music or audiobooks (I just tried this the first time yesterday and it’s great to listen to audiobooks during a run!) and just hope it doesn’t get too boring. And I will run outside whenever I can.


  3. I’ve been avoiding the treadmill, but will have to start doing warm-ups and intervals on it soon. It’s mind-numbingly boring…


  4. Posted by onelittlejill on September 10, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I avoid the treadmill at all costs- I usually only resort to it at the following times: too dark to be outside alone, it is thundering and or lightening out, or if temperature is below 40 degrees. And honestly I wish I knew how to cope with the boredom! I usually go when I know there is something on TV I can watch (jeopardy is a good one, or the news…a baseball or basketball game work well for me too) but for the most part, I am always waiting for it to be over.


  5. I have the same love/hate relationship with the treadmill. I love it because I believe that its soft surface played a big part in my getting over a problem of always getting stress fractures. But now that I don’t have that problem anymore, I can’t stand it! Like you say, trying to adjust it to run intervals is so frustrating.

    I really have no good coping method. TV and music don’t work. It’s impossible to zone out. I’m an outside runner for now on!


  6. Posted by Jeannie Porter on September 11, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Well, treadmills are a nightmare. The best thing I have found that works on a treadmill is having my friend go to the gym and run on a treadmill next to me…then it is kind of a competition and we encourage each other…maintaining an almost identical session. Having said that, I only do treadmills when weather is very severe.


  7. Isn’t it funny how the treadmill is at first your buddy, and then it becomes something you dread? I haven’t had to transition back myself, but I would think music would help a lot. (Funny side observation: when you’re at the gym, note how many TVs in front of the treadmill are tuned to Food Network. I think it’s some sort of subconscious gourmet carrot on a broadcasted stick. Hilarious!)


  8. Hmmm… dreadmill vs. outside: I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately, too. I use the treadmill b/c it’s dark outside & a safety issue, but it definitely provides less resistance, even when set to 2% (1 1/2 – 2% is what I read is recommended to mimick outdoors). When I head outside mid-run (usually a mile on the tread and then outside for a few more miles when it’s a little lighter/more people), I can definitely tell the difference! So much harder on the road – this may be the humidity factor, though, too.
    Overcoming boredom…. is that possible? I have to agree w/ Hella Sound, though – when I used to go to the Y, I’d see most of the TVs on the Food Network… weird! One benefit I’ve found: in our gym (within our apt community), the mirrors are right there – so you can watch your form. This has been good for me as a newbie runner. Sounds like running outside as much as possible is the way to go – even for you northerners. 🙂


  9. Posted by Jordan Green on October 18, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Running on treadmills is definitely pretty boring. But like you said, it needs to be done someimes. I’ve had bad experiences running in the (extreme) cold and I think I would rather be safe than sorry in the future. At least its exercise…

    What I did one winter in St. Louis is run in an empty parking garage. It was much warmer with the walls, but the fumes drove me to quit after one week. I’m still looking for alternatives.


  10. Posted by Tri-nube on May 17, 2010 at 2:58 am

    UGH…… I have been running 15-20 miles a week on the treadmill and I am not bored but I am a bit scared. The one time I tried to run on the road I didn’t get very far seemed like a good bit of pain. I didn’t really give myself time to get used to it. I am doing my 1st tri in 3 months and I am really getting nervous. What is the amount of time I should expect to get used to the outside run over the treadmill run?


    • Three months was enough time for me to go from running on the treadmill to running on the road. Take it slow and walk/run until you are more comfortable. Maybe slow down your pace on the road a little too. I had to do this. Remember the treadmill kind of propels you; running on the road uses some different muscles, so they have to adjust. Also, make sure you are wearing the right sneakers. I wasn’t. My first sneakers were fine for the treadmill but I needed something with more stability for running outside. A running store will be able to give you a good assessment and then you can go online to find the best style sneakers at a more reasonable price. You’ll do great in your tri! Remember to bike/run train when you can. And always remember you can walk during the run. The key is finishing! Good luck.
      BTW, if you’d like to follow this blog, we’ve moved to Thanks!


      • Posted by Tri-nube on May 17, 2010 at 4:49 pm

        WoHoo !! Thank you for the advice as far as running shoes I have Rebok ZigTeks I like them I had a 10 year old pair of Cross Trainers and since switching they have hepled 🙂 Thank you again …….. 🙂

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