Why Road Running Beats Treadmills

We’ve all done it. We’ve all been on our own human hamster wheel, spinning the plastic covering as we watch the yellow dots slowly, inexorably fill up the digital track. For the lucky ones, we’ve watched yet another morning news program on yet another network talk about yet another pop star with yet another song.


The minutes drift by painfully and wearily, like Time itself decided to get lazy today. You ramp up the incline, speed up, speed down, a finger permanently on the dashboard. Your three miles has become a chore, a thing you dread. Sure, you might feel “good” afterward. Similarly, you might feel “good” after leaving the DMV…just because it’s over.

That’s not how exercise should be. And that’s not what exercise is.

This is why we run outside. And there are a few very practical reasons for this:

  •  When you run outside, unless you are running in the salt flats in Peru, you’re probably running on different terrain, even if there’s just one small hill. This is a good thing because it strengthens your body and improves your form. Some people struggle mightily with the transition from the treadmill to outdoors simply because they aren’t used to having to deal with different environments. It’s like if a doctor just dealt with colds and coughs all day and then had a patient come in with a stomachache. Although the process of making a diagnosis may be the same, the cold-and-cough doctor may have unknowingly taken shortcuts simply because he never really had to use the process.
  • Fresh air. We all know that feeling when you come in from the outdoors, whether you’ve been tending the garden, or walking, or running. It’s that glow that you feel and it’s what we need. It doesn’t even need to be sunny. Some of the best runs that I’ve been on have been in what are veritable downpours. It’s almost the craziness of running through a thunderstorm which makes you laugh at yourself and appreciate the joy of being able to be outside – something not everyone is able to experience.
  • Stride length. We talked a lot about cadence and stride length last week. For those of you with long legs and long strides, sometimes a treadmill is simply too short to have a comfortable stride. You find yourself adjusting and modifying your natural gait simply so you don’t fall off one end or the other. Now, in all reality, falling off is very unlikely. But the subconscious adjustments you make harm your running form long-term.
  • Pace. Varying pace is key. Gallons of ink have been spilled about keeping a steady pace, but sometimes you may have a mile where for some reason you just feel better and want to go faster, or slower. That is much easier to do when you’re not on a treadmill. On a treadmill, you are almost shackled to the pace that you select and it is trickier to change pace on a whim.

So I know it’s hot, but get outside. You’ll enjoy your morning 3-miler more and not just when it’s over.

(Image credit: WineWorkoutWhipperSnappers)

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