Track vs. Treadmill

For as much as I looooove running, I reeeeaaaally don’t love the treadmill. What I love most about running is being outdoors, running on hills, and exploring. I hop on a treadmill maybe five times per year, and it’s usually due to two situations: we’ve had some sort of precipitation that turned the roads into ice skating rinks (I love to run in snow, but not ice) or I need to fit in a track workout before work because I’m busy with something after work. I am a high school teacher and have to be at work by 7 a.m., so the likelihood of me getting up early enough to get to the closest track (I don’t even know if it would be open at that time of morning), doing a track workout and coming back home to shower before leaving for work is just not possible. And it MOST definitely wouldn’t leave enough time for my absolutely necessary stop at Starbucks.

Yesterday, I ended up on a treadmill and it was due to neither of the above circumstances. The last time I stepped foot on a treadmill was sometime in March. I had a track workout to do and I packed up my running clothes to go to the track after work. As the day went on, it started to rain. I had a not-so-fun rainy hill workout last Tuesday and just wasn’t in the mood for that again. The day before all of this, my poor husband came down with a fever and horrible cold, so I was concerned about running in the cold, chilly rain and getting sick before the holidays. I know, I know, weak. I was cranky about the workout (I’m starting to see a trend: cold, rainy, dreary December days + hard workouts = FML) and the weather. The day before was sunny and mid-40s, but I went swimming to loosen up my legs from two tough weekend runs. That would be my luck.

So I went to the gym and begrudgingly got on the treadmill. I had to do a pyramid workout: 15 minute warm up, and then 1000 meters, 2000 meters, 3000 meters, 2000 meters, 1000 meters at 6:45 pace, with four minutes of recovery between each interval. The whole thing was followed by a 15 minute cool down. When I first read the workout, I thought the 6:45 pace seemed a little easy for those distances. Not that a 6:45 pace is easy by any means – but I just held a 6:27 for the Christmas City 5 Miler. Then again, the race WAS on Saturday, followed by a hard long run. I had one day of swimming to recover, and then it was right back into the intensity with this track workout. Maybe that was my coach’s logic in suggesting that pace. I confirmed I read the workout correctly and that he wanted me to hold that pace, but still have to ask his rationale. He has a pretty good reason for everything, and I am trying to learn everything I can at this point.

I did the warm up as a progression to get my turnover moving before the intervals, beginning around an 8:30 pace and progressing to about a 7:30 by the time I hit the 15 minute mark. For my first interval, I set the treadmill to a 9.0 – a 6:39 pace. I figured I would crank it up a little faster than my coach asked me to for the workout since I think the treadmill is easier (note: I have plenty of friends who train SOLELY on a treadmill and are way fast. I just mean that the treadmill is an easier workout for me, personally. I am in no way saying that if you train on a treadmill, it’s easy!). During the first interval, I cranked it up halfway through to a 9.2 (6:31 pace). The rest of the workout went the same way, starting each interval at a 9.0 and progressed throughout the duration of each interval. I was relatively conservative with the first two, but once I hit the 3000 meter interval I was almost over the hurdle of the halfway point and the most difficult distance. I really started to let it rip and would end the intervals closer to my 5K pace. By my last interval, I had the treadmill cranked to 10.0, which was a 6 minute mile.

While I still much prefer running outdoors, completing this workout on the treadmill had a lot of benefits. It brightened my attitude because I didn’t have to fight the elements. I know a lot of being successful in distance running deals with overcoming mental battles, but I just didn’t have it in me yesterday and wanted to have a good workout. Maybe that’s weak, but its also a week until Christmas and I want to try to stay healthy! The treadmill also made me negative split my workout, with every single interval run faster than the one before. I did that on the track two weeks ago with my 400s, but I almost always positive split my speed workouts and races. It forced me to be conservative early on because I could literally “set” the pace. The whole workout ended up being 10.1 miles, so it was really important to start easier so I could finish stronger.

By default, the treadmill also forced me to do exactly what I’ve been trying so hard to do in my recent workouts: shorten my stride to take short, quick steps to increase my cadence. I’ve gotten in a very bad habit of lengthening and hyper extending my stride to try to get faster, and it’s putting a lot of strain on my glutes/piraformis. Particularly the right side, which has been pretty angry with me lately. By shortening my stride, it puts less strain on the area and increases my running efficiency. But most of all? Oddly enough, something about running on the treadmill just made me relax. I feel like I’ve been so wrapped up in numbers and paces lately that it’s been hard for me to just relax and enjoy the workout. For as much as I say I dislike the treadmill, it gave me a sense of peace and helped enjoy my run. Oh yeah, and I got to wear a tank top and shorts to run in December. Bonus!

Do you use a treadmill regularly? Which do you prefer – outdoor running or treadmill running? Any tips/drills on shortening your stride? 

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17 Replies to “Track vs. Treadmill”

  1. Most of the time, I prefer outdoor running. But I really don’t mind doing intervals or tempo running on the treadmill. I just know that the treadmill is easier for me too so I try to do my workout faster than I would if it was outside to get the same effect. And it certainly is wonderful to not have to bundle up in the winter for a treadmill run!

  2. YES YES YES. In a perfect world I prefer to run outside, but I do my speed work almost exclusively on a treadmill because I don’t have access to a track. I have seen so many benefits to it! I’m so glad you had a good experience!

    Also recently I’ve been doing more runs than usual on the treadmill because it is so much easier on my legs and I’m trying to keep them as fresh as possible before marathon training starts. Usually I play around with the hill settings to make it seem a little more like outside. Oh and wearing shorts is definitely nice this time of year. 🙂

    1. I really think I am going to make a point to get on the treadmill for a run every so often! I am glad to hear you’ve had success with the treadmill. Gives me some hope for myself!

      I also noticed that it was a lot easier on my legs. My legs are tired today for sure, but not trashed like they would be if I had done the workout on the track. But I still feel like I gained so much from the run!

  3. First choice – run outside. Reality of my life – treadmill. I would not be where I am with running if it wasn’t for my treadmill. With my husband away A LOT and I can’t run during my lunch break then my only option is to run when our girls (2 and 4) go to bed. I hop on the treadmill around 8pm 4-6 days of the week! I’m rather thankful I have a treadmill to use daily (if needed).

    1. OMG you are amazing – if I had to run at 8pm, I think I wouldn’t do it. Since I start work at 7 am, I finish by 2:30. Yesterday, we had a faculty meeting and I didn’t get on the treadmill until 4:45. It was after six when I finished and I felt like it was so late. You are awesome!!!!!

      1. Ha ha. Well, when something is that important to you it just becomes part of your routine. Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many nights I don’t want to run but I signed up for those races for a reason 😉

  4. Glad to hear you had a smokin’ treadmill workout Allison you deserved it chica!! Crushin’ workouts = better moods 🙂 I knew you would bounce back from that hard hill workout! 🙂 As far as the tready goes I do a great deal of my speed workouts (mile breakdowns, etc.) and tempo’s on the thing :/ I would much rather get my intervals in on the oval office but nearly every single one is under lock and key here 😦 I’m so tempted to fence jump haha! 🙂 I really have no tips for shortening ones stride sorry. I tend to naturally have a shorter stride but then again I’m short fella with little legs haha lol 🙂

    1. HAHAH you crack me up – the oval office! I love it!! We have a few open tracks here, but there is one that is locked that is the most convenient of the bunch and I have jumped the fence once! I didn’t get in trouble that time… 🙂 I’m also not very tall (only 5’2) but somehow got in the habit of really over striding. It’s a work in progress! Hope you are starting to feel better!

      1. Hahaha oh the visual I just got of your lil’ 5′ 2″ self jumping a fence lol 😉 oh we vertically challenged folks ha! I blame my mother she was only 4′ 11″ but packed a punch 🙂 thanks for the well wishes!!! So far so good this week 🙂 still doing easy stuff though I’m trying not to rush the process which is hard

  5. I do all of my speedwork on a treadmill. The ‘mill is easier than running outside because you don’t need to overcome wind resistence. I set my treadmill pace to be 15 secs faster in order to compensate and have an equivalent track workout.

    1. I like your theory of 15 seconds faster than the pace you are trying to run. By the end of my second interval, I was in that range and it felt more like what I should be feeling for a track workout (like I was dying, lol!). I’ll keep that in mind for next time! Thank you!

  6. I hate the treadmill – there is a definite truth to the adage that time SSLLOOOOWWWWSSS down when you step on one. But if it’s really cold (sub 20 for me, polluted (we get really crappy air quality in winter)) I’ll use it. I do need to be distracted to make it through – I guess the monotony is it’s worst quality.

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