Posted by: thehungryrunner | December 27, 2010

Transitioning to treadmill runs: The good, the bad, and the cautions

How does the saying go, “If you want to test the Universe’s sense of humor, make plans,” something like that?  Having had a satisfyingly toasty summer and an exceptionally mild fall — and the abundance of outdoor runs that such weather permitted, I found myself feeling quite optimistic about the winter running season.  I had a new thermal running jacket, which tested extremely well in the couple of 45-degree days we’d flirted with, and a stockpile of socks, leggings, hats, face masks, gaiters, gloves, mittens, and layering garments from last year’s winter runs.  Oh yes, and the requisite accessories:  hand warmers, flashing arm band light, key holders, and the Garmin.  I was ready!  In my mind, I pictured a gentle, gradual slope down, with temperatures finally sinking to the 40’s for highs, then hovering in the 30’s for a while, then the 20’s sprinking in, with sure, the occasional single-digit and sub-zero anomalies, but only once in a while.

My first clue that I was just a bit askew in my winter running fantasy, came on a relatively mild fall Sunday, when I contemplated outloud whether I should grab a run outside, or whether I should head to the gym.  It was about 50 degrees, but cloudy and windy.  Funny how the same 50-degree day can go from uplifting and inspiring to gloomy and foreboding, just based on the presence or absence of the sun.  Anyway, to my question, my husband didn’t hesitate:  “Go for the outdoor run, it may be one of the last you can do for a while.”  I looked at him quizzically, prompting him to elaborate:  “Hello?  We have something called snow and ice?  You know your runs are toast once that happens.”  Oh yeah, I forgot about that little factor.  I went for my outdoor run and soaked it all in while I still could.

A week later and our temperatures plummeted into the teens and single digits, with a hefty coating of snow and ice.  So much for the new running jacket!

So….Plan B.  Whether you call it the treadmill or the “hamster wheel,” that’s where I’ve been since before Thanksgiving.  Not my first choice, but it’s actually working out OK.

If you’re considering the treadmill as your source for outdoor runs or run-walks, here are some positives, negatives, and precautions for you to keep in mind, fresh out of the oven since I’ve lived them all in these last 5 weeks:

The Good:

  • No worries of cold hands, feet, face or body (is there anything else?):  This is especially huge for me, as I have Raynaud’s disease and am constantly having to “strategize” my outdoor runs and skiing for fingers and toes that like to go white and circulation-less in cold weather.
  • Safe from cars and other traffic:  Being one who tends to “zone out” when I’m running, it’s probably good that at a healthy percentage of my runs take place where I can’t accidentally meander into a busy intersection during that moment that I’m really “feeling” the song that’s playing on my ipod.
  • Drinking water is a breeze:  Maybe not as much a concern for shorter runs, but for those times when I expect to be out for a long time, winter always brings a dilemma with how to carry water, and then how to use said water, when my hands are nestled deep inside high-tech mittens, and my water is nestled inside some snug waist thingy.  No problemo with the treadmill!
  • Light, summer clothing and not feeling COLD:  I must admit, it’s been quite nice, not having to wear the heavier winter gear, and nicer still to not have to psych myself up for feeling cold when I first begin my run (and, in my case, during those final 10-20 minutes).
  • Bathroom breaks, whenever you need them!  It’s bad enough when nature calls at a point that I’m at the furthest distance possible from my house during the summer, but in winter?  It just makes the entire rest of the run an awful experience.  With the treadmill, I can stop whenever I need, and resume my run a few minutes later, with a happy, empty bladder, yay!
  • No need to carry vital necessities:  I must say, it’s been nice not having to worry about making sure I have a way of carrying my keys, cell phone, an extra set of hand warmers, some cash, my ID, etc.  Something tells me there’s going to be an adjustment when I have to do so again.

The Bad:

  • Repetitive, potentially boring:  No doubt about it, it’s an adjustment, going from running in an environment that’s constantly changing, vs. having to run in the same spot the whole time.  Truly, it requires a whole different mindset.  The first is more a curious mind, looking foward to seeing all the different sights, whereas the second is more meditative, the mind heading more “into” itself.  But both have their benefits, it seems.
  • Complacency, stale workouts:  When you’re running outside, the course will naturally offer a variety of changes, even if subtle, in the terrain, the surface on which you’re running, the slope, the wind, the elements….and you in return are much more likely to just naturally fluctuate in your pace and intensity.  Given the fact that you can just select a speed and a grade on the treadmill and go, it can be easy to fall into a very monotonous pattern of running, one that will offer less in the way of fitness benefits, and more risk for repetitive injury.  The onus is on you to vary the variables to keep your body “fresh.”
  • Crowds:  Maybe not so much before the holidays, but for sure we’re poised on the brink of the season in which the surge of humanity at the gym can make for a difficult time accessing a treadmill.

The Cautions:

  • Be sure to warm up adequately:  I notice a huge difference both in the overall quality of my workout — my stamina, form, focus, etc., and in my body’s comfort the rest of the time, if I take the time to do a warm-up.  Lately, I define my warm up as, “I really wish I didn’t have to be walking/running this slowly right now, and I can’t wait to get through these few minutes so that my ‘real’ workout can begin.”  It is what it is, but that “is” works!
  • Use the treadmill to stretch afterward:  True, there’s an advantage to being The Flexibility Coach, as I have my own repertoire of stretches I can tap anytime, but I’m finding a tremendous asset in using the treadmill to do my stretches after the workout, sometimes even more so than when I move to a mat on the floor.  Hamstring stretches, calf stretches, hip/glute stretches, groin/inner thigh stretches, side stretches, twists, hip flexor/quad stretches, back stretches, chest stretches, neck stretches and shoulder stretches.  Now THAT’S the way to make the treadmill work FULLY for you!  (Side note:  I would never take up the treadmill to do this if all others were taken; I’ve been lucky thus far that my gym has many more treadmills than people on them during the times that I’m there).
  • Run with a 1 or 2% grade:  Since there is no wind resistence or need to actually pull your body forward — the moving belt changes this dynamic from when you’re running on a track or outside, you need to make up for that by keeping a small grade on the treadmill.  Otherwise, running on a flat belt is more akin to a light downhill run, which can be hard on the knees.

So if you haven’t yet had the chance to “hit the treadmill” this season, hopefully my account can give you a solid kick start!



  1. Great tips. I always find myself bored on the treadmill, though not having to dodge through traffic like Frogger is a definite plus! 😉

  2. Right now the majority of my runs are on the treadmill… That is due to cold weather (I hear we may be getting some warm days ahead) and because to be honest I am new to running and my pace is embarrassing outside.

  3. I have migrated back indoors too, since probably around the same time you did (November). I do enjoy treadmill running for the fact alone that interval training is much easier, but I agree…it can get boring. And it’s easier to quit!

    • You’re right, I’m much more inclined to work with the “speed dial” and give myself some informal intervals when I’m on a treadmill vs. when outside. Something about seeing those numbers (“Dare I go one TENTH of a mile per hour faster???” Mwahahahaha!) makes it more of a game for my mind!

  4. Love the tips! Totally needed these as I’m finding that I’m about to transition indoors. I was amped about these cold weather runs, but after enough “almost” slips in the ice and entirely sensationless toes it’s just not happening. I was super bummed, but I’m excited to think about the perks of indoor running! 🙂

    • Hello Amanda, you’re welcome! Glad my tips could help! 🙂

  5. […] whatever it is, after reading The Hungry Runner’s post about treadmills and seeing the weather report this morning I knew I was going to have to change my mindset. If […]

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