Trails vs. Treadmill

I try to do most of my mileage outside, but there are occasions when the treadmill comes in handy (late at night, unsafe weather conditions, etc). I always thought running outside and running on the ‘mill were pretty much equivalent. I’ve heard that you’re supposed to set the machine at a 1% incline (and admittedly I don’t always do that), but really – how much different could running be? Well, today, that difference was made quite clear. I hit the roads for my long run around 9am, met up with my girl Jacqui, and ran about 11.25 miles in Central Park and on the Bridle Path (we basically stalked Bernard Lagat during his long run – it was AWESOME). We finished up at the gym and I decided to tack on another 1.25 miles to reach 12.5 (my original goal for the day). I hopped on the treadmill (0% incline), dialed in 8:30 pace, and whoa! After running outside on hills and the dirt bridle path, my legs felt really weird. When you run outside you have to propel yourself forward, but on the treadmill it’s more about keeping pace with the belt as it’s moving beneath you. I felt like I didn’t have to work as hard to move myself forward – my running stride seemed more vertical. I’m sure this realization isn’t groundbreaking, but I guess I needed to experience it for myself before it sank in! I’ll still use the treadmill when necessary, but maybe I’ll up the incline and increase the pace to make it more equivalent to outdoor running.

Today’s Long Run deets:

12.5 miles in ~1:55 (9:12 pace per mile). I felt sluggish at the beginning (my calves have been super tight lately), but ended the run feeling pretty good. Jacqui and I stuck to mostly soft surfaces, which was nice for such a long run. Hopefully my legs won’t be too beat up tomorrow!

Before the run, I fueled up with coffee (so essential) and a clif bar – nothin’ crazy. Post-run fuel included a Mango Mantra smoothie from Jamba Juice (OJ, peaches, mango, dairy base) and thennnn a peanut butter froyo with blueberries from Forty Carrots.

I honestly don’t know how the froyo thing happened…I was on my way to the subway at 59th Street and the next thing I knew, I was on the 7th floor of Bloomingdale’s in line for frozen yogurt.

I’ve spent the remainder of the day eating more (obviously), napping (of course), and tallying up my weekly mileage. I scraped by with 40.5 miles for the week, not as much as I was hoping for, but not too bad considering I took Monday off from running and only had time for 3 miles on Wednesday. This week is going to be another busy one – first CSA pick-up, Corporate Challenge race, and then the man-friend and I are headed to Puerto Rico on Friday. Wheee! It’s a good thing I was able to get caught up on sleep this weekend…

Congrats to the winner of the Zico coconut water give-away!

Congrats on the race Meg! That’s so awesome!!!! I plan on getting lots of exercise (not running, sadly) and eating lots of fresh, local foods this summer to stay healthy! I liked Zico, too! I wanna try the Chocolate Zico SOOOO BAD!!

Maren – email me your shipping info at runnerskitchen [at] gmail [dot] com !
Question: Have you noticed a difference between running outside and running on the treadmill? Do you have a preference? My preference can really depend on my mood – sometimes it can be great to run outside with friends, other times I really enjoy getting sweaty (and running fast!) on the ‘mill.
  • AR

    Treadmills make me angry and I refuse to use them, partially because of what you describe. When I used to use them on occasion I’d generally keep it at a 1.5% grade just to cancel it out a bit, but still hate every minute of it.

    No fair. You just went on a vacation! I don’t know how you afford it $wise or have the PTO! That said, when are you going to take me somewhere? I’m not a manfred but I am awesome <3 🙂

  • AR

    (Pst: You don’t have to take me anywhere. But I might change my name to manfred anyway.)

  • Nice running! I usually try to avoid treadmills as much as I can – sometimes running on the TM seems harder because it can be so boring. But I do agree it can be good for speedwork. 

    I hope you went to the Puerto Rico parade today to get in the spirit 🙂 Let’s run together this week!

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  • Corey @ runners cookie

    The treadmill is definitely different, and sometimes it feels really “weird” to me too. I almost always put it at 1% but I still don’t think it’s as challenging as running outside. I think I’ve relied on it too much in the past (for logistical/lazy reasons) but I want to start using it less. For awful weather conditions and speed work it can be really convenient. Great job with your runs this week! And froyo + smoothie sounds pretty wonderful 🙂

  • I am a terrible treadmill runner. I hate the time, mileage, pace and all that staring at me! I’ll only do it if absolutely necessary. I know I need to get over it as in residency as I won’t have as much free time to wait until weather clears up, going in daylight, etc. 

  • I go back and forth on whether I think he TM feels easier or harder than outside.  For speedwork I think it tends to feel easier, but for easier runs, harder.  Meh, it sucks either way!


  • Shayne

    I view running outside and running on a treadmill as two complete different things. To me, outside runs are about feeling connected, breathing, thinking… and treadmill runs are either about totally zoning out with trashy tv or a magazine or playing number games with my pace to distract myself. I feel like each type of running has a place in my life, but in the summer I obviously focus way more on the outdoor runs. What’s the saying — make hay while the sun is shining?
    Anyway, thanks for coming out and cheering on Saturday! It was nice to see a familiar face at the top of that hill.

  • YAY! I’m so excited to be the winner! 🙂 I definitely very much dislike the treadmill and avoid it at ALL costs!!

  • running on the treadmill is DEF easier. yeah. def.

    forgot you are leaving soon for PR with the manfriend!! what fuuun. but, uh, when do we hang??

  • Janine

    I prefer to avoid the dreadmill whenever possible. I think it’s harder than outside mainly due to the boredom factor. That said, sometimes it IS handy for speed work especially when traveling!

  • Ada

    Yeh, running on a treadmill is a whole different animal from running outside. I’m always impressed when people can run long distances on treadmills, I would just get way too bored!

    Good job on the long run! Fro-yo from 40 Carrots is definitely the best recovery food:)

  • Maribeth

    When you go to Puerto Rico definitely take a cab ride to a restaurant, Soleil. You can ask your concierge to arrange for Soleil to pick you up from your hotel and they will drop you off free. Everyone will tell you it’s sketchy, but it’s great during the day! Best things there: Red Snapper Ceviche, Lobster with Buerre Blanc, and Coquito Tres Leche! It was better than Wilo Benet’s restaurants there.

    Also, treadmill feels like death. Outside running is definitely the way to go.

  • Wait…did you see Bernard Lagat??  I didn’t even know he was in town!

    I haaaaaate treadmill running, so I never do it.  I don’t even have a gym membership!  I think it feels wayyyy different than running outside, and even though I can run for hours outside, after about three minutes on a treadmill I can’t wait to stop.  No idea how people do it!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for the great suggestion! I will put it on the PR to do list 🙂

  • Anonymous

    yeah! Lagat ran the 5k at Icahn on Saturday and it looked like he was doing
    a long run yesterday on the bridle path. Jacqui and I saw him no fewer than
    4 times and when we saw him finish near Columbus Circle. J said “Nice job
    yesterday”, BL smiled and said “Thanks”. Swoon.

  • Anonymous

    My company grossly underpays me so they make up for it with 30+ PTO days a
    year (’s ridic). I think I would rather a raise….

    And apparently it’s hurricane season (?!), so Jet Blue is offering some
    sweet deals to the Carribean. I live on the wild side!

  • Hm. I use the treadmill a fair amount since I like interval workouts on them, but now I’m starting to feel a little uneasy, ha! I try to do a tiny bit of incline (not even that much), so I’m not sure how good this is for me overall.

    Great to see you on Saturday! I was so thrilled to see you on the sidelines of the race. I don’t know what I shouted at you, but thanks for all the unconditional cheering, ha!

  • Wow – I am always so impressed with your mileage/distance training runs. Good for you! Yes – treadmill vs outside is quite a difference to me. Sometimes I enjoy treadmill workouts so I know exactly my pace and incline at all times (if I’m working on speed/incline). But outside is definitely preferred!
    Awesome – Puerto Rico! So jealous. Have fun!! 

  • I am rather funny about treadmills.  First I think running on the treadmill is WAY harder (hello mental game) and I can run faster outside for longer.  BUT I do speed work on treadmills because during speed work I like to know i have a flat surface (I am coming off an achy foot).  I also like to do sprints at a pretty high incline on the treadmill. 
    Have a blast in Puerto Rico!

  • Katherine Hefter

    First off I’ve been reading your blog and I’m amazed and envious of how you fit so much into your life – work, friends, boy AND running over 40miles a week! I always feel like I’m straining to make time for 30miles a week :-/

    To answer your question, I definitely feel a difference between running on a treadmill vs. outside, but I usually set the incline to 1.5% on the treadmill and outside sometimes feels flatter. I trained for my first 1/2 marathon on a treadmill during winter and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to transfer that endurance to outside running, but I had no problem. Outside definitely takes a HUGE strain on my muscles/joints that the treadmill does not. Also, I tend to run faster when I’m outside and not really pacing myself, when I’m on a treadmill I get “afraid” of going to fast and set a slow pace. I’m definitely a much bigger fan of outside running, even though they both have their pros and cons!

  • Anonymous

    You’re so right about the TM taking strain off your joints – it is a softer
    surface compared to asphalt and sidwalks. I think it’s a great tool for
    someone who’s coming back from injury.

  • I love that you were stalking bernard lagat!! How cool is that?! Great job on the run and hitting your distance goal. Smoothies are great post-workout fuel, and well, fro-yo is just great anytime! 😉

    Have an incredible time in Puerto Rico! Question, do you plan on running while you’re there? Or are you taking some time off?

  • Anonymous

    The plan is to get a long-ish run out of the way before I leave (Thursday
    a.m.) and then run a few easy 4-6 milers while I’m there. Here’s hoping the
    pina coladas don’t de-rail my attempts 😉

  • ok. when you are back from pr, we are making a post-work forty carrots date. i have been hearing you rave about it for, um, a year and feel ashamed that i still haven’t been. i think i have to experience it with you though!

    more on topic, in my totally non-expert opinion, i think the treadmill is definitely easier.  it also has a tendency to aggravate my knees, so i try to stay off it unless i’m, you know, enjoying a guest pass at equinox and have 15 minutes to kill before yoga.  for instance.

    it’s been too long since i’ve commented on anyone’s blog and i’m starting to get really verbose. apologies. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    40 carrots date, yesss!!!! seriously, it tastes like frozen Fage…

  • I definitely have noticed a big difference. I almost like running outside better because of the propelling thing. I feel I have more power? I am not sure. Yet in the winter, I find myself inside on the tread mill a lot more seeing as how I just can’t stay warm running in cold Maine Winters.