Winter Running: Treadmill versus Road

It’s that time of year, at least for those of us in Central Ohio, where we go to work before the sun is up and come home after it is down.  It’s cold (usually), grey, and rainy/snowy at best.  Not the most motivating weather for runners, or is it?  It is this time of year that we look to “New Year/New You” articles in all of our favorite magazines.  We make our resolutions and gyms are busy.  Sounds like we ARE in fact motivated to get fit.  By choosing to run or walk the Cap City Half or Quarter Marathon, you’ve already made the commitment to your fitness but the question is how to do that safely and hopefully enjoyably?

Treadmill Running

First, running inside is a really good option.  Many people hate the idea of running inside, but it offers some really nice benefits for runners and walkers.  Primarily, you control all of the environmental conditions – no sleet, rain, darkness, cold temperatures, wind, or potholes.  That’s really nice when darkness falls at 5pm.  You also control the pace and pitch of the hills.  Speaking of the pitch (or grade or incline) on the treadmill, make sure you are not running or walking at a pitch of zero all the time.  In order to really mimic the conditions of road running, you will need to set the incline to 1 or 2%.  You can start at 0-0.5% and adjust it upward from there.  Also, if you are running in a gym with multiple brands of treadmills try a few of them out.  You will notice that the decks (the part that you actually run on) differ in how much “spring” they have and you will probably prefer one over the other.

Ease into a new surface

If you have never run on a treadmill before or haven’t in a while and always run on the road, I suggest starting slowly.  This actually goes for anytime you change the surface that you run or walk on.  Early on in the winter, preferably before you have to run inside, take one easy run each week and do it on the treadmill.  Alternatively, start outside and do your last mile or two on the treadmill.  This gives your body and specifically your legs and feet time to get used to the new surface.  Your legs will thank you on that Saturday that you wake up to 10inches of snow and you decide to try your first 5 miler on the treadmill!

As with, outdoor running, don’t obsess about pace on your easy runs.  Run at the speed that feels easy on your easy days and don’t worry about what the number on the console says.  If you are doing speed work, it is a nice opportunity to give instant feedback but remember that the machine has to be perfectly calibrated to be accurate!

Run or Walk Some on the Race Surface

Similar to easing into treadmill running, you should do at least some of your training on the same type of surface on which the race will be run or walked.  The nice thing about Cap City is that the surface is asphalt, as are most of the roads in the northern states.  This is an odd statement, but coming from someone who trained for her first half and full marathons in the Dallas, Texas heat on concrete roads believe me asphalt is a bonus!  That being said, our bodies still need time to adjust to running and walking on the road.  We cannot expect our legs to spend all of their training time running on nice cushy treadmill decks and then easily handle the pounding of the road during the race.  Happily, we can do most of our runs on the treadmills if necessary and still get the benefits of road running with a few runs a week.  Ideally, we should run 2-3 of the weekly runs outside but that isn’t always possible.  If you can only get one run out on the road, try to make it your long run.  We build from 2 miles so your body will have plenty of time to get used to road running.

Gear Up for Winter Running – Make sure you are easy to see

I will do an entire blog on proper training and racing attire, but I want to make sure that we talk about my favorite subject: safety.  The bottom line is that it is dark more hours than it is light right now and you need to see and be seen.  Headlamps are terrific for lighting your way and making it easier for cars and others to see you.  There are really cool jackets, vests, tights, and shoes with reflective gear built in or as part of the apparel itself.  You can buy reflective tape for your jacket or your wrist, or little LED bands to go around your ankles or wrists.  If you don’t have reflective or lighted gear, get some or don’t run in the dark.  Seriously, you want to come home from each and every run.  Unfortunately, drivers are not looking for you, sometimes not even looking at the road.  Always, run against traffic so that you can see them coming and you can get out of the way if necessary.   My dad made a poignant comment to me the other day about a cyclist in his suburb of Philadelphia wearing “really cool expensive technical cycling gear, but it was all black and I could hardly see him!”  This guy was riding in the day but with the shadows and traffic he was really hard to see.  Help drivers help you and make yourself easy to see!  In addition to keeping yourself safe, you get some really cool stuff!


Posted on December 30, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Winter Running: Treadmill versus Road.

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