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Treadmill vs. Outdoor Running

I run a  few times a week on the treadmill. I’m signed up to do a 5k this spring, but I’m nervous about running outdoors. Do you have any tips? —Bethany

There are some hardcore runners who think that treadmill workouts aren’t “real running.” Don’t believe the hype. The truth is, running on a ’mill is an excellent way to stay in shape and get race-ready.

Running on a treadmill and running outdoors are both effective training methods, so choose the one  that fits your lifestyle. If you love being outdoors, hit the streets. If you’re a busy mom who can only run at 5 a.m., before the kids wake, a treadmill is a lifesaver for maintaining your fitness (and sanity).

While both types of training are effective, it’s important to appreciate their differences so you can adjust your goals accordingly.

Treadmill and outdoor running differ in three important ways: surface, surroundings and biomechanics.

Due to these differences, you can easily injure yourself if you abruptly change your training method. Take the time to gradually transition to running outdoors and you’ll remain injury-free and hit your 5k goals. Just follow a few simple rules:

FOCUS ON EFFORT RATHER THAN PACE. Some people run faster inside while others run slower. To avoid injury and burnout, leave the GPS watch at home and focus on your breathing. In your first few runs under the sun, maintain an easy effort at which you can speak in full sentences without gasping for air. Learn to pace yourself depending on the terrain and the elements. Every day outdoors will be different!

PRACTICE PATIENCE. It might be tempting to quit the treadmill cold turkey, especially if the weather’s beautiful, but please proceed with caution. Your body needs time to adjust to the harder surface and the changes in your running form. At first, run only one workout per week outdoors. Gradually work up to a higher frequency.

START SMALL. To give your body a chance to adapt, shift your shorter running workouts outside first. For instance, if you run four miles three times per week and a six-miler once per week, your first run outside should be a four miler.

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Some runners can make the transition more easily than others. If you start to feel niggling aches, slow your progression until your body adapts. As always, remember to be kind and gentle to your body. Enjoy the journey! ■

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Jenny Hadfield is the co-author of Running for Mortals and Marathoning for Mortals. You can find more of her training programs, tips and running classes at coachjenny.com.