In Which Jenn Pits the Outdoors Against the Treadmill

Treadmill broken

Hey, remember that time several forevers ago when I said I had more to say about running outdoors vs. the treadmill? THE DAY HAS COME.

I know: I’ve already complained. Some people are treadmill people and some people are outdoors people, and rarely the twain shall meet. Still, when the treadmills at my gym both broke at once and I was forced outdoors, I had some good experiences – and some not-so-good ones. I decided, if only for my own personal amusement, that it might be worthwhile to quantify what I liked and didn’t like about both experiences, perhaps in the interest of improving both. So here goes.


Hills, dips, grass, and other terrain changes. They work different muscles; they prep me for actual races, which tend to occur outdoors, of all places. But they make runs seem INTERMINABLE sometimes. I’ll be tired and I’ll hit a hill and I’ll walk because HILLS and I’m TIRED. Oh, and the asphalt of paved roads and sidewalks can make my bones sad.

Scenery. I must admit – the changing scenery is nice. It’s pleasantly distracting, propelling yourself forward to new places. Sometimes I take a different turn, just to find out what’s up. And sometimes I meet a friend!

Running outdoors vs treadmill

The surrounding population. I am not a people person. I don’t mean to say that if you ever see me at WDW you shouldn’t say hello – you definitely should! – but I’m shy sometimes and like to think my own thoughts quietly to myself without the presence of others when I’m on a training run. I pass people outdoors… and then keep going. And so do they. It’s AWESOME.

Resources and supply storage. If I am five miles from my apartment, I am five miles from a bathroom. Unless I want to knock on the door of some poor unsuspecting person in the residential neighborhoods where I run, which I do NOT. Also, I hate carrying my water bottle and I have nowhere to refill it when it runs out. I am deeply suspicious of fuel belts. And we haven’t even talked about food.

Late nights and early mornings. These are dark. The Bethesda Trolley Trail where I like to concentrate most of my mileage is not lit, and I can’t get to portions of my route without running through it. This, obviously, is not safe for a variety of reasons. Which means that if I’m trying to run early in the morning or as night falls, there is a certain point in the course that I’ll have to stick to lit neighborhoods. And even then running at 3AM would not my best idea.

Running outdoors vs treadmill
Welcome to 7:45PM.

Weather. It can be a problem. Also, I DON’T LIKE COLD. That goes double for my lungs.

Pacing. I set my own pace, which is great because it lets me find a comfortable rhythm, makes it easier to walk for short stretches or do run/walk intervals, and helps me push myself for once, all good practice for races. But sometimes I’m not very good at pushing…

Timing and mileage. I won’t have a GPS watch yet and MapMyRun is notoriously unreliable. 🙁 Of course, I also don’t have a display to stare at and get demoralized. Oh, and unlike my treadmill, the outdoors don’t turn themselves off every 99 minutes.


No terrain changes. If I’m being honest with myself, this is no good for purposes of really, REALLY preparing for a race. But it’s so lovely to settle into a rhythm, sweet and clear and forward-moving without fear of losing momentum because a stupid hill has popped up. Plus the treadmill is much softer and less bothersome to my bones. And besides, runDisney races tend to be pretty flat!

The time of the treadmill is happy. (Only Moon will get that joke.)

Television. I don’t even watch that much television, outside of the gym. But there’s something healing about finishing off my run with a mile of cool-down walking while watching Face Off on SyFy.

The surrounding population. I don’t know why, but in the tiny basement gym of my apartment complex, I get weirdly self-conscious when someone else comes in to work out. An empty gym is a wonderful blessing, and a gym full of people makes me feel awkward. I know, logically, that no one is watching me and judging my form and thinking about how much faster they can run… but I can’t help but feel that they’re all watching me and judging my form and thinking about how much faster they can run.

Resources and supply storage. Lord, I do wish that the gym had a bathroom. Barring that, though, my apartment is a two minute walk away. Plus the treadmill has all sorts of slots to hold my stuff. When I ran twenty miles on the treadmill a few weeks ago, I got it all set up for myself – iPod and phone balanced on the display, water bottle in one alcove, Shot Bloks in the other, auxiliary water bottle on the unused elliptical machine next to me, ready to top me off. I didn’t have to carry a darned thing.

Late nights and early mornings. Are great times to work out. I’m a total night owl, and the gym is 24/7. On those rare occasions I need to get up early instead, sunrise times don’t matter. Heck, an eclipse would be fine too. Lights on, door locked, ALL THE TIME SAFETY!

Weather. BRING IT ON.

Pacing. Run/walk ratios are a pain on the treadmill, and for whatever reason it’s harder for me to start running after a walk break on a treadmill. Yet setting a speed, sometimes outside of my comfort zone even, helps me push myself harder and farther than I’ve ever been able to under my own power.

Timing and mileage. Precision! Exactitude! A display that I, like everyone else on earth, sometimes find myself staring at with a dawning realization of horror that I am taking my first steps toward infinity!


I don’t really have one. I like the treadmill, but outdoor running has its merits. Maybe it would be more fun with a running buddy. Things to ponder…

What are your thoughts on the outdoors vs. treadmill debate? Do you having anything to add to my praise/complaints? Anything I forgot?

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  1. Ah, the treadmill- such a loyal friend. I've been a treadmill girl since I started running this summer, and I'm dreading the day that I have to start training outdoors (soon, since hills abound on the course for my first 5k next month!). I think my biggest concern with running outside is safety. Do you have any tips? Loved the post, as always! 🙂

  2. Yay, glad you liked it! 😀

    My biggest piece of advice would be this: if a tiny little bit of brain thinks something is a bad idea, don't do it. 'Cause here's the thing – we all KNOW that we shouldn't jog in the dark, or in bad areas, or without a cell phone, or in the middle of the road. But we also know that even if we do something stupid, we'll almost certainly be fine. Because statistically bad things usually DON'T happen. But occasionally they do. And who wants to be on the wrong end of statistics?

  3. first, I completely agree with you on the bathroom thing. Not once have I used a portapotty. Not once! I'm proud of this fact. Second, I think you need to invest in a sparkletech. I'm Mary freaking Poppins in that thing I fit so much.
    Having said this, I kinda sorta want a treadmill for Christmas but I don't think Santa deals in that kind of equipment since he already said I "need a new hairdryer" and let's be honest those are two very different price ranges…

  4. Ooh, I have always wanted a GOOD running skirt, but I've been spooked by the one I bought from Target; the compression shorts underneath do not stay at ALL. I should probably buy some running PANTS, too, just in case… Who woulda thought that choosing running gear would be such a hard slog!

    Me too! But I'm settling for the Garmin right now. Let's face it – the cheap treadmills are probably cheap for a reason. 🙁

  5. I'm an outdoor runner all the way; the thought of using a treadmill makes me want to die. I'm only being slightly hyperbolic. But! I wanted to say that whenever I run 5+ miles, my preferred route takes me up to a crazy mansion adjacent to a place that I call The Cat Garden, as it is a giant garden (at least by Brooklyn standards) that always has at least two (if not more) cats hanging out that meow at me as I run by them. That in itself is usually motivation to get my run in before work.

  6. I've only ever done a handful of runs on a treadmill and I usually hate it, but I think I'd like to start using a treadmill more often to do some speedwork or tempo runs, I'm just not good at doing them outside!

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