It's winter here in the Midwest, with its stinging winds, snow storms, and freak ice attacks. I haven't been running outside as much as I'd like to--instead opting for sessions with my old adversary, the treadmill.
Like a lot of runners, I didn't feel I was truly a runner until I started running outside. Each year, I celebrate my birthday (today) and my runnerversary (the day I started outdoor running, Oct. 16). Before that date, I hadn't thought to run outside. I did use a treadmill at my campus REC center often, and found it was the one piece of cardio equipment that seemed to really accelerate my weight loss. Then, on that October day, a brain flash--why not just run outside? From that flash, a runner was born.
So here I am, several years later, back to the treadmill vs. outdoor running quandary. Here are, in my humble opinion, the pluses of a treadmill:
1) It's warm inside. Whether you have your own treadmill or use one at the gym, the temperature is bound to be better inside than outside. Winter weather, slippery roads, icy patches in the cold-weather months and hot, humid, temps in the summer months make the treadmill an option for those weather extremes that are becoming more and more prevalent.
2) Watch a movie. Watch Sports Center. Watch Shaun T. on that Insanity infomercial. When I travel and I use a hotel fitness room treadmill, I always pick the one that has an imbedded television. At the gym, there are rows of TVs in the cardio area. I don't own a home treadmill, but there always seems to be a TV near a treadmill when I'm on one. I can watch "Real Housewives of Wherever" and feel virtuous while doing so.
3) Listen to music. Yeah, you can listen to music when you are out for a run, but let's admit it, it's not the safest thing in the world to do. On a mill, you can pump your music into your bloodstream and not worry about being hit by a car, chased by animal, or yelled at by a rude passer-by.
4) Control the incline and speed. When I run outdoors, I can avoid the hills, but on a mill, once I put the incline on, I tend to leave it there until I'm finished. I'm still shy about speed, but hope to get my speed up consistently in the 7 mph range.
What makes a treadmill less than ideal to me is the sense of confinement I feel on the machine. I've read the best way to run on a treadmill is to stay in the center of the belt, and not to hump the control panel (I've seen this a lot and it always amuses me). I tend to tense up though, and find it hard to relax and let go the way I do outside. And if I see a bunny outside, it's "oh how cute, a bunny!" If I see a bunny indoors, well, I'd wonder what I'd had to drink the previous night.
I think treadmill running actually improves my endurance for outdoor runs, so I think I will incorporate both into my schedule. But when push comes to shove, I'll always opt to lace up my sneakers and head outside for some air, some grass, some trees and some bunnies!