Switching Gears: In Defense of the Mighty Treadmill

We are in the dead of winter here in Canada – and yes, I’m well aware that it isn’t even winter yet and it’s only November. I am a giant suck and a fair-weather runner, who happens to have a gym only minutes away from my house. Let’s just say, the treadmill is mighty tempting when the temperatures start dropping.

To make myself feel better about how often I choose the gym over the snow-covered sidewalks, I have made a handy pro and con list about making the switch to the ‘mill during the winter months.

Pro: You don’t need to worry about pacing yourself

I have been running for a few years now, yet my downfall remains the ability to properly pace myself. I’m starting to know the difference between how my body feels between a 7:00 minute kilometer and a 7:30 kilometer. But why worry about all that when my handy, dandy treadmill holds the speed for me. Consistency has been tough for me, as I have run a ton of intervals while training for races. Running machine miles has helped me build my base back up, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Con: It doesn’t replicate the real thing

Even the flattest course has more inclines than a treadmill. According to Runners World, setting the treadmill at a 1-2% incline can simulate the “intensity” of outdoor running and make up for the lack of wind resistance.. I’ll be honest, I rarely run on an incline. If I’m doing a interval run, I’m more likely to switch it up than if I’m running a big chunk of miles that day. It’s important to be cognizant of the fact that your treadmill time will not be the same as your outdoor time.

Pro: You can wear whatever you want and not need to worry about bundling

Heading out for a snowy run means loading on lots of gear. Two pairs of socks, running tights, multiple long sleeve shirts, a wind breaker, vest, toque, and gloves are necessary evils. I often feel like a tiny toddler tumbling around in my snowsuit when I go out on winter runs. However, my gym is beautifully climate controlled and I strategically place myself near the fans. I can wear shorts and tanks, race shirts and capris, whatever I feel like. Not only do I feel less like a bundled-up baby, it means less laundry. Win, win.

Con: It’s boring as all hell

It is so boring staring off into space. At the last gym I went to, the machines were pressed up against windows on a busy street, which at least lead to interesting people watching. Now, I’m stuck gawking at the people on the ellipticals, which makes me feel like quite the voyeur. I had to switch to podcasts on my longer runs to stave of the boredom. Mix up your playlists or turn on the television to make the time go by faster.

Pro: Intervals and speed-work are made easy

Working on your speed with fartleks or hammering out some 90/60/30 intervals (THOSE ARE MY FAVE, BTW)? You can use the settings already on the treadmill or set your own. You can vary the speed at the push of a button. So easy.

Con: You’ll never get medals for your ‘mill miles

With the exception of virtual ones, races are never run on a machine. You will never have the energy boost from a cheer squad and will never know the sheer joy of chasing down a runner who you’ve been tracking the whole race. The miles are just that, miles. Not a race. Not an experience.

Pro: Hello water-bottle holder 

With all its handy compartments, you will never need to hold onto your gear while running on a machine. I happily prop up my water-bottle, towel, and iPhone on the treadmill and don’t have to worry about whether my running capris have pockets. Handy, dandy.

Con: Horrible treadmill neighbours

Stomping, snotting, sweating, coughing, stripping. You name it, I have likely had a treadmill neighbour do it. Don’t even get me started on creepers. I feel like people forget common courtesy in the gym. No, I don’t want to chat. No, you don’t need to cough all over the treadmill beside me when there are plenty of other machines available. No, you shouldn’t be kicking the front of your treadmill when there is plenty of room behind you. People are the worst. And, you can’t run away from them.

Pro: You never have to come back to the starting point

Most of my outdoor runs are giant loops or out-and-backs. There is no worse feeling that hitting the wall 5 miles from your house and still having to make your way back to your front door. I try to plan my distance out perfectly, but this can easily leave me stranded far away if I’m just not feeling it that day. Treadmills have your back, though. You can run as much or as little as you want and still be the same distance away from home. Bonus!

Con: You never really learn to pace yourself

With your handy dandy treadmill doing the work, you never really learn to trust your body. A mile is a mile, a speed is a speed. All you have to do is turn up the speed and/or incline on the machine. To me, running on a treadmill is like relying heavily on your Garmin. I still need to put in more work and be more aware of my body before I can successfully pace myself.


The bottom line, though, is to stick with what you will actually run. I know there is no way I’m going to run outside when there is a foot of snow or a cold snap. I do know that a short shake out run is more likely to happen outside than a long-slow Sunday jaunt. For me, I am going to set myself up for success and chose the terrain that is the most comfortable for my mileage. I will never feel guilty for being a treadmill runner. And you shouldn’t either.

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