Ive been big into the running scene for 20 years. Did my first competitive 5 & 10K races in 1996. Since then the technology, training, clothes and footwear has progressed in leaps and bounds. Now you can buy running shoes that weigh less than a bag of sugar. I have a pair from Inov-8 that weigh 230g. Thats ferocious.
But the years can be taxing on the joints even with grippy well cushioned specialized trail shoes. But the smart athlete uses technology to protect against runners knee, tendonitis and even arthritis. I do a lot more treadmill training than I used to. Quite frankly because treadmills and especially the cushioning on them have gotten so good. This is definitely a lot kinder on your joints.
I for one want to be running well into my senior years. Im prepared to cycle my training between in and outdoors to boost my longevity. Running is my passion and I would be lost without it.
Training modules on treadmills have advanced to such high levels that you can even simulate a run of any city or running track complete with all its twists, turns and gradients. Top line models from Sole, Precor and preform offer this ability. So in theory you can run a test route at home. You can certainly work the same mileage and keep your fitness up.
If you cant afford one you will find them in gyms all over the country. Check out Fitness First, World or Golds Gyms. Me personally, I use a Weslo for preparing my conditioning for outdoor races. This treadmill is affordable. To see a recommended Weslo Cadence G 5.9 treadmill review that highlights all its features visit here. Remember this costs $300. You will soon get the value for this over a 12 month period.
Treadmills Vs Outdoor Running Comparison
I like to use my Weslo as It keeps the stamina in my legs. The speed is consistent, but this can be a problem if you also dont train outdoors. An outdoor environment requires a much different physicality than whats used on the treadmill. The traction and the force needed to propel you off the ground is completely different. Outdoor running engages the hamstring a lot more. Treadmills are powered by a motor, they turn constantly and therefore you dont need to use the same force to propel forwards.
While treadmills like the G 5.9 can help prepare you for long distant running trails, this relates mostly to the cardiovascular and stamina part of it. If you trained full time on a machine indoors and entered a competitive mid distance race or even a half marathon, you certainly would not be best prepared for it. The indoors does not have any wind resistance, unless you left the windows open in a hurricane. This is akin to driving a saloon car with all the windows down. You have to press down on the gas a little harder to build up the speed.
That causes you to burn more fuel or energy as the case is here. If you havent prepared in this environment then you can become sapped real soon, real early on race day. Youll probably finish, but maybe not at the speed or in the position you expected to. So you need to train wise. If you are in a wet, cold climate in the winter you can get away with training outdoors only once a week, if you are getting in shape for an upcoming race.
The treadmill will keep your fitness where it should be, it will help with stamina. But to get your lungs and cardiovascular system prepared for the outdoors climate, you need to train outside. You dont have to do it as frequently in the winter, but you still need to do it. If you dont it would be akin to preparing for a swimming race in the Pacific by training in your local swimming pool.
It would be a disaster. You wont have the currents, you wont be able to swim against the drifts or fight the pull of the tide. You would be completely thrown by these elements on race day. So how do you train for a 10K using the treadmill? Well you would slowly work up to a comfortable 10K time over a period of weeks. You need to allow at least 6 weeks for your training program.
If there are hills on the 10K you can increase the gradient after a week. If your treadmill has an automatic ramp you can start flat and slowly raise this during your training sessions. You dont have to do this for the entire session. If you use iFit you can program your exact course, and the ramp will rise and fall exactly as the course is laid out. Thats if Google maps can find it. (iFit integrates with maps).
If you only have a manual treadmill automation is out of the question. My Weslo G 5.9 has a manual ramp. That means you have to put it up at the start of the workout. But that is also fine, as you shouldnt be running with a ramp in every workout anyway. Its fine to run only one day per week if you use the treadmill 3 days per week. I usually keep my ramp at the lowest setting. On days when I use the highest setting I drastically reduce the running time and some days I just do short burst speed work.
That causes a real burn out in quick time, but it can also be great for adding power to the quads and hamstrings. Im more interested in distance running so I dont do a lot of this, but it helps every now and again to add workout diversity and add a shock to the legs and cardiovascular system.
But thats what is key. Variety. Not only for the body, but also the mind. If you get stuck in the same running cycle, not only will your training workouts get boring, they will also stagnate. Your fitness will not progress and in many cases it will actually reverse. So will your motivation. So dont be afraid to try something new. Something different, and definitely dont be afraid of the treadmill if you are an outdoor runner.