My journey with running started on a treadmill at my local gym. That’s right. It was November, the weather outside was not favourable, to say the least, and I had already signed up for one year’s membership a few weeks earlier. I was very happy being in a controlled environment – dry and warm.
Why Not Run Outside To Start With?
As I was just starting to run, having a gym literally 100 metres away from home and it being Autumn, I figured that I would have no excuse not to go for a run. Make your goals easy to achieve – it will drive you forward. Plus the advantage of an easily monitored progress was what I needed. Little did I know I was on my way from couch potato ->5k. Remember, I did not go out to run for the sake of running. I wanted to get extra energy – running was the means of achieving it. My expectations were not set high. Sure, I enjoyed running in my youth. I ran some cross-county events in elementary school but that was pretty much it. As I started my running, I found that I could combine other things with it. Being on the treadmill, I did not need to give my full attention to the movement. My legs moved at a set speed without any obstacles to watch out for. My first focus was breathing. As I learned, if you keep your breaths long and deep, your heart rate slows – that in turn enables you to tap into the energy stored in fat to drive you forward. It is much harder to focus on breathing when you are outside, weaving around traffic or looking down at the ground to make sure you do not place your foot on a stone, twisting your ankle.
Realising there is more to life, I had also started listening to self improvement gurus such as Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy and Wayne Dyer. Running on a treadmill enabled me to focus more on the things they were saying without the distractions of the outside world.
My First Outing – The Half Marathon
Friends told me I needed to run outside a few times to train for half marathon. They told me it would be much harder. I thought so too, however, I did not manage to find the time. And so I went, to my first Half Marathon, a 13.1 mile race, not having run a single mile outdoors in more than 20 years (and then I only ran no more than 2-3 miles). All this with 4 months training, 3-4 times a week, about 40 minutes each on a treadmill.
All I prayed for was that it would not rain – quite a lot to ask for in England.
The day was beautiful. Cold, but dry. Just before I left home, I took my winter hat – smartest thing ever. That hat kept me warm and kept the sweat out of my eyes at the same time.
Running outdoors – a breeze. If anyone tells you that running on a treadmill is easier than running outside, it’s not true. When you run on a treadmill, you need to set a speed. No matter how hard you try, you will never find that exact perfect pace that your legs favour on a machine – because your legs like to change pace every few seconds.
I found that I was going at a faster pace with greater ease when I ran outdoors. And I loved it.
Back On the Treadmill
With the Half Marathon over, not only did I go from couch potato to 5k, but I went from zero to 21k in 4 months. The very next day I returned to the gym. It was still cold outside and I was back in my safe environment. I kept this up for nearly six months. No excuses, regular sessions, comfortable pace.
But then the summer came – late, very late, but it came. And so in late July, after hearing for months from a friend of mine (whom I introduced to running), that the best place to run is outdoors, I finally made my transfer. And boy, what a difference!
So, What Is the Difference?
Where shall I start? Maybe with the most obvious – the pace. It has now been 3 weeks since I have stepped out. Since then, I have improved my pace dramatically. As an example, in my first run outdoors, I did my best mile in 09:38. The other day, I crushed it at 07:19. Better yet, I find that I am doing greater distances. On a treadmill I would do 3-4 miles, outdoors I am running 6-7 miles. And I would like to run more, but need to restrain myself as I cannot allocate any more time to the activity. Breathing is calmer, stride is longer. Only thing to worry about is the uneven surface.
The Air Is Fresher Outdoors!
With record temperatures outside, it began to be difficult to run at the gym. It was difficult to breathe and I noticed that I did not enjoy it as much anymore. I started counting down the time till the end – no good. When I stepped outside, I actually did this on the warmest days this year. But it was great. Sweat pouring, sun blazing – I was silly enough to run midday, yet the feeling was amazing. The fresh air, the sights, the freedom to move in a natural way (a great sun tan, too). I have lived in the same place for over six years now but have never discovered what wonderful things are in the near proximity. I have a forest less than a mile away. Two miles away are pastures, where horses graze and you can run with them. In a different direction, also two miles away, a path takes you through a beautiful golf course, and three miles away are marshes and a nature reserve. Yes, if you live in South Oxhey or Watford, this is on your doorstep. Not to mention an amazing path which leads from Bushey all the way past Rickmansworth – runners and bikers paradise.
In words of Sinatra ‘I had a few’. Yet none related to running. I do not regret that I started to train for half marathon on the treadmill. Why? Because I managed to stay focused and kept away from easy excuses not to run. Also, running on a treadmill keeps you safe. Safe in terms of having a soft surface and one where you do not need to worry about putting your foot wrong.
If you have a chance to start off running on a treadmill or on a proper track, I would highly recommend it. Your muscles, especially around the ankles, knees, hips and back will strengthen being on a stable and even surface. Then, when you step on unknown tracks, your chance of injury decreases. The more training you get on safe grounds, the better off you are. Hence, although I have missed out on months of pleasurable and better running outdoors, I do cherish the time I spent on the treadmill as it strengthened my body.
But again I will say this, go out and get in motion. Indoors, outdoors, it does not matter, start moving – your body deserves it!
I await your stories and experiences…