When the weather turns south, we normally head indoors to the treadmill. Doesn't it seem like you can kill it on the treadmill but when it warms up and you head outside, your distance running suffers? It gets you wondering why the treadmill is so much easier. Is it the topography? Wind? Something else? Plus, "How can I run longer and farther outdoors?"
We asked a few running experts their thoughts on the subject and if they had any tips on how can we run longer and farther. No more huffing and puffing after 3 steps… right?
We all have probably experienced this on multiple occasions.
Don’t get me wrong, the treadmill is great, but it just doesn’t stack up to distance running outdoors.
As Martise Moore, Founder of GreenRunner, put it so succinctly, “Mother Nature is a lot less generous. When you run outside, the ground does not move, so your body works a lot harder to propel you forward. And when your body works harder, it fatigues faster.” So, what are some of the main reasons it’s easier to run on a treadmill? Let’s dive in:
Overcoming the Elements
Obviously running outside can be a booger because of the wind, sun, temperature…etc. Wind can be the biggest demon you have to deal with when it comes to outdoors distance running.
As Samantha Kellgren, certified Health Coach (ACE) and Running Coach (RRCA), explained, “Even with a calm breeze, you’re still exerting more effort and this translates to higher oxygen consumption making your run feel harder as your body is working to process oxygen at a higher rate.” I’ve definitely been there… more oxygen please!
And then there’s the blistering sun and temperature that can quickly beat you down. Even if it’s only in the 80’s it can still make running a difficult challenge.
Not only are your muscles working to propel you forward, your body is also trying to cool itself which can cause you to quickly become tired.
On the flipside, when it’s cold outside Kellgren said that, “It takes longer for your muscles to warm up and breathing can feel harder with the rush of cold air to your lungs.”
Both of these conditions can cause you to fatigue quicker and make running outside harder than the trusty indoor treadmill! You definitely need to dress appropriately on both occasions.
Overcoming the Terrain
While you can increase the incline of the treadmill, it just can’t compete with the unpredictability of distance running outside! As Chris Twiggs, Galloway Training and International Program Director, explained, “While top end treadmills can simulate all sorts of hills, they don’t have curbs to jump over, puddles to avoid, twists and turns to navigate, or other runners getting in the way.”
He went on to say that in order to truly mimic the real world we need to run in the real world.
This will help build up our small muscles that play a role in balance and maneuvering around obstacles.
And then that brings us to the actual material you are running on! Instead of a springy treadmill, when you hit the pavement outside you are hitting exactly that – pavement.
Kellgren explained that concrete can be unforgiving on your joints and that jumping over puddles or simply hopping over curbs takes more “Mind-body coordination and muscle recruitment than simply running on a flat and consistent surface.”
Overcoming Your Treadmill Gait
Do you run the same when you are on the treadmill as opposed to barreling forward outside? For many of us the answer is No. Kellgren says that your stride tends to be shorter and quicker when running on the treadmill. Likewise, “You’re not pushing off the ground [on a treadmill] with as much force as when running outdoors.”
So, when you head outside make sure to focus on long, powerful strides.
On top of that, your running form in general may be out of whack and really killing your long-distance runs. When it comes to distance running, Moore says, “Any movement that your body makes while you run, that is not forward, is a waste of energy. So, for example, if your torso twists side-to-side when you run, you are wasting energy that you could be using to go forward.”
Make sure to control your body as you are crushing your goals!
Overcoming Motor Assisted Effect
As you would have guessed, the actual mechanics of running on a moving platform is different than propelling yourself forward, right? Twiggs explained that because obviously the treadmill is moving under your feet it is doing a lot of the work for you.
All you’re essentially doing moving over the top of it and not propelling yourself forward. To combat this he recommended, "The solution is to set the incline of the treadmill to 0.5% or 1%."
This small of an incline is barely perceptible, but it is enough to put back in the work we would otherwise miss.
Distance Running: Bringing It All Together
So how can I run longer and farther? First and foremost, we want to remain injury free, right? That’s why Kellgren recommends trying to increase your speed, duration, or distance one at a time because, “Doing too much at one time can lead to injuries like shin splints or stress fractures.”
As Twiggs recommended earlier, Kellgren reiterated that when running on a treadmill, a great way to adjust or mimic outdoor running is to run at a 1% incline because, “This has been shown to replicate the oxygen consumption rate of running outdoors.”
When it finally warms up and you are able to get out there and get in a great run, Moore recommends starting slow! She explained that starting out too fast on a long-distance run is a common mistake, “We feel so energized at the beginning of a run, so we go for it! And then…whomp, whomp, whomp…we’re dying. So slow down and pace yourself!”
As you start to increase your distances week by week, make sure to adhere to the 10% rule, which Kellgren explained means, “Increasing your weekly distance by no more than 10% each week so as to comfortable adapt to longer distances.”
This will allow you to take it slow and build up your endurance week by week. Kellgren said that even 2-3 days a week running can be enough if you are consistent and, maybe more importantly, patient!
Finally, what comes to mind if you want to run farther? Running more? That’s exactly one of the tips that Moore recommended because as you run more your cardiovascular system will improve.
She explained, “[An improved cardio system] will happen even if you only run on a treadmill and
you’re consistently setting and achieving better time and distance goals. But if you run outdoors, your endurance will get better faster.”
Wrap-Up: How can I run longer and farther?
As you work hard to increase duration, speed, or distance on the treadmill this winter, just remember what Chris Twiggs recommends when it comes to running on a treadmill, “Instead of worrying about pure speed, focus on heart rate or perceived exertion."
Train for time rather than speed or distance and just enjoy the workout.
There you go. So, when you ask yourself the question, “How can I run longer and farther?” you can start implementing these tips outdoors or on the treadmill and eventually reach your goals!