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Treadmill training is not the same as road running

If you are training for an outdoor run, don’t rely solely on treadmill training as your preparation.  Running on a treadmill in the gym is not the same as running for real.

When you are training for a short run, like a marathon relay stage of between 3 and 5 miles, make sure to build in some real outdoor running into your training schedule.

When I was training for my 5 mile run, I trained exclusively indoors at the gym on the treadmill. This was partly because of the poor weather.  But I found to my cost that treadmills do not provide adequate training for real runs.

A couple of miles into my real run, my leg muscles were burning and I had to start walking instead of running. This was despite several weeks of treadmill training in the gym, and treadmill runs of 5 miles.

I eventually finished my run/jog/walk, but after a few days recovering, I began to wonder why I had failed.

I think I found the answer in simple mechanics.

The treadmill is a rolling road. You set the speed and it keeps on going. It doesn’t need you. It will merrily keep rolling whether you are there or not.

When you are running on the treadmill, especially lazy running, you just have to try to keep up with it.

To keep going on the treadmill you need to draw each leg forward in turn and plant your foot in front of you. And that’s it. The treadmill takes care of the rest. The rolling road drags your planted foot backwards. You are exerting very little effort in this part of the stride.

In contrast, a real road doesn’t help you. It doesn’t care whether you want to walk, jog or run. All the road does is supply a surface to push against. The road isn’t going anywhere. If you want to run on it, you have to push against it.

And here’s the real difference between treadmill running and road running. Like treadmill running you draw each leg forward in turn and plant your foot. But if you want to generate forward movement you need to push against the road as you manually draw your leg backwards. All the work is done by you.

The road isn’t helping you. If you want to run at 6 miles per hour, you need to push yourself forward at 6 miles per hour. And this is where the extra effort is involved with road running compared to treadmill running.

It becomes more obvious when I thought about the muscles that were sore after my 5 mile run. I had trained at this distance in the gym so the muscles involved in drawing the leg forward were fine. My knees were fine and my ankles were fine. But the muscles you use to push yourself forward in running were stiff, sore and tight.

So I have learned my lesson. Treadmill running, on its own, is not good preparation for a real run on the road.

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