Is There Middle Ground in the Treadmill vs. Outdoors Debate?

Dark Outside

It happens every year, like clockwork.

With the onset of fall, as darkness falls earlier come the obligatory posts about running safely when it’s dark outside. And the running websites, magazines, and  Facebook groups throw out the question – Do you bring your run inside when it gets dark outside? The answers fly fast and furious, ranging from the tame, “No, I hate the dreadmill,” to the self-righteous, “It’s only a run if you run it outside.”

You know it's cold outside when you go outside and it's cold

You know it’s cold outside when you go outside and it’s cold

Now, as the country is in the throes of the “polar vortex,” we are going through round 2 of runners’ self-righteousness. Once again, the running websites, magazines, and Facebook groups are pitting the “real runners” against the “hamsters on the hamster wheel.” The question takes the form of – It’s X degrees out today, did you run outside or did you break down and hit the treadmill? Once again, the answers fly left and right, ranging from the weather-immune, “Of course I ran outside, just threw on an extra layer,” to the Eeyore-esque, “Call it what it is, the dreadmill,” to the haters, “Yes, I ran on the dreadmill, hated every second of it, and kicked it when I was done.”

picture of a treadmill

Treadmill

Every time these questions pop up or I read comments or posts about the “dreadmill” or people who proudly crow that they run outside exclusively no matter the conditions, I get a visceral reaction. “How dare they put down my beloved treadmill?” I ask myself. “Who are they to judge me or anyone else who runs on a treadmill?” I fume. “I’ve run marathons and half-marathons, too! Why are they bashing one of my training aids?” I rail inwardly.

Is this what a "real" runner's leg looks like?

Is this what a “real” runner’s leg looks like?

I‘m not sure why I have such a strong reaction to those posts, but I do. I’ve actually not renewed a running magazine subscription because one of their editors – yes, an editor – mocked treadmill runners. Why would an editor of a running magazine put down anyone who is running, regardless of where they’re running? Of course, I was accused of not having a sense of humor but what people don’t understand is that the little jabs here and there start to add up and pretty soon, anyone who runs on a treadmill will start to think that they aren’t runners. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it treadmill bullying but if the shoe fits…

Running Shoe

Running Shoe

The treadmill vs. outdoor runner debate will never get as heated as the runner vs. jogger debate. Yes, I saw one running group had resurrected that old saw recently, too. Why will it never get as heated? I can think of 3 reasons:

  1. Treadmill runners are intimidated by the “real” runners and feel inadequate after seeing all the vicious, hateful rhetoric about treadmills. These people don’t want to get flamed by the “real” runners when they make a comment that they run on a treadmill.
  2. A lot of treadmill runners probably don’t consider themselves real runners, which is an incredible fallacy. I’ll bet a majority of treadmill runners are gym-goers who are fit people. They probably crank out 3 to 6 miles 3 to 5 times a week as part of their workout without blinking an eye. But they may not consider themselves runners because they’ve never signed up for a race or because they’ve never followed a training program or because – heaven forbid – they run on treadmill instead of outside.
  3. Treadmill runners are not exclusively treadmill runners. We prefer the treadmill, but we also run outside. We are capable of finding the benefit in both.
No Haters

No Haters

Here’s the interesting thing to consider if you’re one of those outdoor-only runners – a run is a run is a run, no matter where you run it, no matter how fast you run it. We cheer the beginning runners who gasp their way around the block, but we denigrate the runners who have the mental toughness to slog out their runs on a treadmill. Why is that?

And if you’re one of those runners that thinks it’s cute to call it a dreadmill, consider this – if you name it, you own it. You call it a dreadmill and so you’ll dread every minute on it. You’ll never come to terms with how beneficial a treadmill can be. For a mother without childcare, a treadmill in the home could be a god-send. For a woman alone in a strange city, a treadmill in the hotel fitness center may be the only safe option. And the list goes on.

I’m a treadmill runner. I once ran a virtual half-marathon on my treadmill with nothing but music to keep me company. I learned my lesson after that run and now, the biggest television in the house is in the garage in front of my treadmill! But treadmill running has helped my focus, my mental toughness, and my consistency. Do I run outdoors? Of course I do! The fresh air, the sights and sounds, the social aspect of encountering other bikers and runners – what’s not to like? But at 5 o’clock in the morning when it’s still dark outside or after a long day at work, the treadmill is my friend.

My wish for the new year is that we runners support each other. Stop putting each other down. Stop making other runners feel like less than a runner because of where they run, how fast they run, or how they run. In my book, you’re a runner if you run. I don’t care if you run on the sidewalk, on a trail, on a bike path, on the beach, or on a treadmill – to me, you’re a runner. I don’t care if you run a 14 minute mile or a 10 minute mile or a six minute mile – to me, you’re a runner. I don’t care if you run, jog, run/walk, or walk/run – to me, you’re a runner.

In the meantime, wherever you run – Happy running!

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#oneword2012

English: Two New Year's Resolutions postcards

I’m not anti-New-Year’s-resolutions. I just don’t do them. For as long as I can remember, I’ve set goals for each calendar year and tracked my progress along the way. Things are no different this year.

For 2012, I identified 7 categories that are important to me and established 3 to 7 goals for each category. I know that I’ll be stretched as I try to attain my goals for the year. That’s usually what I have in mind when I go through my goal-setting exercise – things that take me out of my comfort zone, things that will make me a better person, things that will stimulate me.

As I was refining my goals, I learned about a new concept through a women’s leadership group on Facebook. The idea is that you pick one word and you use that word to guide you during the year. In her 2007 post, Christine Kane called it a Resolution Revolution. The WLI group’s #oneword2012 was gathered and turned into a Wordle.

My #oneword2012? Risk.

It’s a word that I’ve had in mind for many years because I’ve felt that as I’ve become older, I’ve become more cautious and content. It’s a word that I think of – along with “fearless” – whenever I watch young children learn new sports. Or 20-somethings who hop from job to job because they’re looking for something that their current job doesn’t give them. Or 40-somethings who leave a stable, satisfying job to pursue a lifelong passion. Somewhere between childhood and middle age we lose our appetite for risk. The risks we take become more cautious, more calculated, less…well, less risky.

So I chose “risk” for my #oneword2012 to remind me that the safe choice is not always the satisfying choice, that the pragmatic option is not always the passion-fulfilling option, that the expected decision is not necessarily the exceptional decision. As John A. Shedd wrote in 1928, “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” I hope that my #oneword2012 is a constant reminder throughout the year to push and stretch myself and to move out of my comfort zone.

What’s your #oneword2012?

And the thought processor churns on . . .

Coming to a Crossroad – Decision Time

Every day we make hundreds of decisions. Some of the decisions we make unconsciously – turning on a light when we enter a room, sitting in our “usual” seat in a conference room or on the bus, drinking coffee in the morning. We do these things because we’ve always done them so these actions seem natural and not decision points. But they are decision points.

If there’s enough natural light coming in from the window, we don’t need to turn on a light but the amount of natural light coming in usually doesn’t register until we’ve taken that automatic action of turning on the light. We could choose to drink tea in the morning or water but we reach for coffee because that’s what we’ve always drank in the morning. We make these unconscious decisions throughout the day.

Then there are the conscious decisions we make – where to go to lunch, which emails to respond to, which task we tackle first. Which race to enter. Whether to enter a race.

I’m toying with the idea of entering a triathlon in December, which would give me just about 3 months to prepare for it. Did I mention that I’m running  a half-marathon in 3 weeks? And a marathon 2 weeks after that? And another half-marathon 4 weeks after that? And that I’m not really comfortable in the water?

That last one is why I’m only toying with the idea of entering the race. Although I took swim lessons as a child, a traumatic incident instilled a fear of deep water that I never faced until last year. I’m still not really comfortable in the water. It takes me several laps – with long pauses at the wall after each lap – to go from desperately swimming just to get to the other side to being comfortable enough to focus on improving my form or to work on a drill. You wouldn’t know it because I’ve picked up surfing and stand-up paddle-boarding in the meantime. I’ve even tried discovery SCUBA dives. But I’m not comfortable in the water.

So this is a crossroads for me. Do I go or do I stay? By “go” I mean enter the race and “stay” means spending more time preparing and getting comfortable in the water. Do I enter this reverse triathlon (run, bike, swim instead of swim, bike run)? Will I be ready to swim 150 meters? Or do I wait until 2012 to participate in a triathlon? Do I spend more time getting more comfortable in the water before entering a race that involves swimming?

This is not an easy decision. What do you think?

The thought processor churns on . . .

Mental Magic

Ever have one of those weeks when you’re happy to get to the end but wish that you were still at the beginning or the middle of the week because there’s so much that needs to be done still? It’s been one of those weeks for me.

I think I made it even worse by not running at all this week and by only going to one swimming lesson. I did do strength training this week, though. And I made an interesting discovery.

These past few months I’ve been focusing on using 15-pound dumbbells because it seemed like a natural progression. I’ve managed to work up to 10 reps with good form but after going through a cycle of exercises, would be too exhausted to do another set. It got to the point where I was dreading my strength routine. And then it got to the point where I was skipping my strength routine.

I read an article last weekend that said using lighter weights could help build strength – just do more reps. So I tried that this week. I used my 10-pound dumbbells and did 15 reps with good form. When I finished all of my exercises, I wanted to go back and do another set. I’m glad that I didn’t, though. The next day, I felt an ache in my muscles that I haven’t felt in months! So I put my 15-pound weights away and will stick to the 10-pound weights but higher repetitions.

It’s amazing to me that little tricks can fool your mind and then suddenly anything is possible. We do that to ourselves every day. One of the running motivation tips you’ll often encounter is to get dressed and tell yourself that you’ll go out and run for 10 minutes and if you’re still not feeling like running, you’ll just return home. The idea behind this tip is that once you’re out, once you’re running, your body will take over and push aside all of the excuses and negativity that your mind is creating.

Another running tip that has gained a lot of cachet recently is having a mantra. The idea behind this tip is that you can use a phrase or a word to help motivate you and push you beyond what you think you’re capable of. I’ve tried mantras before and they haven’t really worked for me. But during the last San Jose Rock-n-Roll Half-Marathon, I came upon a mantra accidentally and it carried me all the way to the finish line. I tried using the same mantra at the Big Sur International Half-Marathon the next month and it didn’t seem to work quite as well. Then again, I tried the mantra again at the first race of 2011 and ended up taking second place in my age group. Interesting, isn’t it?

The power of the mind is mysterious to me. Find the mental trick that works for you – both in running and in life – and use it until it doesn’t work anymore. You may have a different mental trick for different aspects of your training and different life situations. A mantra of “I’m a lean, mean, speeding machine” wouldn’t be exactly appropriate if you’re sitting stuck in traffic! These mental tricks will help you achieve more than you thought you were capable of achieving.

Happy running!