Trails & treadmills

I keep seeing an advertisement on TV for an expensive-looking treadmill with a video screen that lets you choose your “scenery.”

No thanks.

I used to run on a treadmill. I did so for years, so I’m not putting down treadmills or treadmill runners. Running on a treadmill is far better than not exercising at all.

We owned a treadmill for years, and when I got tired of maintaining it, I drove to the gym and ran on a treadmill there. But at some point I began asking myself why I was paying for a gym membership when I could literally step out my front door and start running outside.

Why not give it a try? It was August, 2012. The idea of running a half-marathon had not yet been hatched. The one sticking point had been what to do in winter. What if I can’t run outside in cold weather?

My first few runs in the summer heat outside were disappointing compared to the miles I was getting on a treadmill. I literally had to get in shape all over again.

It turns out my concern over running in the cold was much ado about nothing. My ideal running temperature is 40-45 degrees, as long as there’s no wind. I can even run in short sleeves at 45 degrees if it’s sunny and windless.

I don’t write these things in order to impress anyone. It’s just that running on a treadmill doesn’t do it for me any longer. I’ve run on a treadmill exactly once since I gave up the gym membership. It was in a hotel while we were traveling. I ran a 5K and it was so boring it was insufferable. You can show me scenery on a screen, but it’s just scenery on a screen.

Give me the scenery of the out-of-doors, the trails, the pavement, houses and families and people outside. Give me the clouds and the sun and the rain and the wind.

Running during the heat of summer is the hardest. During summer I do primarily 5K’s. I can rarely do more. The heat and humidity just wear me down. My shirt will be so soaked with sweat that I have to wring it out in the bathtub so it won’t drip on the floor when I drape it over the shower rod. But I still get my miles in even during the hottest part of summer.

Likewise, twice this past winter I ran when there was snow on the ground. I had to wear gloves and a toboggan, running pants and two layers of Under Armour. But even during the coldest part of winter I get my miles. Winter means fewer runs, but more miles per run than during summer, so at least my miles remain amazingly consistent throughout the year.

The elements often provide difficulty, but the out-of-doors are also quite pleasant during the autumn and spring. Likewise, the pavement can be very unforgiving. Running in Middle Tennessee means running on hills. It sometimes means getting caught in a shower. It means the wind is sometimes in your face and sometimes at your back. It means alternating shade and sunshine. It means wet streets and puddles. It means meeting other runners and walkers, too. It means constantly moving scenery. It means going ever wherever you will yourself to go. It means autonomy, because you are your own engine. It means that you have to get yourself back home when you wander off.

I have run three half-marathons to date. There’s no way I could have prepared for a half-marathon running on a treadmill. The half-marathon is run outside, on pavement, with hills, rain or shine, and the only way to prepare your body and your mind is to run outside, on pavement, with hills, rain or shine.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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