Treadmill running

Photo courtesy of normanack in Flickr.

Because of last week’s inclement weather, I was forced to do my running on a treadmill.  I figured that any training is better than no training.

There was a time in my life when I thought that running on a treadmill can serve as a substitute for real road running.  I would log hours upon hours of treadmill running.   I didn’t want to do any road running.  My typical excuses were car pollution, fatigue from work, late-night dinners, parties.  I was lazy to wake up in the morning and I was tired when I got home.  So my typical routine would be to do my workouts at the gym during lunch hour.

But then, when I did find the time to do some road running, I discovered that running on a treadmill did not translate to running on the road.  My ankles hurt.  My knees hurt.  My legs were heavy like cement.  It didn’t feel right.  After just a few hundreds of meters I was breathing heavily and my heart was pounding like a jack-hammer.  How could that be?  I was capable of running 10K on a moving belt!  Shouldn’t the bio-mechanics be the same?

Well, it comes out that it isn’t the same.   I am no expert in anatomy or kinesiology, but I know how road running feels.  And there is one fundamental difference between road running and treadmill running.  When you do real-world road running, your legs push yourself forward.   So as you propel yourself forward, imagine what muscles come into play.  Your legs push your body not vertically but at a forward angle. You feel the strain on your calves.  You accelerate forward then you feel the impact on your quads and on your knees.  You decelerate as your hamstrings pull your legs back.   Then you accelerate again.

Now imagine a treadmill run.  There’s no forward propulsion.  It’s the “ground” underneath that moves so all you have to do is propel yourself vertically and then to stabilize yourself to prepare for the backward motion of the treadmill belt.  There’s no acceleration-deceleration cycle.  So there are muscles used in road running that aren’t used in treadmill running.  Naturally, these are the muscles that would fatigue.

Anyway, that was years and years ago.  I had to break out of that treadmill routine.  What use is pounding your body and training your muscles if it can’t be applied in a real-world scenario?  Not to say that treadmill running is a bad thing.  As I said above, in cases of stormy weather, treadmill running may be the only alternative.  The storm would not let up and I faced the possibility of being idle for a week.  And there are other uses for treadmill running—you can do interval runs, simulate hills,  run at a faster pace, vary the incline, and so forth.   So I won’t write-off treadmill running as a bad training regiment.  You need to subject your body to a variety of situations because that will force your body to adapt and strengthen itself.   I just have to make sure that I still do my road running.