Runners prefer outdoor workouts to 'dreadmill'
By Doug Gulasy
Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 7:55 p.m.
In training for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon held last Sunday, Cameron Blissell admittedly didn't run as much as he wanted because of recent cold weather.
To supplement the outside running he did, Blissell went to the gym and used elliptical machines. He steered clear of another gym staple, however: the treadmill.
“Thirty seconds on there feels like an hour,” said Blissell, 25, of Pittsburgh.
Such a sentiment is echoed by many runners, enough so that avid runners dub the treadmill as the “dreadmill.”
One such runner, Wayne Kurtz, did plan an indoor run last weekend — and a lengthy one at that. Kurtz, an ultramarathoner, planned to run for 48 hours straight on a treadmill at the GNC Live Well Pittsburgh Health and Fitness Expo at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to raise money for the Running for Laptops charity that provides computers to needy youths.
Good cause aside, Kurtz doesn't like running indoors.
“When you're running indoors, the air is stale — it's just not the same,” said Kurtz, 45, of McCandless. “It's extremely boring — I think that's a big difference. And plus, not being out on the trails, it's night and day. Our races aren't on the indoors, they're on the outdoors.”
Some doctors say running outside is more beneficial to a person's health and fitness and is a better overall workout.
Dr. Moira Davenport, a specialist in emergency medicine and sports medicine at Allegheny General Hospital, said the main benefit of running outdoors is that it gives people a chance to exercise on a variety of surfaces — whether it's the street, trail, track or something else.
Davenport said minimal shoe movement is involved in running on a treadmill, which can lead to the weakening of some of the smaller muscles in the foot.
“It's by going to the different surfaces — running on the trails, running up hills — that we can strengthen some of those muscles,” Davenport said. “So it actually is a huge benefit to your legs. Plus it's good to mix up the surfaces in terms of just the wear and tear on your body.
“The grass and trails, especially at Frick and Schenley (parks), have great trails. But both surfaces are easier on your legs than even a treadmill.”
One experience that few treadmills can replicate, Davenport said, is running downhill, which can put stress on quadriceps.
While running outside is more beneficial to your legs, Davenport said people need to make sure to mix it up out there, as well. For example, if running on a track, people can run one mile going in one direction and follow that with a mile in the opposite direction.
“The way the track is built, especially in lane 1, the angles going around the corner will put a lot more pressure on the inside leg,” she said. “So it's good to switch directions to keep things balanced that way.”
People also can get a better workout by running outdoors, Davenport said. Because treadmill belts partially propel runners forward, runners aren't doing the full amount of work.
Because of that, the workout numbers on the screen — pace, calories burned and miles run — are often misleading.
Running outdoors requires a full effort, leading to a better overall workout.
“Even if you're running, say, a 7-minute mile on the treadmill, it's really like a 7:20 to 7:30 mile outdoors,” Davenport said.
While outdoor running has its tangible benefits, runners believe its pros extend beyond the physical. Several runners said they prefer running outdoors for the scenery.
Davenport, an avid runner herself, said it can be a less stressful way to exercise.
“Your mind can wander,” said Sharon Trimber, 50, of Ross, who ran the half marathon Sunday. “You can look at things. You're not always staring at the numbers on the treadmill, hoping that you get that next mile in.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @DGulasy_Trib.
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