Winter is Coming: Running Inside Vs. Outside

The transition to the dreadmill doesn’t have to be so dreadful

Scott Mayer
Oct 29, 2019 · 5 min read
Credit: Running Magazine

It’s that time of year for us Midwesterners. The leaves are changing, the holidays are descending, and a sharp chill fills the air — indicative of the Arctic winds that will soon blast their way out of the north with the fury of the Night King himself.

Winter is coming.

Unfortunately for us active types, this means moving our running activities inside, either to an indoor track (if we’re lucky) or — gulp — to the treadmill, or dreadmill if you prefer. Even the bravest of winter warriors won’t make it outside for every run during the cold, dark months.

It’s important to understand that the apprehension we feel towards running inside is less about the hamster wheel itself, but more about what’s lost when we head indoors. Sure it’s monotonous, sure it’s boring, but the cure for monotony and boredom is simple. Throw on a movie. Queue up your favorite show. Chat with a friend on the treadmill next to you.

What’s not simple is replacing the intangibles. Running is so much more than putting one foot in front of the other. Sure that’s the physical mechanism, but that barely scratches the surface of what running is. Running is peace. Serenity. Therapy. Spirituality. It’s a relationship. Feeling the earth underfoot provides a sense of grounding and foundation. The warm sunlight streaming through the trees provides an almost heaven-like atmosphere. Most of this goes away when we start running in place indoors.

However, not all is lost. In order to make it through the winter with our sanity and our fitness intact, we must embrace what our running experience will be like for the next part of the year. It will be different, and it will be less than ideal. Realize it, accept it, and plan for it.

Here are three tips for you to make the most of your indoor running this winter:

Vary your workouts

Don’t perform the same run all the time. One of the more common mistakes I see is people slogging through the same 30 minute jog day after day, week after week with no variety. Don’t use the treadmill so one-dimensionally, it has much more application than that. Stop projecting boredom simply because you assume it has to be!

Increase the treadmill incline. Simulate hills, both up and down*, large and small. Not only will this get the heart pumping, but it will help build the muscles in your legs to handle an increased load. This means more strength and more speed.

*not all treadmills can simulate a downhill environment

Incorporate different speeds at different points in your run. Just like you would with a tempo run, for example, start out slower then gradually increase speed until you’re pushing your lactic threshold to its maximum. Then gradually work your way back and into your cool-down.

Perform High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T). There aren’t many better training methods for burning the greatest amount of calories in the shortest amount of time. Sprinting is the perfect example of an H.I.I.T. workout — sprint for 30 seconds. Walk or jog for 120 seconds. Rinse and repeat 8 times. If you’re looking to cross-train (and you should), the same logic applies for the pool, the stationary bike, the rowing machine, whatever you choose.

Simulate your emotional state

Running does more than just improve your physical health. It’s one of the best ways to keep your mental health in top shape. An easy jog at your favorite time of day on your favorite trail with your favorite people (or without, if you’re like me and prefer to run alone) will arguably do more for the soul than the physical body.

Running, in my opinion, is a form of active meditation. We step outside ourselves, if only for a time, to truly live in the moment. To connect inward. To understand what truly motivates and drives us. It’s a brief release from life’s constant struggle.

In order to replicate these feelings on a treadmill, we must first accept we can’t replicate them 100%. But, we can simulate the environment to a degree by triggering those same emotions — listening to the same music, the same podcasts, or the same audiobooks for instance. Throw on a “motivational” video from YouTube — personally, I queue up videos of Courtney Dauwaulter and Jim Walmsley kicking serious a** on the trails out in California, Colorado, and Utah. Use whatever helps your emotions churn, and channel that energy into your run.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly time goes by.

Focus on rest and recovery

During the prime running months of late spring, summer and early fall, us runners are getting after it. We’re running on roads, trails, tracks, beaches, and everything in between. We’re running races with our friends and traveling and staying up late. We’re EXHAUSTED on Sunday nights. We push our bodies to their limits.

Now that winter is on the horizon, we’ve got fewer activities planned. I can count on one finger how many outdoor winter races I’ve done. The roads, trails, tracks and beaches will become much less accessible soon.

We put our bodies through through the wringer not because we have to, but because we want to. The winter months are a great time to focus on rest and rehabilitation:

  • Be more consistent with your stretching.
  • Use a foam roller regularly.
  • Cross-train. Opt for the pool, the stationary bike, or the row machine
  • Decrease your weekly mileage
  • Include some regular weight training in your routine.

Injury for a runner is our worst nightmare. It takes us out of the game we love, sometimes for a while. 80% of the time it’s an overuse injury, an injury that could have been prevented if we’d taken adequate time to rest and recover.

Use these winter months to reset and restore your body. It will thank you.

The winter doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. With the right mindset, the right goals and the right attitude, the winter will prove to be an excellent steward of your health and fitness, rather than dead time that only passes when the flowers start to bloom again. You’ll fly into spring stronger, healthier and more motivated than ever, able to crush any goal you put your mind towards.

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Runner's Life

Runner's Life is a publication for advice and stories from…

Scott Mayer

Written by

Runner, thinker, curious observer. Owner of In Fitness And In Health. Chicago, IL.

Runner's Life

Runner's Life is a publication for advice and stories from the intersection of running and life. By runners, for runners.

Scott Mayer

Written by

Runner, thinker, curious observer. Owner of In Fitness And In Health. Chicago, IL.

Runner's Life

Runner's Life is a publication for advice and stories from the intersection of running and life. By runners, for runners.

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