How To Transition From the Treadmill to Outdoors, According to a Running Pro

Serotonin and dopamine have been in short supply the past year, so perhaps you're looking for ways to boost yours. As luck would have it, running is a great, neurochemical-boosting alternative to activities such as "buying lots of things" and "texting a toxic ex for the mood boost you get when they respond." And now that it's warmer out, you may be considering making a transition from a treadmill to outdoors for your runs. In which case, it's worth noting that there are a few things that can make this switch smoother than the belt on your treads running deck.

Even though both treadmill running and outdoor running are, well, running, there are clear differences between them that require more than just adapting to the lack of cold eucalyptus towels immediately at your disposal. "If you've been a long time treadmill runner now interested in running outdoors, don't be too hard on yourself—easier said than done," says Jes Woods, Nike Running Coach and regional manager for Mile High Run Club.

Experts In This Article
  • Jes Woods, New York City-based Nike running coach

"I would say the number one difference is the very obvious 'outside factors' that affect your running, aka the 'uncontrollables,'" Woods says. This includes things like headwind, humidity, uneven terrain, and having to dodge other people—all things you don't have to worry about when you're running on the treadmill. "I often see runners get frustrated with their speed running outdoors wondering why they can't hit the same paces as they did on the tread," Woods says. "Aside from the aforementioned mitigating factors when running outside, you have to remember that the treadmill belt is doing a little bit of the work for you in helping propel you forward. When running outside, you're doing all the work, so allow yourself some grace."

So, don't get discouraged if you aren't running the same speed outdoors as indoors—in fact, plan on not hitting the same speeds and being okay with it. And if you've got goals that require hitting certain paces, consider running with other people because group energy can push you to go further and faster than you would if you were solo on a treadmill.

To get yourself prepared for uneven outdoor terrain, Woods recommends setting the incline on the treadmill to one or two percent. "We talked about the treadmill belt doing some of the work for you, propelling you forward. The slight incline forces you to do more of the work, just as you would running outside," Woods says. She also recommends adding treadmill runs that include hill drills. "Practicing different paces and inclines indoors will set you up for success, making you a stronger overall runner regardless of indoor or outdoor running," she says.

Before you lace up and head outside, Woods says it's important to take the time to plan your route—including where water and bathroom stops are because those things won't be immediately at your disposal anymore. While on your outdoor run, you need to make a conscious effort to be aware of your surroundings, Woods says. "When running inside on the tread, it's easy to zone out and jam to your playlist. But outdoors, and especially with city running, you need to be focused and in the moment most all the time, being aware of cyclists, other pedestrians, and the occasional flying soccer ball from the infield of the track."

If you need some motivation, Woods recommends trying Nike Running Audio Guided Runs, or finding a local run group  and suggests asking your local running store for suggestions. "Running with friends is almost always more fun," she says.

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