To some people, running is a by-word for torture. For others, it’s a form of freedom – a chance to get out and blow away the cobwebs.
If you have only ever tried running in the safe air-conditioned confines of the gym, then you are missing out on the real running experience. On a cold, wet, dark winter’s morning, I admit that the gym may be infinitely more appealing than stepping outside, but even when the conditions are bad, there is definitely a lot to be said for running outdoors.
1. You actually get somewhere
Running on a treadmill will, in theory, replicate the running experience. But there is nothing I hate more than to run on the spot, with the scenery never changing. You suddenly find your fellow gym members absolutely fascinating, despite the fact that they are doing nothing other than sweating on the cross-trainer.
However, if you run outside, then you always have something to look at. You can also ensure that you don’t chicken out of a run prematurely. If you have run away from your house or car, the only way you are getting home is to keep on running. It’s a win-win situation in my mind.
2. Outdoor running is a better workout
When you run outside, there are several things you will do without thinking that will boost your calorie burning and muscle strength.
First of all, you will find that you will vary your pace – maybe you pick up speed to get around that giant double pushchair, or you want to get across a busy road while you have the chance. You will also need to dodge obstacles that will affect your pace. Leap over that puddle, or do a quick pass of that slippery drain cover – it will all help your fitness.
Secondly, you will most likely encounter some undulations. I have yet to find a completely flat route (and I live in Norfolk!), so it’s very possible that you will have to tackle at least a few small gradients. If you want more of a challenge, hill running is definitely the thing to do. It builds muscle strength and endurance so that when you find yourself on the flat, you will zip along. Yes, treadmills have such programmes built into them, but when you are tired, it is so much easier to lower the gradient down to something easier. You can’t lower a hill.
3. Every run is different
A treadmill in the gym is always going to be the same. Same atmosphere, same temperature, and the same routine. Running outside is an altogether different animal. The weather plays the biggest part here; sometimes it rains, or snows, or there is bright, hot sunshine. All these different conditions will test your abilities and will also help you to develop a runner’s brain. If the weather is hot, you will need to pace yourself differently. And if it has snowed, you will need to think about where you are putting your feet in order to prevent a slip.
Running in the rain may be a turn-off for you, but it can be fun. I’m not saying that there haven’t been days where I have been cold, soaked to the skin and utterly miserable, but there have also been days when running in the rain has been enjoyable. Rain definitely has its advantages – it cools you down, it clears the pavements of people, and you don’t have to worry about looking like a sweaty mess. Rain is nothing to be afraid of!
4. It blows away the cobwebs
If you work inside all day, and then go to the gym and run inside, you are missing out on the restorative qualities of the outside air.
Going outside boosts your mood and, in the summer months, it will give you a welcome lift of vitamin D. This will all help you to feel refreshed and relaxed. Nothing to complain about there!
5. You can run with other people
I’ve tried doing a gym routine as a group or in a pair – it doesn’t work. Either your workout suffers because you are too busy nattering, or you end up on treadmills with an ocean of other gym-goers stationed between you and your friend.
However, out on the streets or in the park, there is no impediment to working out with your friends. You can run next to each other and chat, and you can also motivate each other to keep going. There is also the added bonus of being able to go for a run as a bigger group. This is impossible if there are limited numbers of treadmills in the gym.
So, what are your thoughts? Do you prefer the treadmill, or a run in the fresh air?