Average Jane Runs

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How to Tell the Treadmill, “I’m just not that into you” – and Mean It.

I suppose I shouldn’t make it sound so final. Some things are worth keeping around just in case (you know, like skinny clothes and twist-ties). But for those of you who think, “I just can’t run outdoors like I can on the treadmill,” let me tell you how to, as Willy Wonka wisely worded, “strike that, reverse it.” Below are a few suggestions to help successfully transition from conveyor belt to asphalt (or grass…or dirt…).

1. Don’t Run with Music (at First)

This is a hot debate topic among runners. Many against the idea will argue that running with music takes away from the “purity” of the sport and hinders a runner’s ability to properly listen to their body. Proponents of running with music will argue that it decreases a runner’s perceived rate of exertion and boosts energy levels.

My opinion falls somewhere in the middle, but for the purpose of learning to run outdoors I would would more than strongly suggest leaving the mp3 player at home. Why? Because it does hinder your ability to effectively listen to your body if you’re not accustomed to doing it. And in order to find a comfortable, sustainable pace (which is what will ultimately help you run better outside), you need to be able to literally listen to yourself as you run.

No, you won’t be talking to yourself (unless you’re a distance runner, in which case talking to yourself is often a necessary tactic for survival). You will be listening to your breathing.

2. Regulate Your Breathing

This is one of the most difficult things to master in running but it is absolutely key to discovering your best pace. As in most exercise, you will want your breath to be smooth and even whether you’re shuffling along or giving it all you’ve got. One way to accomplish this is to associate your breathing pattern with your footfalls. For example, inhale for three steps and exhale for the following three steps. Repeating a pattern like this consistently throughout your run will help regulate your breathing and will allow your body to fall into a naturally comfortable pace.

The 3:3 ratio is my personal preference. You may find that a different breath-to-footfall combination works better for your stride rate. Below are some other ratios you might try:

  • 4:4 – inhale four steps, exhale four steps
  • 3:2 – inhale three steps, exhale two steps
  • 2:2 – inhale two steps, exhale two steps

Again, this isn’t an easy thing to do, so give yourself some time to find your prime breathing groove. The goal here is to get rid of all the huffing and puffing. It’s okay to be out of breath if you pushed it at the end of a long run or are doing some speedwork – but for your average run your breathing should allow you to hold a conversation.

3. Slow Down

Can’t seem to get rid of the ol’ huff-n-puff? Make it to the end of the block and crumple into a heap of heaving breathing? You need to slow down. This is possibly the #1 mistake runners make when hitting the pavement for the first time, particularly when switching from treadmill running.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that most places you’ll run outside won’t have moving belts. Since the only things propelling you forward outdoors are your feet and legs, immediately going for the same pace outside as you run on the treadmill can leave you breathless (and not in the fun way). Starting out slower than you feel you need to go will allow your body to adjust to outdoor running and help you get past the end of the block with steady breath in your lungs. Though it may feel awkward at first, slowing down is the quickest way to learning your pace.

4. Learn Your Pace

I can’t tell you what pace is best for you. The treadmill can give you a general idea but in most cases will not reflect your best pace for running outside. The only way to learn your comfortable pace is by trial and error. You may find that it takes several tries to get into a pace that feels good. You might have to experiment with different breathing patterns, different running spots, and different distances. However you decide to tackle the task of learning your pace – be patient, be persistent, and don’t give up.

If you’re not up for much trial and error or you need a more structured method of finding the perfect pace, you can always try interval training.   

5. Run Intervals

Intervals are a great way to acclimate the body to outdoor running and to help discover what pace suits you. The idea is to alternate your pace in specific increments of distance or time.

One example of an interval training plan is the popular Couch-to-5K. The C25K plan uses run/walk intervals to help non-runners gradually work up to running 3.1 miles. I found that the program is also useful for learning to run outside.

The intervals look something like this (taken from C25K‘s week four):

  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or 2-1/2 minutes)
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)

As you can see, you have the option of choosing distance intervals or time intervals. It may take a few runs to decide which works best for you. When I began running, the time intervals helped me the most since they were easier for me to measure. However, once I was able to run for longer periods of time without walking I found I preferred distance intervals.

If you feel the C25K plan doesn’t suit your running abilities, you always have the option of creating your own intervals. For example, once I completed the C25K program I felt I needed more of a challenge. I began training using my own run/walk intervals of 15/2 (15 minutes running/2 minutes walking).

Whether you create your own intervals or use a plan like the C25K, interval training will build your stamina and cardiovascular health. These things will make running outside feel a lot more comfortable for you.

6. Get the Right Shoes (for You)

Finding the right shoes can make all the difference in the world for outdoor running. Since the impact is different outside – whether you’re running trails, grass, or pavement – you’ll likely feel the wrath of an ill-suited pair of shoes more than you would on a treadmill.

Like most other things in life and running, shoes are a personal choice. A great place to start is by visiting your local running specialty shop* (NOT just a store that sells athletic shoes). The salespeople at the specialty shop should be able to watch you run and suggest shoes that are appropriate for your build and gait. It’s also important to chat about your current running and your future plans so that they can help you find the best shoe for what you want to do.

Some questions they might ask (or ones you should discuss if they don’t):

  • How far do you run weekly?
  • Where do you usually run and on what type(s) of surface(s)?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • Are you planning on increasing your weekly mileage?
  • Do you race?
  • What are your running goals?

Don’t be afraid to voice any other concerns you may have and DON’T feel pressured to buy a shoe that you don’t feel is 100% for you. Ask to try different styles of shoes that may not have been suggested. Take notes (no, really). Go home and weigh all of your options. If you do purchase a pair of shoes in-store, be sure to ask about their return policy.

Once you find the right shoes for you, you’ll be amazed at how much more pleasant outdoor running becomes. Fantastic shoes are often the final key to running comfortably outside.


These are only a few ways to help you transition from the treadmill to the Great Outdoors. I hope they will at least give you a starting point to get you feeling good running outside. If you’re like me, you’ll find that once you successfully switch you won’t ever look at the treadmill the same again. In my case, I don’t like to look at the treadmill at all (and will often refer to it as the “dreadmill”).

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely like to keep the dread…er…treadmill on hand for things like nasty weather and after-dark PM runs. But you better believe if there’s no lightning or ridiculously high heat/humidity involved I’m running outside.

I just can’t run on the treadmill like I can outdoors.

Thanks to AJRunner Brandi for the inspiration! I hope this helped!

*The Runner’s World website has a Specialty Running Store Finder that can be helpful in locating a shop in your area (though keep in mind some of the listings are “Big Box” stores that may or may not provide as thorough a fitting as a smaller shop).

4 Responses to “How to Tell the Treadmill, “I’m just not that into you” – and Mean It.”

  • Julianne says:

    Definitely needed these tips right about now! I’ve “turned the corner” and am now running longer intervals than I’m walking so remembering to SLOW DOWN to keep from gasping for breath or having to walk when I’m supposed to be running.

    • AJ says:

      Running slowly was one of the hardest things for me to learn to do. But once I mastered the Art of Being Slow (hah), I hardly ever had to take walk breaks again. My speed gets better as my mileage increases, too, so I’m able to take “run slowly breaks” instead of walk breaks once I’ve trained enough.

      And grats on your longer intervals! Keep at it – you’ll be rid of your scheduled walk breaks in no time. :)

  • Julia says:

    Thanks for the shoe tips! I want to start walking, and I’ve been having problems with my heel lately. I went to a running store in Alexandria yesterday and managed to walk nearly 3 miles around there and another area. Normally, I’ve have crumpled before finding the car in Alexandria, but I made it the rest of the day and night without any increase in foot, heel or knee pain! When I got home after 10 hour out in the world, I could still walk upright without back pain or foot paint, and I woke up feeling better than when I got up yesterday!! I can wait to get out there and walk more!

    • AJ says:

      Yeah!!! The right shoes really do make so much difference in how you feel. When I first started running I had so much knee pain I thought I just wasn’t built for it. Thankfully someone told me about getting fitted and I’m so glad I did! Never had an issue with pain again (aside from normal aches/soreness). Always glad to spread the word! :)

      Be sure to keep us updated on your progress, sounds like you’re off to a great start!

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