The Trouble with Treadmills

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On Friday night, I was working on a post about running with asthma. It was full of all kinds of wisdom like this:

Carry your rescue inhaler with you at all times. Don’t go on a run without it! 

I mean, obviously, right? And then…the very next morning, guess who went for a 10 mile run without her inhaler? Yep. This girl. The Trouble with Treadmills | Mommy Runs It

And you want to hear the really dumb part? I did it on purpose. I didn’t forget my inhaler. I just decided that I didn’t have room for it in my FuelBelt. I didn’t have a cold. My breathing was fine. I’ve maintained a pretty good level of conditioning, even though I’m not currently in training for anything specific. I’ve been trying to get in one 8-10 mile run every week, on top of yoga, strength training, and my shorter runs. So despite my own sage advice, I decided that I’d be fine without it.


Suffice to say, it was a tough run. I huffed and puffed for the entire 10 miles, which is unusual for me. Typically my breathing starts out a little rough, but I’m able to regulate it after the first couple of miles. Not yesterday though. I kept waiting for it to get easier but it never did. Thankfully, my friend Mercedes stayed back and ran with me for all 10 miles. I probably would’ve called it quits at mile 4 if she hadn’t. We spent some time analyzing why I was having such a hard time.

Our thoughts:

The humidity. At 6:00 a.m., it was about 80 degrees and 85% humidity. Just as a point of reference, people tend to feel most comfortable at a relative humidity level of about 45%. I knew that cold weather could be a trigger for asthma, but I didn’t realize that high humidity could be as well. But studies show that a humidity of 50% or higher may lead to a greater incidence of asthma problems. Simply put, humid air is heavier, which makes it harder to breathe. My Albuterol inhaler would’ve helped a bit by opening my bronchial airways, which would have increased my airflow. The Trouble with Treadmills | Mommy Runs It

Training in air conditioning. 

Since my marathon in February, I’ve done the majority of my training on a treadmill, inside of an air conditioned gym. It’s partly necessity (now that the kids are out of school, I need the childcare) and partly personal preference (I don’t like running in the heat, and if I have to run alone I’d rather do it in front of the television). I’ve become used to running in a controlled climate, where my lungs don’t have to work quite as hard. When suddenly put to the challenge of running in 85% humidity, they just couldn’t keep up.

Training on a treadmill. Like I said, I don’t mind running on a treadmill, and I’ve never been terribly concerned that it could negatively impact my training. I never really researched it – I just figured that 10 miles is 10 miles, regardless of where you run it. But – shocker – I was wrong. It turns out that running outdoors (especially on rough or uneven terrain) can take up to 10% more energy than running on a treadmill. It’s commonly thought that you should run at an incline of 1% to simulate running outdoors. However, as I looked into this a bit more, I found several sources that call this a myth. You can read this and this and decide for yourself. As with just about everything, the most important thing is to do what works best for you.

[xyz-ihs snippet=”treadmill”]

Pacing problems. This is going to sound weird, but I don’t really know how to pace myself for a run. When I run with my Galloway group, I have a group leader who sets the pace for me. I simply follow along. And when I run on the treadmill, the machine does it for me. A long run Galloway-style is done at pre-determined intervals. The same pace is maintained for the entire run. But when I run on the treadmill, I tend to start out at a slower, more comfortable pace, and I gradually pick up speed after my first couple of miles. My average overall run-walk pace on a treadmill is usually around 11:30-12:00. If I’m calculating correctly, our average run-walk pace on Saturday was around 11:10. So in addition to the climate conditions, the pace was a good bit faster than what I’ve become used to these last few months.

So where do I go from here? Well, first of all I need to get back to running outdoors – probably at least once a week for a few miles. My next season of marathon training starts in July, and until then I need to either find a running buddy or get back in the habit of my Saturday morning group runs (there’s a year-round Galloway group that I could join). When I’m on the treadmill, I need to play around with my incline and pace. It’s probably a good idea to work toward maintaining a steady pace throughout the run, rather than starting out slow and picking up speed. And while it’s up for debate whether running at an incline will more closely simulate an outdoor run, it certainly couldn’t hurt. Saturday’s course had several hills, and they absolutely kicked my butt.

And, of course, there’s that whole inhaler thing.

So now I have some questions for you all: What percentage (if any) of your training do you do on a treadmill? Do you adjust the treadmill to more closely simulate an outdoor run? How? How does your running change (frequency, duration, intensity) when you’re not training for a race?

I’d love your feedback!

p.s. Keep your eye out for my original post about running with asthma. It should be up in another day or two.

Last updated: February 10, 2015 at 13:39 pm

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About sharon

Sharon is a mom, a marathon runner, and a licensed therapist. She owns Mommy Runs It, a fitness & lifestyle blog. She is a passionate advocate of the Galloway training method and knows firsthand that everyday moms can run marathons. Connect with Sharon on Google+.


  1. Great One!! Glad I know now. After all these miles and I never knew, but now I do. Can I please ask a favor as a friend? Can you please not do that again? Way to scary!!

  2. a) don’t you EVER do that again lady. 😉
    b) I hate the treadmill. I mean I literally have only run on one twice. And both times? it just didn’t feel right — I don’t want to run at one single pace, it doesn’t feel natural. I like running outside – natural ups and downs, natural changes in incline and terrain. And the only 2 times I’ve run on a treadmill I’ve injured myself. I’ve completed 2 10K races and several 5Ks – no injuries. I’ll take the pavement and trails anyday.
    c) humidity SUCKS. I hear ya. Last summer I tried using my rescue inhaler BEFORE a run, and it REALLY helped a ton. It opened my lungs up so I could breathe easier from the start, so I didn’t struggle so much to get my breathing in order.

    • I use my rescue inhaler before I run sometimes too. That’s in my upcoming post. :) It really helps! I started running on a treadmill, and I’ve probably always done 75% of my runs (number of runs, not number of miles) indoors. It’s just so much easier for me to get in my run zone when I’m on the treadmill. I know I’m weird though. :)

  3. Oh no! I’m sorry you forgot your inhaler! Good thing you are fine now :) I personally love running on a treadmill. Seems less daunting to me than a track for some reason. I like to alternate between the treadmill and yoga :)

    • Me too – treadmill and yoga are my 2 favorite things at the gym. I’ve been trying to add some strength training too, but I just find it a little boring.

  4. I ran with a friend a few months ago who forgot her inhaler. It was really very scary to be out there with her while she was having breathing issues and quickly it came on. Don’t think she’ll make that mistake again.

    • At least these days someone in your group is likely to have a cell phone with them in case of an emergency. I wonder what people did a couple of decades ago when they got in trouble while out for a run. I’ll have to ask my dad about that.

  5. I do almost all my training on tmill, have for years. If I get 1 outside run a week, it’s a win. I always run at 1% (I see the new research but it’s what I’ve been doing). Running Times or RW had a piece in the last year or so about possible stride changes (shortening) or areas to watch when you run on tmill as it is slightly different, makes some things weaker/stronger. I do hill training on treadmill too (my downhill is 0% as my tmill doesn’t decline, but I may raise the back with boards – RW has a video on doing this). I adjust the treadmill incline to mimic the race courses I plan to run. I prefer to always be training for a race (even if I don’t sign up or start it) – I love having goals and plans.

    • Glad I’m not the only one who trains on the treadmill. Since I wrote this post, I’ve been increasing my incline to .5%. I figure I’ll work my way up, since I was previously running with no incline at all. And I need to start mixing things up and simulating hill runs too. Good tips, thanks for sharing and for reading!

  6. When I started running with Couch to 5K, I did almost all of my running on a treadmill. I think that after that first 5K, I shifted to doing more running with people from work, after work, so I was running outside more. Now, I really hate running on a treadmill: because the treadmills at my complex aren’t very good, it’s boring (no TV by the treadmill), and I just don’t like how it feels.

    I (unfortunately) become a little less disciplined when I’m not training for a race. I’ll try to keep a similar training schedule (4-5 days a week), but I give in to not running a lot easier. Good example, I’m on a different work schedule this week, and for the second day in a row, I’m not running because I didn’t wake up until almost 9, and it’s already approaching 80 degrees (it didn’t feel that bad when you first step outside, but I know that changes once you start running). Tomorrow I will hopefully force myself to get up a bit earlier, and go run track.

    And if you’re looking for people to run with, you should consider joining PRS Running Club :)

    • I just can’t stomach running outside at this point, unless it’s before sunrise. Yesterday it was 96 degrees and “felt like” 102. No thank you. I’m a big talker but also kind of a big wimp, especially when it comes to weather (hot or cold).

      Do you run with PRS Running Club? I’ve heard great things about it. I just checked out their page and it looks awesome – not sure if I’d be able to make the schedule work for me, but I’d love to join.

      • I either run super-early in the morning, or after work, which usually means I don’t start running until after 7. At that point, it’s still hot & humid, but it’s starting to subside.

        I do run with PRS Running Club, joined about a year and a half ago. Most of the weekday group runs don’t work for my schedule — I do go to the Tuesday morning group run at Jax Beach (5:30 AM… oy) as well as Wednesday morning track and the Saturday long runs. The Saturday runs are probably the biggest perk for me — it’s nice having a course mapped with signs and water & Gatorade along the way. Makes it much easier to run when you don’t have to really worry about finding your way & carrying water. Also helps that there’s almost always someone else running your distance around your same pace!

  7. You are far braver than I! I would have gone back for my inhaler, I’m a chicken that way. I hate treadmill running and only do it when I tag along for jobs out of town with my hubby otherwise I am a run the streets kinda gal. I have a pacing problem too, I seem to go for it on shorter runs and then lag the last mile or so but on loner runs I take my sweet time, really sweet time. Try not to ‘opt out’ of carrying your inhaler please. 😉

  8. Albert Ugelow says:

    I am not a fan of treadmill running. I am more likely to use a treadmill in extreme cold weather than I am in hot weather. I just adjust my training based on the weather conditions (temperature/humidity). Especially when not training for a race you need to be a little more flexible in your training. Also, if you are going to run outdoors in the summer you need to do enough outdoor running to acclimate your body. Running mostly indoors with AC and only occasionally outdoors in high heat/humidity is a recipe for trouble. I think that you would have had a problem (but not as bad) even if you had your inhaler. .

    • True. My Galloway training starts in about 3 weeks, and then I’ll be training outdoors in the heat & humidity at least once a week. I think (hope) that should be enough to get my body & breathing back on track. <3

  9. I started running outdoors but running on the treadmill fits my schedule better. And I don’t hate it. I also have asthma and I never carry my inhaler. I take two puffs beforehand and leave it in the car. Sidenote: I absolutely cannot run if I have forgotten to use it beforehand. And I have no idea how to pace myself when I’m not on the treadmill. I try to slow myself down and wait for the first 5 minute prompt from runkeeper and then adjust.

    • I need to get back into the habit of using my inhaler before a run. Don’t know why I stopped doing that…got a bit over-confident, I guess. Plus it’s definitely not nearly as much of an issue for me if I run on the treadmill. Do you like Runkeeper? I’ve never used it but maybe I should check it out.

  10. I hope your learned your lesson.
    My son is asthmatic, so I carry that puffer with me everywhere. Sometimes it doesn’t get used, other times it does. The one time I failed to bring it, he had an asthma attack and we had to go to hospital. Utter fail, needless to say that never happened again.
    I don’t have a treadmill (no space), so I do all my training outdoors. I find races a real motivator, otherwise I slack off.
    ps, found you via Kristy @runnerwaybridalplanner.

  11. I’m so curious to see what other have to say about running in a treadmill. Everyone says running outside is harder but my pace tends to be 1-2 mins slower per mile on a treadmill! It is seriously so difficult for me!

    • I’m slower on a treadmill too, but it’s just so much more comfortable because of the air conditioning, the lack of humidity, and Netflix. :)

  12. Hope you feel better! I get asthma in the spring related to my allergies and the humidity definitely makes it worse. The treadmill definitely is a necessary evil sometimes!
    Sandra Laflamme recently posted…And there was that time I fell down on my road bike.My Profile

    • Thanks, Sandra! I’m still struggling to acclimate to the heat and humidity, to be honest. This summer has been a killer for my asthma!!!

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