Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Mon, 26 Jan 2004 14:24:51 -0500

Ins and Outs


(rerun from January 2000 RC)

Writing a piece that's pro-something is by implication anti-something-else. I didn't mean to attack treadmills, and especially not treadmillers, in a Runner's World column (see link below). It was pro-outdoor running but as such implied criticism of runners who choose to stay indoors and go nowhere fast on a moving mat.

The treadmill gives perfectly fine physical training. Some of my favorite people, athletes and authors I respect highly, supplemented their outdoor runs this way. They included Ron Daws, Ingrid Kristiansen and Ken Sparks.

The body doesn't really care if it runs in place or around a track, over natural ground or on paved streets, indoors or outside. As long as it's running, it doesn't matter where.

My column spoke of the prejudice some runners have against going outside when conditions aren't perfect. This was not an argument based on physical benefits but on sensory appeal.

I contrasted what treadmillers and an outdoor runner saw, smelled, heard and felt from opposite sides of the plate-glass window that I passed often on morning runs. They looked out on a botanical garden. I ran through it, feeling good about being there even in the dormant season.

The column urged runners not to hibernate in winter. An early reply of support came from Margaret Gheen in Michigan.

"Perhaps my egocentrism gets the best of me, but I thought your comment regarding a woman who feared running during the winter may have referred to me," wrote Gheen. "I had sent you an e-mail, inquiring about running alternatives for when the snow falls, ice takes over the sidewalks and roads, and the air is cold enough to chap your lips like Velcro."

The secret is out, I told her. I'd left her unnamed for two reasons -- to spare her any possible embarrassment, and to let readers identify themselves with this generic runner.

Gheen added, "I have discovered that your advice to get outside as often as possible is indeed good advice. It has transformed me into an all-season outdoorsperson.

"A recent cold spell inspired a visit to the gym. But after 10 skyless, fluorescent minutes on a machine I decided to head outside for my usual fantastic run around the lake. And I plan on doing it for as long as my lips can stand it."

A reader from Washington state reacted less agreeably to the column. Val K'shai wrote, "Your article clearly expressed the problem with most of the baby boomer generation. You are self-righteously conceited.

"Why can't you acknowledge the possibility that indoor treadmill users might also be real runners as well? I use treadmills for most of my training and like them for many reasons."

All points that he made compared outdoor running unfavorably with the indoor type. He talked of freedom from twisted ankles, the chance to run beside his wife at a much faster pace, her feeling safer inside, the need to buy fewer shoes and clothes.

"I actually enjoy the one- to two-hour endorphin release I get on the treadmill," said K'shai, "and I don't focus on the negatives around me as you seem to do. Why can't you get off your high horse and accept that other runners may actually prefer an indoor run?"

Fair enough. We'll wave to each other from opposite sides of a window.

UPDATE. The waving won't happen at the club that inspired my RW column -- archived at . This club has long since gone out of business, leaving its windows dark and treadmill room empty as runners keep parading past outside.


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