Inside Out

Perhaps you’ve seen the Pixar film with this title.  It was about how our emotions (the inside) affect our lives (the out.)  I’m sure the creators of the film would see that as too simplistic!  But perhaps there is a corollary to running.

It’s the time of year when it can get really cold in Vermont, especially when windy.  I moved to Boston in 2005 in part to bask in the 10° warmer high and low average temps compared to Burlington.  And now I’m back in the colder clime!  When you consider that between December 21st and February 18th the daily average high temp in Burlington is below freezing, it’s not surprising there are many days between snow melts.  While streets are plowed (and increasingly the bike paths!) this can lead to treacherous conditions for runners.  I know too many who have strained muscles or broken bones by taking a hard fall.  While many “true Vermonters” run outside year round, consider the treadmill an anathema, and perhaps strap on skis in lieu of running, I regularly ran on the treadmill during the 16 winters I lived here before.  And with sub-zero temps recently, have started to do that again.

Seven to eight months of the year, outside running in Vermont is enjoyable, if not downright inspirational!  That leaves 120 or so days when it can be problematic.  Which regularly begs the question: Inside or Out?  Last week, I noticed two top local runners slipping and sliding on a half-plowed sidewalk on one of Burlington’s busiest roads.  They weren’t running; they were slogging.   It happened I was just returning from a treadmill run at UVM, where I had a nice view of the mountains and was able to ramp up my pace running in shorts and a light shirt.  And the next day I ran a track workout on the indoor track.

I thought it might be interesting to list the pros and cons of inside/outside running in the New England winter.   


  • Regular bathroom options, which during the winter are few and far between outside
  • Able to run in shorts and favorite race shirts with lighter shoes that don’t need to grip the ice
  • It’s always light indoors — not the case outside between 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. in the dead of winter
  • The surface is always clear
  • On the treadmill, you can (and should!) play with the elevation to simulate races you expect to run
  • On the track, if you find a time when you can alternate directions, this allows for generating some good speed without repetitive straining of muscles and joints from one directional running while keeping those fast-twitch fibers alive over the winter.
  • Unless you are one of those with a home treadmill, you are already at the gym and it’s easy to transition to some stretching and light weights following your run.  (Those who follow my blog and/or training methods know I am a strong proponent of this practice.)


  • On the treadmill, you’re largely on your own. Oh, there may be others next to you lost in their music.  But the camaraderie of running together up and down a long hill or scenic stretch is not there.  Of course this does not pertain to track running if you have a group.
  • Both the indoor track and treadmill are artificial environments.  There’s no wind to deal with.  And on the treadmill, the moving ground makes running easier.  Depending on your weight, you need to run at a grade of 1 to 2% to approximate the outside effort.
  • Some would say, “it just ain’t natural!”  And I can’t argue with that.  The treadmill uses electricity that might be put to more useful purposes.

Back to the film, when we run inside we can actually focus on how we’re running and feeling rather than navigating icy paths and roads and be burdened with several layers of clothes.  There’s a predictability to both the treadmill and the track.  And you can get into a rhythm, listen to music (especially on the treadmill) and on the smaller indoor track benefit from frequent pace feedback loops.

So happy choosing and finding the right balance.  It is good to run both inside and outside.  And, as with all things, important to know when!

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.