Dear Dumb Runner,
Am I a dumb runner for not adjusting the incline on the treadmill?—Malinda, Philadelphia
The old me would have said, "No, you're not dumb. Just stupid. For the best results, you should set the treadmill to a 2% incline or so, to better simulate an outdoor run. On a treadmill there's no wind resistance, and the moving belt does some of the work for you."
The old me would have said this reflexively and deliberately, in a staccato monotone, like a tech-shirt-wearing robot. Like this:
The new me, however, says: "No, you're not dumb. Don't worry about it."
I like the new me better.
This isn't to say that the advice about the 2% incline is wrong, exactly, or unfounded. It's not. I'm just tired of parroting the same rote advice over and over. More important—and this is crucial, so please listen closely—I've come to realize that it doesn't... really... matter.
Really. It just doesn't.
I don't mean that in a cynical, nihilistic way. I mean it in a happy, liberating way. Because, after 20+ years of doing this, I have come to realize that runners as a group overthink and agonize over almost every single aspect of running, and we don't have to. It's needless and it's exhausting.
So do your treadmill runs however you like. One percent incline, 2%, 0%. Doesn't matter. You'll be fine. Your fitness will not suffer. Neither will your race times. (If that's even a concern of yours, and maybe it isn't.) The world, like the rollers on your treadmill, will continue to spin.
Bonus: The mental energy that you used to devote to wondering about your treadmill's incline? Now you can put it to better use. Thinking, say, of how nice it will be to get off the damn thing and run outdoors.