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Oct. 30 2009 - 10:29 am | 608 views | 0 recommendations | 14 comments

Surviving the Treadmill

Runners take part in the 'Foxtel Lap', a corpo...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Many avid runners will avoid the treadmill (or the “dreadmill” as it is sometimes nicknamed) at all costs. Generally, I agree that outdoor running provides a sense of stimulation and fun that can’t be matched by a machine. However, there are certain situations in which indoor running can be the smarter choice. Now that we’re approaching November, a treadmill can be a lifesaver for anyone trying to do serious winter training in a cold climate.

As a member of high school and college cross-country/track teams, running on a treadmill was never an option (it just wasn’t practical for a team of 20 girls), but when I started running on my own I remember being so thrilled about being able to run inside. 20 degrees with sleet and snow? Bring it on! No matter what the weather,  I could still do a run in relative comfort.  Unfortunately, that novelty wore off and even a few miles on the belt began to seem intolerably long. However, unless you live in Northern California and never have to work late, there will be times when running on a treadmill is the safer (or only) option. Read on for some of my tips on making it bearable!

1)      Run your workout with focus. Some people like to cover the display screen with a towel to hide the time/mileage, but for me it actually helps to stay super focused on the numbers. Before you start running, think about what you want to get out of the workout. You can run intervals of hills – perhaps 3 x 1/2 mile at 5% incline with 1/2 mile recovery. You can set a time goal such as running 3 miles in under XX minutes. Or if you’re trying to lose weight you can see how fast you can burn 300 calories (keep in mind the calorie counters on the machines sometimes overestimate). Having something to focus and switching up the pace/incline can make your run go by much quicker. If you’re looking for workout ideas, Runner’s World offers some good options that are treadmill specific.  Note: set the incline to 1% to make up for the lack of wind resistance you would encounter outside.

2)      Mix things up. When I was training for the New York City marathon last year I had a 15-miler planned on a day that featured torrential rain and wind. Because of prior commitments, I couldn’t re-schedule the run or put it off until the next day. So, the treadmill it was! To keep myself sane, I broke my run up into parts. I ran 5 miles on 3 different treadmills at the gym. At the end of each 5-miler, I took a short break to drink some water and stretch. The people nearby probably thought I was a weirdo (what IS that girl doing?), but running 5 miles at a time seems a lot more manageable than running 15.

Similarly, if the weather is extremely hot or cold, you can run part of your run on the treadmill and the other part of your run outside. Example: If you want to run 6 miles, but it’s the dead of winter, start your run outside. After you’ve run a few miles (or your fingers start to go numb…), head back home. Shed the extra layers (hat, gloves, jacket, etc.) and finish up on the treadmill. It’s probably better to begin your run outside since the cold and wind are more noticable after you’ve been sweating up a storm indoors.

3)      If all else fails, distract yourself. I know I  said that having focus is a good thing, but sometimes you just want to run easily and you need to do it indoors. In cases like this, queue up your best itunes playlist, turn on the TV (any ridiculous reality show i.e. Jon & Kate Plus 8, Keeping up with the Kardashians), or call your best friend on speaker phone and have a nice long chat.

4)      Use the treadmill sparingly. If at all possible, try to get out on the roads. Being in nature is a great way to de-stress and you’ll get a more varied workout by running on outdoor terrain with wind resistance. And unless you hail from the land of Oz – a little light rain won’t make you melt!However, if you encounter any of the following situations, it might be best to stay indoors:

  • It’s dark outside and you have to run solo.
  • The weather is above 85 degrees, below 25 degrees, thunderstorming, or snowing/raining heavily.
  • You’re traveling to an unfamiliar place and aren’t sure if the neighborhood is runner-friendly (When I went for a jog in Mexico City, my friend’s roommates feared for my life).

So there you have it – with a good attitude, a workout plan, and a decent pair of headphones you can survive indoor running!

Where do you do most of your runs? On a track? Treadmill? Trails? Do you have any tips for the rest of us?

By Megan Kretz


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  1. collapse expand

    Go treadmills! Thank you for not offering another “treadmills suck” rant. As a Canadian who spent six months of the year in an outdoor environment that was entirely non-conducive to runs (sometimes literally impossible…too much snow), I have learned to love treadmills. I can run an 8 min/mile and STILL read U.S. Weekly. That’s talent.

    Plus they offer a low-impact respite from concrete, which is all-too prevalent in NYC.

    …My longest ‘mill run has been 15 miles. Beyond that, I might start getting bored… :)

  2. collapse expand

    Is there a significant difference between a treadmill workout and an elliptical workout? Great piece.

    • collapse expand

      I think you can get a good cardio workout from both machines, but personally I have a hard time pushing myself on the elliptical. Whereas with the treadmill, I usually have a goal pace and that keeps me on track. That being said, an elliptical can be great if want to give your legs a break from the impact/pounding of running. I’d recommend wearing a heart rate monitor to make sure you’re exercising in the correct range.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    I mix it up between track running and treadmill running. I live in Central Florida and 360 days out of the year, running outside is akin to swimming. I have always had problems keeping a steady pace so I’ll run a few miles on the treadmill at whatever pace I’m working on, then run the bulk of my run on the track. Then I finish up on the treadmill to regulate my cool down. Treadmills can be blah, but they can be helpful for certain forms of training.

  4. collapse expand

    I’ve found that they can actually be good for some interval training. If I’m on the 6th interval on a track, I’ll likely slow down without even realizing it. But because a treadmill is set to a precise speed, you can force yourself into going that fast throughout the entire workout.

  5. collapse expand

    I actually found that I ran way faster outside after significant treadmill training, because as Sara points out, the treadmill forces you to keep a pace.

    And Coates, from what I’ve been told, the impact of treadmill running builds more muscle than the elliptical, which pretty much just burns calories. The Jell-O legs I had after a 6-month injury that necessitated elliptical workouts can attest to that…

  6. collapse expand

    I use mine for interval training almost exclusively. Like Sara mentions, I tend to peter out after a few; the treadmill doesn’t let me cheat.

    Also, if I need to use it for longer runs it lets me catch up on the movies I have saved on the DVR.

  7. collapse expand

    how about adding lightweight goggles for some virtual reality running? or how about they just come out with the matrix. that would end the treadmill feud.

  8. collapse expand

    Me and my friend usually run outside. But it has changed as my friend bought a treadmill from lifespanfitness.com.au and stay in home. I was kind of hating the treadmill, but I changed my mind when I tried on it. it keeps me in constant speed, so I can not make the cheat when I get tired. It shows the features like how much calories you have lost. And more you can watch TV or movie when you’re running except the noise that I’m not happy with.

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Running Shorts is a part of the True/Slant network specializing in Running News, Trends, Insights and Perspectives. This blog is maintained by Megan Kretz (megan [dot] kretz [at] gmail [dot] com) and Geoff Decker (geoffreydecker [at] gmail [dot] com). Email either us with tips, suggestions or feedback. And thanks for reading!

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