Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Running in Place: Treadmill Survival Guide

It's that time of year when the air smells of pine, festive lights are all around...and the polar vortex gracefully swoops in the from the north to bring ridiculously cold and icy weather.  Yes, for those of us in the western hemisphere, winter has arrived heralding the coming of several chilly months ahead.  While this season can be rough to endure, the complications it brings is particularly illuminated by those of us running in spring races, like the Pittsburgh Marathon.  As is it, the majority of our training situates itself in the heart of these frigid, dark days.  And though we runners are made of some tough stuff (or just missing a few marbles), truth be told and no matter how much we deny it, we are not impervious to the elements.  Some days we have to reign in the restless road warrior within us when the weather just isn't fit for running.  So what option do we have as race day looms closer and closer?  While loath to say it, we find ourselves hearkening to our friend, the treadmill.

My indoor BFF...and yes, that is a Star Wars poster behind it
This human hamster wheel is both a blessing and a bane for most runners.  We are able to keep to our training plans but know we sacrifice some portion of our sanity to accomplish it.  Yet, whichever way you approach it, powering up those ominous boxy numbers is at times a necessity when things outside of our control result in us changing our workout plans.  I've found this to be especially true not just with inclement weather, but also having an infant in the house.  If the wife is out and I can't use the jogging stroller, the treadmill is my saving grace.  With all this in mind, I've compiled a few nuggets of wisdom from my experience using this fitness machine that may be of help to others to survive the paradox of running but not actually going anywhere.

It's all in the 'tude
One of the best ways to make those treadmill miles more enjoyable is to go into them with a positive attitude.  If we go into the workout thinking that it is going to be the worst thing ever, there's a pretty good chance that that's how things will turn out with each mile feeling like an eternity.  Not only does this dampen the joy we get from running, but studies have found that attitude really does impact the performance of athletes.  For runners in particular, thinking negative thoughts actually makes a person more likely to suffer an injury.  So be like Peter Pan and think happy thoughts; your body will thank you for it and you'll feel better afterward!

Pull out your conversion chart
When most people ask us how fast we run, our natural inclination is to give them our average minute per mile pace.  However, as my wife has pointed out to me, that number to non-runners basically holds no meaning and reinforces the fact that runners are a very unique breed.  Miles (or kilometers everywhere else in the world) per hour is how most people understands speed.  This apparently includes the treadmill companies.  To save myself the challenge of doing math while running (never a good thing), I instead use the all-knowing Google to find the MPH I need for particular paces and jot these numbers down on a sticky note.  And voila, all the info I need to hit the splits I want.  This is also really helpful if, like me, you don't have a foot pod linked to your GPS watch and get crazy pace numbers when using the treadmill.

I probably could have written a tad larger....
Hide and go seek
Watching the time and distance slowly...tick...by...is one of the most challenging aspects of being on a treadmill.  With no landmarks to judge distance, we often tend to think we have gone further than has actually happened.  It becomes disheartening then to look down after what felt like a mile to realize we have only gone half that distance.  To save ourselves the torture, towels or sticky notes work great for hiding those data fields.  "Our of sight, out of mind" is sometimes the best approach to surviving monotony.  Not constantly checking progress also serves as good practice for being present in the mile we are currently running instead of always thinking about the distance that is still left to complete.

Press the buttons
One of the major variations between road running and treadmill running is that for the former we can change our pace intuitively, while the latter will only allow us to move at whatever speed is set.  The "terrain," so to speak, is also exactly the same on a treadmill the entire time.  To alleviate the static nature of these workouts as well as do a better job of simulating road running, incrementally increasing the speed and elevation can make a world of difference.  The key to doing this effectively is to only change the settings a little at a time.  Making our treadmill workouts into progressive runs (runs in which the last mile is faster than the first mile) allows us to properly warm up and work on the feeling of negative splits (each mile being progressively faster).  As an added bonus, runners who live in particularly flat regions can get in those essential hill workouts that would otherwise be missing.

Let the binge-watching begin
When all else fails in holding our attention on that endlessly rotating belt, watching a move or TV show becomes invaluable in distracting us from the rhythmic pounding of our legs.  Getting caught up in a show seems to make time breeze on by and, before we know it, those miles are finished.  The key is to find something that keeps you engaged - a favorite classic works well or you can default for that new show on Netflix you've been binge-watching for the last 36 hours.  With this tidbit of advice, I should add on two caveats.  First, if you choose to watch a cooking show, know that the entire time you will crave whatever delicious delicacies they are baking up.  In particular, dessert shows are the most dangerous.  Second, don't become so enamored with the entertainment that you forget you're on a moving platform.  A bruised ego will be the least of your concerns if you let yourself get too drawn into a galaxy far, far away.

As many of us are about to get underway with our spring race training, I hope that the hints above serve you well when getting outside just isn't in the cards.  If you have other tips and tricks, feel free to add them below in the comment section.

Happy running!

P.S. This post was inspired by an article from one of my fellow #GameOnPGH Pittsburgh Marathon bloggers Tony, who compiled some amazing tips for making it through winter runs.  Make sure to check out his advice!

Thinking of signing up for the Pittsburgh Marathon?  Use discount code FOX17 to save $10 on either the half or full registration!

1 comment:

  1. Great tips! I really don't mind the treadmill. It has helped me train when I really don't feel like going outside.