Treadmill Survival Guide

>> Friday, January 29, 2010

Ahhh. A sunlit, sandy beach in early August. I could get used to this! But, unfortunately, last night, I ran on the treadmill because the blustery winds and snow squalls proved too much for me as I walked to my car after work (and I had yoga at the gym, so it just made sense). It was only the third time this year that I had to deal with the mechanical beast. But it made me think . . . every other winter, I was a dedicated treadmill runner. I didn't venture out much unless the temps were above 30 degrees (a somewhat rare occurrence here in the months of January and February). And though I haven't been logging many miles inside -- I have been biking at the gym at least once a week, and a lot of my mental games/etc. are similar for both machines.

Indeed. There's been a lot of chatter about the "dreadmill" on Twitter lately. So, I thought I'd share some "survival tips" to help out. They aren't the most mind-blowing things you'll ever hear. But if it helps you bust out even one workout when you otherwise wouldn't, I consider this post a success!

BEFORE YOU START: Running on a treadmill is different from running outside. Your stride is shorter. So, the speed on the display may SEEM ridiculously slow . . . but you shouldn't crank it higher to your "normal" pace unless it feels comfortable. Or unless you want to ensure injury. As well, if you'd like to more closely emulate outdoor running, you'll want too set the incline to at least 1 percent (some people raise it higher, I usually stick with 1 or 1.5). Doing so will help when you transition back to outdoor running in the spring (the incline simulates, at least in a way, wind resistance.

1.) Think Ahead. One thing that often drives me crazy when I'm working out indoors is when I don't feel comfortable in my clothing. I don't bring a water bottle or grab a towel. I don't bring the right hair ties or headbands. It's difficult sometimes when you're speeding out the door to ensure that you've gathered everything you need for a comfortable workout. But if you take just a little extra time and find those shorts you particularly like, your trusty Nalgene, and a ponytail holder that won't break (like my elastic last night!) . . . you'll feel like you can focus on your run. Not how your leggings are riding up. Or something else. Ugh. Does anyone else know what I'm talking about?

2.) Crank the Tunes. Many gyms have music playing in their cardio rooms. Many don't. But even if you're in the fortunate category -- well, that's rather relative -- it's good to bring your own music with you. I'm a bit of a music snob, so the top 40s aren't going to cut it for me. And I rarely (if ever) treadmill it without blasting some Bowie or Chili Peppers. Not only will the tunes help keep you sane -- they can also be used in the next trick . . .

3.) Play Games. So here's the thing no one seems to know about winter running. Unless you're training for an early spring race -- you can scale back your mileage to even half of what you were doing in the fall! So, your treadmill workouts need not be incessantly long. Ok. That being said, if you do want to run long (and -- trust me -- I once ran 13 miles on a treadmill, I'm a crazy person) . . . so I play speed games with my tunes to help. I get a crazy song (like Lasso by Phoenix) . . . and whenever the chorus or a fast part comes on, I crank my speed to the top-most of what I can handle. Then go back to what I was doing when that part of the song subsides.

If that faster or louder part of the song keeps going or whatever (like in one of my favorites, Weird Fishes by Radiohead, where the entire end of the song gradually increases in intensity) . . . I employ a different technique. More of a gradual game. Every 20 seconds or so, I push myself faster. But this game need not only be with speed. Use your incline button too!

On especially long runs, I would run for 10 minutes, walk for 1 minute. Just to physically break it up into sections. For that walking minute, I'd up the incline so my heart rate wouldn't plummet.

4. Play Mind Games. Yes -- you can also play some mind games to help pass the time. One I like to play is just simply asking myself random questions (as suggested on this page). Which other culture would you choose to be born into, and why? Which historical event would you like to have witnessed. It sounds kind of super dorky. But at least for me . . . I start thinking of the answer, and then my mind wanders, and several miles just melt away. Anything you can come up with to distract yourself is good. Just don't stray too far from your current situation -- I've seen people face plant off their treadmill. Yikes!

5.) Perform in a Variety Show! Or MIX IT UP from day to day. When I started running, I would religiously run 4 miles every day. Same time each day, same pace each day. Never failing. And boy was it borrrrrrrring. So, go long one day (maybe 6 miles, 4 miles, whatever is long to you) . . . and short the next (2 miles -- and do some X-training). Go fast one day. Go slow the next. Basically, keep your body and mind guessing.

6.) Go Around the World. When all else fails -- give up. Really! Sometimes you seriously can't handle the mental or physical rigors of treadmill running. It's fine . . . but do 10 minutes on the treadmill, then 10 minutes on the bike, then 10 minutes on the elliptical, and another 10 on the treadmill. The variety will chase those indoor blues away. I promise.


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