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Winter Motivation: Taking the Run Indoors

Posted Feb 07 2013 11:53am

As a group, runners tend to get along pretty well. Sure, we all have our little running pet peeves , but in general we’re one big endorphin-filled family, invested in each other’s success and racing ourselves more often than each other (well…maybe not always…).

But — there are some topics that tend to be polarizing within the running community. Topics that most of us feel very strongly about and where many fall firmly on one side of the spectrum or the other.

Topics like…

Running in skirts/costume (I will sparkle my way through an occasional relay but other than that, racing and skirts do not mix).

IMG 1199Something that is not controversial? Running + beer. Match made in heaven

Running with music (running purists say no, I say the louder the better).

Running barefoot (no comment).

Running in tights (okay, maybe just me …).

And running on the treadmill.

When it comes to treadmills, it seems like runners either love them or hate them. While some don’t mind running in place, others morally oppose these machines with every fiber of their body, choosing to brave the elements rather than resign themselves to the torture of the “dreadmill.”

Personally, I don’t find the treadmill to be all that awful. It’s not my first choice, especially these days when running outside is so beautiful and interesting. I didn’t step on the treadmill once while marathon training this past summer. I had absolutely no desire to be confined to the gym when I could be frolicking through the hills of Vermont. But now? It’s a different story.

If you can make it through all the negative temperatures, strong winds, snowfall, and ice of the winter without taking a single running step inside, well…more power to ya. I will admire your insanity dedication from the warmth of my gym. These days I often retreat indoors when the weather is bad. The treadmill may not be exciting, but I’d rather battle mental toughness than icy conditions when trying to complete a speedy run.

From my perspective, the treadmill is a great training tool. Not only can it be more convenient sometimes, but it also helps you practice pacing and greatly improves your mental toughness. There are many times when completing a run on the treadmill is a total mental struggle. With little other distraction, all I can think about is how tired I am and how much I just want to push “stop” and be done with the run. The times that I can push through despite these negative thoughts are the times that help make me a stronger runner.

It seems as though everyone’s main complaint about the treadmill is about how boring it is. You want to talk about boring? I used to belong to a gym that had fancy treadmills with a personal TV attached to each and the capability to plug in an iPod to control through the big fancy screen. I’d spend my runs watching something in closed captioning on the television, music blasting in my ears, racing those innocent gym-goers next to me…all combined with the occasional (and always entertaining) gym people-watching. Yes, I know…that’s a lot of stimulation…

Now – my teeny tiny gym has one single treadmill. An old model with no attached TV or big fancy iPod enabled screen. Not only do I never have anyone running next to me to “compete” with, I also have nothing to look at…besides myself.

The first (and last!) photo of myself working out in a gym that I’ve ever taken. But I felt you all deserved a visual.

gym

I’m no stranger to watching myself run. In past gyms, I’d often focus on my reflection in the blank TV screen. Watching my face as I ran helped me stay relaxed and correct my posture any time I saw my face/shoulders tighten up. But this full length mirror business is another story. I don’t know about you, but when I run I like to envision myself as a lithe, strong, beautiful runner. In my mind, my legs are long and lean and I fly through workouts with all the power and grace of an elite athlete. I don’t particularly enjoy being brought back to reality by the sight of my stumpy legs clomping away on a moving belt…especially these days when I feel as though I’m packing a little extra junk in the trunk (hey…just being honest). Funny enough – I’ll admit that the faster I’m running, the better my legs seem to look. I’m sure that’s no coincidence (and I never claimed to be completely humble).

As much as I don’t love watching myself run, it’s actually worse when another person comes in the gym. That rack of weights directly in front of the treadmill in the picture is the only rack of weights in the entire gym. Which means that I’m either watching myself run or desperately trying not to look at someone else’s butt while they’re lifting. Closing your eyes on the treadmill only works for so long…

Don’t try this at home, kids…

Anyway, despite the fact that I have limited distractions these days, I’ve actually been enjoying my treadmill runs. I promise all you treadmill-haters — it really isn’t so bad! The keys: covering the screen, upbeat music (or something to look at/watch if you’re against music), and changing the speed.

I never get on the treadmill and just run the same pace the entire time. The monotony would probably kill me. Instead, I usually do some sort of speed play with it — whether that’s a full on speed workout, or simply upping my speed as I go.

I talked about my absolute favorite way to run on the treadmill way back in the baby days of my blog . Basically I start off slow and spend the entire run bumping up the speed until I finish/hit a certain pace. I play games with myself and pass the time by counting songs, not distance. My one rule on these runs is that once I hit a speed, I can’t slow back down. I need to maintain that pace or faster for the rest of the run.

My other favorite thing to do on the treadmill: speed workouts. Running a workout on the treadmill makes the time fly by so much faster. For some reason, my mixed up mind finds a 7 mile tempo run on the treadmill less daunting than just hopping on and slogging through 7 miles of boredom.

There’s a gold mine of fun treadmill GIFs out there. Side note: how do I get my cats to walk on the ‘mill with me?

Last night, I tried a new type of speed workout that broke some of my treadmill rules: I didn’t cover the screen, slowed down after bumping up the speed, and watched almost every single minute tick by. And strangely enough, I loved it!

In the latest issue of Running Times, Greg McMillan describes a workout called “ Minutes “ – a sort of twist on typical tempo intervals. He says the workout is good for speedsters who have a hard time with tempo runs. Please note: this is not me. I actually prefer tempo runs to short track intervals. But I hadn’t done a real speed workout since before MCM in November and the thought of jumping right back into a tempo seemed a little overwhelming. This workout ended up being a great transition back to the world of speed, and I kind of loved the fact that I measured the run in minutes instead of distance.

In case you’re interested in trying this on your own, here’s what I did: (I intentionally kept the workout on the shorter side because it was my first one back and I wanted to lift afterward)

  • 10 minute warm up around 8:30 pace
  • 10 x 1 minute “on,” 1 minute “off” (total: 20 minutes)
  • 15 minute cool down
  • Total: 45 minutes (5.76 miles)

In this workout, the “on” minute should be run at your tempo pace while the “off” minutes are at your typical easy pace…not a slow recovery jog. Because I was running on the treadmill and not doing a sustained tempo, I tried to stick to the faster range of my tempo pace — i.e. the pace I’d love to be able to hold for tempo runs, not necessarily the pace I’d be able to do if I went out and did one right this second.

The first few tempo intervals felt fast and the minute seemed to drag on forever while the easy minute ended in the blink of an eye…something that always happens in workouts like this. But as time went on, the tempo pace stopped feeling so fast. My body became more dialed into the speed, and it was actually the “off” intervals that left me struggling. I wanted to run either fast or slow — not somewhere in between. The other tough part about the workout was that just when I felt my heart rate starting to drop a little, it would be time to pick the pace back up again.

But despite how much this left me huffing and puffing and feeling superbly out of shape, I actually loved the workout. Even though I was staring at that clock for every stinkin’ minute of the run, it went by faster than if I had jumped on the treadmill with the goal to get hit a certain number of miles. And really — you can do anything for a minute! Changing my focus every minute kept me from getting bored and helped me stay motivated the entire time. I can’t wait to try this one again (going longer next time) and to see what happens when I bring the fun outdoors.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m excited for spring. For warmer temperatures and melting snow. For the return of running shorts weather and longer hours of daylight. But until then, I think I can survive an occasional run on the treadmill. Especially with fun workouts like the one above.

Alright – weigh in. Treadmill = your favorite training partner or the spawn of Satan? Any good treadmill workouts you recommend?

 

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