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Befriending Your Tready:Top Ten Tips for (More) Successful Treadmill Running

Posted Feb 27 2010 10:10am
So that's one way of making sure the streak of 50+ miles stops this week.

If you haven't heard, we (as in NYC - who else is there really?) were blasted with not one, but two storms this week, the latter of which was a gigantic Nor'Easter that resulted in record snowfall in Central Park again! Yeah, it's the end of February and we're still dealing with cold, slush and snow.

But while the rest of the city is still digging itself out of their igloos, I somehow managed to log 33 miles so far this week, even though only 6 of them were actually done outdoors. This means that I've actually run the full distance of a marathon in just 3 runs on the treadmill. For someone who've been humiliated by the rubber band carousel more times than I care to remember (see Exhibit A ), this is a pretty incredible feat!

Now I know most runners hate the treadmill with a passion. They rather walk barefoot across a bed of burning charcoals than do 10+ miles on the motorized walkway. I know because I used to be a member of that rebel tribe that considers running without actually traveling anywhere scandalous runner behavior. But when life throws you curveballs - it's dark early, you've got kids to watch, or there's Nor'Easter in your city every freakin' week - you've got to settle for singles up the middle or you'll strike out and be relegated to the bench for the rest of the season. Catch my drift? And if you approach treadmill running with the right attitude, you can come to terms with it and it won't feel like death every time you go.

In the spirit of helping my fellow runners get better acquainted with their treadmills (or tready as I like to call it), here are my Top Ten Tips for More Successful Treadmill Running

1. Break up the long mileage.
Most tready haters seem to have a mileage limit above which they cannot tolerate the monotony. It's like their runner brain turns to mush and their shoes turn to cement after the digital counter goes up beyond a certain digit. If that's the case for you, then don't think of your workout as one continuous task. Instead break it up into a series of smaller workouts that you can tolerate. Literally turn off the machine after each workout and restart it again. For example, for my 12 mile workout yesterday, I restarted the machine four different times and incorporated three different types of workouts into my mileage.

2. Have a purpose for each workout.
Most runners run mindlessly on the tready, and then they wonder why they had such a mindless run. Don't be one of those people. Instead, have a game plan head of time for each section of your tready run. Give yourself something to work on for every mile or every few miles. Whether it be your pace, your breathing, your form, your heart rate, have some objectives and goals for the work you're putting in so that your workout can be more productive. If you approach it that way, at the end, you'll know what you've accomplished and feel more successful at it too.

3. Incorporate speed training
Alot of runners know that tready is good for interval training, but not a lot of them incorporate tempos and fartleks into their regular tready runs. This is a travesty in my mind because this is the perfect setup for learning how to surge or mix/match varying speeds at different distances. For example, do you know how you'll feel if you suddenly threw a 30 second surge after 1 mile of running or 5 miles of running? How long do you think you'll need to recover after a surge like that? Can you go back to your regular running pace or will you need to slow down for a period of time to recover? How about if the surge were for a minute or 2 minutes or 3 minutes? How fast can you surge and have it not affect your steady state running? All these questions can be answered easily and much more effectively on tready than out on the road because you can designate an exact pace and exact speed. Go ahead and experiment. Speed up or slow down as you like. Just don't run at the same pace for the entire duration of your tready run. I am shuddering just typing that last sentence.

3. Vary your incline
How many people never adjust the incline on their tready runs? How many set it at 0.5 or 1.0 at the beginning and never touch it again? If you raised your hand, you really have no right to call yourself a tready runner, much less criticize the tready as a monotonous machine. As a rule, unless I'm doing intervals, I always always adjust my tready incline every quarter to half of a mile. Not only does that simulate the undulations of the road as if you were running outside, it also allows the recruitment of different muscles which lay dormant when you're running on flat ground. You can think of it as running hills. If you can count up how many hills you encourage on your regular running route, that is at least as many times as you should be adjusting your tready inclines. You can speed up or slow down to maintain a similar effort but varying inclines should be a regular feature in your tready running routine.

4. Run barefoot (or with socks)
Although I'm not a fan of barefoot running for maintenance, racing or sustenance (for reasons I will NOT further elaborate so don't ask), they are nevertheless an essential form of strength training for your feet and lower legs. They can also help correct your form if you are a lazy runner (like me) and suffer from alignment issues. For those just starting out or at the beginning stages of making the transition to barefoot running, running outside on pavement in snow/ice can be quite challenging if not impossible. This is again where the tready can help. Just take off your shoes (leave the socks on) and go for a slow tready run. Your pace will be slower than it is for regular treadmill runs but you'll get good sensory feedback from your feet, knees, and ankles on where the trouble spots are with your form so you can work on those more individually. What I do is run a barefoot mile at the start of my workout as a warmup and one at the end as a cooldown. I find that it helps solidify my cadence and form and carries over quite a bit to my running and racing.

5. Try out shoes (new or old)
I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I like experimenting with shoes. I like new shoes, I like old shoes, and I like comparing how I feel at different times with different shoes. One thing I know from medical science is that your foot structure differs from year to year based on age, training, and the surface that you run on. Therefore, it is always a good idea to analyze your gait periodically to ensure you're running in the right shoes. To that end, I will switch up and wear two or three pairs of new and old shoes to the tready and runs a few miles on each just to test things out. I find that different workouts go better with different shoes and can then use that information to guide my next shoe purchase.

6. Listen to a running podcast
Some people watch movies when they run. Other people pump themselves up with music. I like listening to running podcasts. It's all a decision based on personal preference but it's a good idea to have something engaging that will keep your interest when the tready workout gets mind numbing.

7. Test out fueling/hydration
This is also something good to do. Because you don't have to carry it outside with you or risk an emergency if your stomach doesn't agree with your new flavor of GU, the tready is a good time to try out new foods and drinks you are considering for long runs. Because everything can literally be right at your finger tips, you don't have to worry about carrying too much or not enough when you're trying things out for the first time. Heck, you can try a combination of nutritional items to see what works best or not at all. I tried Gummi Bears and Sports Beans on my tready twelve yesterday. The Gummis turned out too chewy for running and I went through a whole bag of beans and was still hungry. Lesson learned.

8. Examine your heart rate zones
If you wear a heart rate monitor (HRM) to the tready like I do, then you can not only incorporate heart rate zone training into your routine, but you can also test your zones to see what pace they correspond to. You can also study the effects of hills on your heart rate zones by playing with the inclines at different times during your run. And if you keep a good record of such things, then you can study the training effect over the course of a week, a month, or a year. The possibilities of what you can do with that information is endless! (Just make sure you're wearing an actual HRM and not relying on the pulse counter on the tready itself!)

9. Count your strides
Another exercise that can be easily done on the tready is to count your strides at different paces. Do you tend to increase your turnover or stride length when you run faster? Which is the first to go when you're tired? If you can steady your pace and count your strides over the distance of a half-mile or a mile, you can figure out your stride length. Then, there are specific workouts you can do to improve each of those areas. There are also websites with list of power songs categorized by cadence (or strides per minute). So for a myriad of reasons, this is good information to know.

10. Practice your mental game
If for some alien reason none of my tips work for you, and you find yourself in the middle of a tready workout unsatisfied, unenthused and unmotivated with miles and miles to go, well, that's kind of like how the marathon or half marathon is going to feel at some point. This is time to practice your mental game. What do you got? Mantras, songs, inspirational sayings, mind games...this is time to pull out the stops and practice what will get you there to the finish. I like to think about all the people who could only wish they were doing what I'm doing right now, and so will dedicate a strong mile to each of them. What will you do? Always plan ahead.

So I hope I've given you all a reason (or two) not to hate the tready when you find yourself having to climb on for a few miles, or five, or ten. Don't call it the dreadmill or similarly derogatory names neither. It's not tready's fault that the weather's bad or you got no time or you've got 101 other things to take care of. So lose the attitude. Understand the tready, learn to work with the tready and the tready will work wonders to supplement your training. You don't need me to tell you how many elite athletes do the bulk of their training exclusively on a tready.

Enough said. If you have a good tready workout you'd like to share, please by all means, enlighten the crowd in the comments. Otherwise, I'll catch you on the other side of a good tready run. Have a good weekend all!
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