Most, if not all, runners have an extreme hatred for the treadmill. It's boring. The pace markers can be way off. Did I mention it's boring? Going outside into fresh air, moving, and running from point A to point B and back is much more fun and interesting than pounding mile after mile on a revolving belt. I get it. I was there. But I've found a new respect for the treadmill. It was there during some rough running months when I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere in my training and when I felt like I was getting slower, inconsistent, and fatigued. Here's how the treadmill saved me from quitting running.
Returning to Consistency
The main reason why I started running on the treadmill was to try and gain some consistency. I found myself out on the road running and stopping at stoplights, or slowing down because of pedestrians, or having to stop and wait for traffic. I was always stopping and starting and not consistently running. I also found that some days I felt great and a 5k was a breeze, and other days 1k was impossible. This started happening after consistently running for a while and logging 5 miles easily AND 3 weeks before a half marathon. I couldn't figure out why this was happening and it really shook my confidence. So one morning instead of hitting the pavement, I fired up the treadmill and got the belt going. I felt scared, I felt beat down, and I had lost all confidence in my ability. So I started to run on the treadmill, slowly, not looking at the pace, just going by how I felt. Suddenly 30 minutes had gone by, then 40, then 45, and then I was at an hour of running, non-stop. I couldn't have told you the last time I ran non-stop before that day. If I could go 60 minutes non-stop, why couldn't I get out there for a 5k?
I returned to the treadmill for my next several runs, and ran consistently mile after mile at a pace I would finally recognize as my own. And after miles running at that pace, my body knew it, and when I got back out on the road, I knew how I fast I needed to go, how steady I needed to be, and that I could do it without stopping. And I did.
I've found that when I run on the road I tend to only push myself when I know I'm almost done. I have a hard time pushing myself during a run and turning it into a workout as opposed to just a steady run. But the treadmill has been great at pushing myself into doing a mix between tempo runs and interval runs. Tempo runs have an easy warm up and cool down, and a hard run in the middle - not so hard you can't breathe, but just below that threshold. Interval Runs again have an easy warm up and cool down, but have a mix of hard running and slow, recovery running in the middle (2 minutes hard, 2 minutes recovery, etc.). Here's what I like to do on a treadmill 3-4 mile challenge workout:
- Warm up easy - 1 mile
- Next 1 mile, increase pace by 0.1 mph every .10 of a mile (IE: 1.00 = 5.5mph; 1.10 = 5.6mph)
- Once you feel like you've hit your hardest pace (IE: 6.0mph) return back to 5.5mph for the next .10 of a mile and start the increase again.
- Cool down - 0.5 miles
I also like to do this kind of workout when I'm feeling bored on the treadmill - it makes the miles go by faster because I'm concentrating on my current pace, my current mileage, how I'm feeling, and then next tenth of a mile and tenth of a mph. I've also found that I can run faster, longer this way.
Jedi Mind Tricks
Every runner knows how the treadmill can mess with your mind. You'll feel like you've been running for 30 minutes and look down to see only 5 minutes has passed. It can really mess with you and it used to mess with me, but I think I've learned the ways of the force and have been able to work my mind out while I'm working the rest of me out.
When I start to freak out about how little time has passed on the treadmill I first take a deep breath and focus on where I'm at. I focus on how I feel (usually pretty good), and think about continuing at that pace and feeling great. If I get distracted by a runner on a treadmill next to me I visualize walls going up on either side of me so I can't see the other runner. I also focus on whatever I'm listening to. A lot of times I'll run with headphones and not really listen to whatever is on - its a distraction that I don't really pay attention to. But when I'm on the treadmill and feel my mind wandering I focus in on the music or podcast or audiobook I'm listening to and let it take me away - I'm always amazed at how time flies when I do that. And lastly, if I'm feeling really rough about how slow time is going I just accept it and acknowledge that feeling, and taking a deep breath, I just keep running. Sometimes all I have to do is simply accept the feeling for it to go away.
My Old Friend
I now fondly think of the treadmill as my old supportive friend. I go there when I'm feeling off on my current runs and when I know I need to get back on pace. A few days on the treadmill and I feel centered and ready to get out on the road again.