Surviving Treadmill Season

‘Tis the season of skipped workouts due to icy roads, short days and cloudy skies. Winter poses a training conundrum for many runners and fitness enthusiasts. Trying to get a workout in on a dark, icy morning can be uncomfortable. And beyond discomfort, dangerous winter conditions can make it easy to justify skipping a run or two.

Spring running races and New Year’s fitness resolutions won’t wait for the weather, so neither should we. With the Polar Vortex and harsh winter conditions steering runners inside, treadmills are being put to the test. Record snowfall and low temperatures will undoubtedly lead to records in accumulated treadmill miles across the country.

If you’re stuck inside, logging your winter training on the treadmill (a.k.a dreadmill), kudos to you. Here are a few tips to help you survive the monotony.

Change it up

If you’ve tracked a run with a GPS watch or similar device, you know that pace varies from moment to moment depending on conditions like wind or terrain. Your incline does too. Even on a seemingly pancake flat road, there will always be at least a slight variation in pace and incline. Since your runs on the treadmill should mimic a jog outside as best you can, your pace and incline should vary as much as it does in your everyday neighborhood run.

My advice is to vary the incline and speed on your treadmill runs. Don’t just set the pace and leave it there. Run up some hills—some small and some large. Try to change something every quarter mile or on every fifth minute. So at the five-minute mark, kick up the pace a little bit or climb a little hill. Then, make another change at the ten-minute mark. Even small changes of .1-.3 mph can better simulate a run outside.

Break it up

Possibly the worst part of treadmill running is watching the clock tick down. It’s hard to think of anything but the time you have left spent running in place. Even I’ve been pushed off the treadmill miles early by that thought. Breaking the run up into two or three smaller runs, and stepping off briefly in between can be a great way wrap your head around the total time you committed to spending on the treadmill.

For example, say you have a six-mile run ahead of you and the thought of spending forty-five minutes to an hour staring at the wall is enough to keep you planted on the couch. Instead of visualizing one long, six-mile run, breaking it into three, two-mile runs can help the time spent on the dreadmill seem less daunting. In between each two-mile segment, jog to the water fountain and back or do ten push-ups to keep up the workout momentum.

Take care of yourself

When running outside, the ground doesn’t move underneath you. You push off against the ground to propel yourself down the road. On the treadmill, however, the ground moves underneath between foot strikes to keep you running in place. Over the course of a short run the difference is subtle, but over the course of several miles and thousands of repetitive footsteps, runners often find that they are sorer or have an unusual ache from the singularity of movement on the treadmill.

While you can’t do anything about any differences in mechanics, you can be aware of the increased stress on your body and remember that when you are forced to the treadmill, you need to increase your focus on staying healthy. Take extra care of your body after treadmill runs and pay careful attention to your before and after your workout.