95 miles on the treadmill? But how?

I’ve noticed a common thread in the reactions to my recent blog postings and tweets about how much running I’m doing on the treadmill, including all of last week’s 95 miles: “WTF?! I could never do that!”

Well, guess what? You could. And many of you should.

I experience an equal measure of horror and amazement when I see the training logs of people who are out there running what are supposed to be easy long runs, but because of heat indices in the 90s and above are slogging away at tempo effort instead.

Sure, the treadmill is tedious. But I emerge from my treadmill runs unscathed by the weather outside and having expended the appropriate amount of effort for the workout at hand. Good training means training smart as much as it does training hard. If you’re training too hard, you’re not training smart.

So there’s my little lecture.

I realize that not everyone has access to a treadmill. In those cases, you do what I had to do in the summer, before I acquired one: run everything by HR and forget about paces. Forget about a social life, too, because most runs will now take forever to complete.

Have I managed to convince you of the benefits of running on a treadmill during the worst of the weather outside? If so, here are some strategies for making it easier, mentally and otherwise:

Make sure you’re distracted. I make sure I have multiple forms of entertainment available. I have a television three feet away from the treadmill and I sprung for a mini home theatre system so I can hear it. If I have movies, I watch those. If I don’t, I watch television. If there’s nothing on television, I listen to music. If I’m sick of music, I listen to the radio.

Bonus tip: For faster runs (like tempo or interval efforts), the din of the treadmill can drown out even the most powerful sub-woofer. For those runs, I get subtitled movies (or turn on closed captioning). I’ve discovered a lot of really good foreign flicks this way.

Make sure you’re comfortable. I’ve got an AC running. I’ve also got three fans: a ceiling fan, and one trained on my front and another on my back. This is essential for keeping cool and keeping effort in the appropriate range.

Introduce some variation. The treadmill is unrelenting. I think that’s what bugs a lot of people about it. Just as we naturally slow down or speed up thousands of times during a run over ground, we should have the same variation when running on the treadmill. So I frequently change pace by 10 seconds or so to give my legs and brain some variation and rest.

Have a goal for the important workouts. I’ve found that I can deal with the prospect of a long, difficult workout on the treadmill much better if I go in with clear goals. Examples might be: Run 20 miles under 2:45. Or, run the last three miles of this 10 mile general aerobic run 10-20 seconds faster.

Induce temporary blindness. Do you think I want to run 20 miles on a treadmill? Of course I don’t. So I do my best to forget about the distance I have to cover. One good way to do this is to cover up the display on the treadmill. I hang an old pillowcase over the mileage indicator. Based on the pace(s) I plan to run, I know when I’ll be done. Five minutes or so before that time, I look at the display to confirm where I am mileagewise (and celebrate).

Remember that it’s for the greater good. And it’s not forever. Winters and summers in NY State suck. That’s just how it is. I’ve accepted it. But the spring and fall provide fabulous running weather. I keep those wonderful, crisp morning runs (and races) in mind as I climb on the treadmill. I also keep my training and racing goals in mind too. I’ll be in much better shape when the good weather arrives than I would have been had I done all my runs in the heat outside (or skipped them during the winter).

22 Responses

  1. I think you may just be insane. 😉

    Different strokes for different folks but I haven’t been on a treadmill in YEARS because I’d rather suffer through miserable summers and winter than spend 5 minutes on one of those things (I’ve been a runner for nearly 20 years. In those 20 years, I’ve run maybe a grand total of 20 miles on a a treadmill and I’ve lived in a northern climate for that entire time).

    I’ll run in -10 or 90 degree weather no matter how slow I’m going because I just don’t feel like I’m RUNNING when on a dreadmill. And it just seems like a cop out to me. Weather is something we can’t control, I like to pride myself on running through it no matter what it is. Does it suck to be slogging a long at 90+ seconds above MP due to a foot of snow or heat? Yeah. But I’d like to think its character building. Though I guess you can argue the same for staying a dreadmill for upwards of 3 hours at a time.

    More power to you either way!

  2. I live in a temperate climate, so don’t really need a treadmill, but I would get one if I moved to New England.

    Given that treadmills have their own cushioning, do you wear flats?

    • I wear the same shoes I’d wear for runs outside. Meaning: I only wear flats if I’ve doing some very fast running on the treadmill. I don’t really notice the supposed “softness” of the belt. It still feels pretty hard to me.

  3. Thanks for the tips! I thought about getting a treadmill, then after running 5k on one in Anaheim… no way. But then, like Jim E’s, our climate isn’t too bad – 0-5C winter, 30C summer (usually).

    I can see that it’s good for getting in consistent training in bad weather. Then again, there are benefits to running in bad weather. Hot weather running is a little like altitude training in that you get a boost when you finally hit a cool weather race (works well for an autumn race that starts early in the morning, like we have here).

  4. Forgot to mention that I’m not totally amazed by 95 miles on the treadmill. A bloke from here broke the 48-hour treadmill world record. Now there’s something to think about during a 20-mile indoor run!

  5. Correction to my last comment – It was a 24 hour attempt – Martin just missed the WR by 1.76k. He ran 245.92k on the mill.

  6. Kentucky has it’s share of awful weather … but when I run on a treadmill my IT band goes nuts. Tried adjusting incline, pace, etc., all to no avail.

  7. I’ll be inside on the treadmill for the majority of my miles over the next two weeks. I prefer outdoors but I’m not completely averse to running inside. Hey, you have to do what you have to do, right? Thanks for the above tips. I’ve got a huge fan and a TV & iPod which help make the time go by and that definitely helps.

  8. I’m amazed by that kind of treadmill mileage.

    We bought one last Christmas and I ran enough on it to know that just looking at it will scare me out of the house to run in just about any weather. 🙂

  9. Really, really great post! From now on, when people question my two hour stints on the elliptical, I’m pointing them here 🙂

  10. Training exclusively on a treadmill is not ideal and violates the first rule of any performance driven training — specificity. If you intend to race on the road then you need to run on the road. I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for the treadmill, but to use it exclusively is a mistake.

    You are missing out on several benefits of more specific training including biomechanical/neuromuscular/running economy changes (moving belt vs. stationary road) and the adaptations that occur in bone, ligaments and tendons from running on a harder surface. Splitting a long run between outside and the treadmill is one option. Also, running the warmup/cooldown portion of workout on the road and the faster tempo or interval portion on the treadmill is also a good approach.

    Living in Florida I can certainly understand not wanting to run in the heat, but it’s important to remember that many of the benefits from regular training are not related to pace or HR, but rather come from time-on-your-feet, metabolic changes and neuromuscular adaptations that occur over time and in reaction to specific stresses. Currently your training to be a very good treadmill runner. To be a very good road runner, at least some portion (25-50%) of your training should be in that environment.

    Good luck and best wishes!

    • Thanks, Dave. This is a very thoughtful and informative reply. If you read my weekly training logs (which I can understand if you don’t, as it’s dull reading), you’d see that an entire week on the treadmill is more the wild exception than the norm. If I can run outside, I do and I’d say I train outside 90-95% of the time and save the treadmill for the absolute worst of the weather.

      Thank you also for pointing out that splitting a run between the road and treadmill is a good option. I’ve done this a few times and it’s worked out well.

      The point of this post was to try to open people’s minds to the possibility of adding the treadmill in as an alternative training tool, not to convince them that it should be used exclusively.

  11. I fear I felt compelled to seek wider circulation of this one.

  12. Interesting that they deleted it, as I post a link to this blog on LR every weekend in the women’s training thread. Oh, well.

    I submitted this post to The Cassidy Feed. Great minds think alike, I guess. 😉

  13. Well, my point is that I thought it was yet another of your excellent posts. For this one, I may actually take you up on it. But not about the foreign flicks. And my TV is too far from my treadmill.

    And what’s the best way to figure out MHR?

    • I figured mine out by running a 5K race at all-out-I’m-about-to-puke effort at the very start of my racing career, noting the HR at the end (208). Jonathan knows another way — I’ll ask him this evening and post again.

  14. I heard about your 95-mile treadmill jaunt on Twitter.

    All I can say is….I sure hope you opted for the extended warranty on that poor sucker. ( Treadmill )

    You are going to run it into the ground.

  15. Thank you for the tips, but I’ll stick to my roads. I feel there is a certain amount of toughening up that you get outdoors that just can’t be mimicked on a treadmill. Plus, even with the possible distractions you list, I am quite sure I would lose my mind if I tried to put that kind of mileage up in a stationary environment.

  16. Great post! Living and training for fall marathons in Houston, Texas I too face exactly the same dilemma that you have. While the moving belt indeed does not perfectly replicate the road experience, neither does running of stark necessity 60-seconds per mile slower owing to the summer heat load! Consequently, during the summer all my runs (with the sole exception of the long run day) are done on the treadmill – with the grade set at one or two percent for a non-springy or springy treadmill bed (to equate the pace to one with wind resistance).

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