As the days get shorter and the racing season comes to a close, many of us run to our local gyms and to the trusty treadmill for some winter maintenance. I understand that there are many out there that don’t believe running on a treadmill is actually running, but it can be a good tool for a runner. I got my start on a treadmill, starting off only being able to run 10 minutes, and then increasing time and speed as I got in better shape. To this day, I still do a lot of speed and tempo work on a treadmill. It is where I grew to love running and its health benefits.
While I do a fair amount of treadmill running, I acknowledge that this type of running can be very boring and will never replace the benefits of running outside. However, there are some benefits. Many of us do some weight training as well and we need the equipment that the gym provides. I also find that it helps me control the speed, especially during interval, tempo, and pace runs, even if the speed does not exactly translate to the road. I also find that I am able to push myself a little longer and I find those mental benefits do translate to the road. Since you are only focused on running and not where you are going, any surface changes, or traffic, running on a treadmill is good time to focus on your form and efficiency. Proper technique can help you add speed and go longer. Finally, as the weather changes, the treadmill provides a warm, dry, and safe place to run.
This does not change the fact that running on a treadmill can be very boring, but there are a couple of things that I do to keep my brain occupied while I run. I generally watch TV, either the evening news or some type of sporting event. This helps keep my brain concentrating on something and not the 42 minutes I have left to run. I also try to talk to the people next to me at my gym. This spring I met a couple who were also training for the Green Bay Marathon, and we talked about our training and how it was going. I also try to mix it up a little, playing games with speed, elevation, or distances, anything to break up the monotony. One thing that you can’t really control, but I find to really help, is the activity at the gym. I train at a 24 hr fitness center and while sometimes I like having the gym to myself sometimes there is not a lot of activity, and I miss the activity around me at a busier gym while spending an hour on the treadmill.
A couple of other things to note about treadmill running; run with at least a 1% incline, since the speed of the treadmill does not take into account wind or wind resistance the incline will somewhat mitigate this deficiency. While you do not have to watch out for potholes or traffic, I have seen more than one person wipe out by not paying attention, as the machine is only so wide. Don’t forget to hydrate or use a fan (sometime the gym can get warm); just because you are inside does not change the importance of being aware of your body.
Many consider treadmill runners to be second class runners, and not a viable training tool. While I would not recommend the treadmill for a 14 mile training run (I did that once on vacation), I do feel there is a place for treadmills in your training if used properly and in combination with road running.