We are officially smack dab in the middle of winter, and if you are anywhere in the midwest (or probably even north + northeast), you know that February is known as one of the worst months in winter, with most of the snow, ice, and cold occurring during the Month of LOVE. While I absolutely prefer there to be snow if it’s going to be cold, snow + ice (and sometimes even cold) means that, as runners, we are spending A LOT more time on the – dun dun dun – TREADMILL. Boo,
But, have no fear – I am here to help! Believe me, I hate the treadmill as much as you do. I try to avoid it as much as I possibly can, but sometimes it’s just not an option. Sometimes we HAVE to run on the “dreadmill” due to weather, parenting responsibilities, safety, etc. But, I don’t want you to “dread the tread” anymore. Because remember, even our worst run is better than no run at all, right?! So, even the dreaded treadmill is better than having to skip a run.
So, to make the treadmill at least a little more bearable, I have come up with the Ultimate Treadmill Survival Guide, packed full of ideas to bust treadmill boredom and help you battle the winter blues by still being able to get your run in everyday. In addition, I am answering some of those Frequently Asked Questions regarding running at incline, what pace to run, and how to simulate outside running (or not) on the treadmill.
Here are a few of the questions I get asked more than ANY when it comes to running on the treadmill. How to battle boredom will be covered at the end, including 4 workouts you can do on the treadmill to change up your running routine and bust that boredom.
How do I get the treadmill to simulate running outside? Do I need to put the treadmill at an incline, and if so, how much of one?
Here’s the truth about simulating outside running on the treadmill: YOU CAN’T. Yup, it’s as simple as that. And I’m sure most of you probably realize that after you get off the treadmill and start running outside again. Running outside is SO much different to running on the treadmill. They will most likely NEVER be equal to each other, unless treadmill technology makes some HUGE strides for it to start simulating hills, wind resistance, real-life speed, etc. But, it’s pretty much impossible to make a treadmill equal to running outside.
Because of this, and despite what some other coaches or magazines might tell you, I personally don’t believe you need to add any incline to make up for wind resistance, etc. Because it will never be the same. And, more likely, you are just increasing your chances of getting an injury by adding a slight incline to an easy treadmill run. If you choose to do an incline, stick to 1-2% incline, but really, you don’t need to be adding anything. This doesn’t mean you can’t change the incline throughout a treadmill run to simulate some hills or do hill training on the treadmill. But, if you’re doing an easy recovery run, don’t even touch the incline.
What pace should I be running?
Just like the previous question, your pace on the treadmill is going to feel MUCH different than your pace outside. So, you might find yourself running a little bit slower on the treadmill than you do outside – and THAT’S OK. For most of you, the treadmill is just something you have to deal with until you can get back outside, so if you have to run a little slower for a period of time, I promise, you most likely won’t lose any fitness or speed while you are training on the ‘mill.
However, that doesn’t mean you get to run EVERY run super easy. Be sure to continue to do your speed workouts on the treadmill and still run at the pace you are supposed to be hitting for those intervals or tempo runs. I talk more about that down below, but it really is important to get a “feel” for that pace you NEED to be running.
For me, when it comes to treadmill runs, I am typically starting slower than I normally would outside. I usually spend the first half mile to mile warming up anyway, but it takes me a little longer on the treadmill. So, instead of starting out at an 8-minute per mile pace, I am usually running about 30 seconds slower than this to warm up, but I will gradually increase my speed so that my average pace is what I should be running for the day/workout. But, if it’s a little slower (which it typically is), I just remind myself that this is temporary and it won’t affect my speed right now.
Why does the treadmill feel SO much different than running outside?
Let me repeat myself here: The treadmill will ALWAYS be different. It will NEVER feel the same as outside. But, yes, your gait will be different. You will be sore in different spots – maybe even more sore than usual. The fact of the matter is, with something actually propelling your forward, it is bound to change your gait a little bit.
This would actually be a GREAT time for you to really focus on your running form. You will most likely be running a little slower than you would outside, so this would be a good time to focus on taking smaller strides while you run. (See BOREDOM BUSTER below.) But, because you are technically landing differently due to the belt and with it being a different surface, you will most likely notice a difference in your soreness and gait. Completely normal things that are most likely temporary – and if you were training full time on the treadmill, you would eventually adapt to it and would most likely HATE running outside!
[BONUS TIP: Count how many steps you take in 1 minute. You want to be close to 180 steps. This shortens your stride, forcing you to land on your forefoot instead of heel, and will actually help prevent injuries since you are keeping your center of gravity over your legs/feet.]
Looking to purchase a new treadmill and want to know the best ones to buy? Check out the best overall treadmill, the treadmill with the most immersive experience, and the best treadmill for race prep put together by Review.com. They spent 6 weeks researching 65 treadmills with exercise physiologists + fitness experts to narrow it down to the top 3 treadmills. Every runner has to train indoor at some point, so this is a super helpful guide!
Surviving Treadmill Boredom
Here is my 3-step system to helping combat treadmill boredom and to actually start looking forward to the miles you have to spend inside.
Step 1: Be Prepared.
So, this sounds really simple, but there’s a lot that goes into being prepared. Being prepared doesn’t necessarily just mean that you have all that you need before you hop onto the ‘mill; it also means that you’re prepared MENTALLY as well. But, first, let’s start with physical preparation.
Before we even head to the gym or basement or garage or wherever you go to run on the treadmill, you want to make sure you have EVERYTHING you need. This takes a little bit of planning ahead of time.
What workout are you scheduled to do?
Do you need any fuel for your run? (Only for runs over 60 minutes, but that’s a whole other blog post in itself.)
What is your plan to keep yourself occupied/distracted while you run? (We will touch on this in step 2.)
I also HIGHLY suggesting having your clothes set out or packed in your gym bag the night before so you have less of an excuse for skipping your run.
Which brings us to mental preparation…
Here’s the thing, guys. Treadmill running isn’t necessarily hard physically – I mean, we all know that we absolutely CAN run on the treadmill, even though it might not quite be at the same pace we want to be when we are out on the concrete.
Treadmill running is hard because it is SO mentally tough. We don’t have the scenery of outside. We’re not going anywhere. We have our time + distance staring us in the face the entire run. So, we absolutely have to MENTALLY prepare ourselves for the treadmill run.
One way to do this is by preparing ourselves ahead of time – that we already KNOW a treadmill run is in our future. Some of you have no problem with this because you know the days when the treadmill is your only option. Others, like myself, only choose the treadmill if we are forced to run on it due to weather or other unforeseeable circumstances.. And while I LOVE surprises, I NEED to know if a treadmill run is in store. So, to mentally prepare myself, I check the weather the night before. I ALWAYS have my clothes laid out the night before. And I have a plan for exactly what I am going to do to keep myself distracted…
Step 2: Get Distracted.
If you’ve ever run on the treadmill, you know that even the shortest run seems like it takes 2-3 times as long. One suggestion for making the treadmill a little more bearable is by finding a way to keep yourself distracted during your run. Here are a few of the top suggestions for other runners + myself:
- Create a playlist for the amount of time you plan on running. FInd some music that you will enjoy listening to, that will pump you up and keep you motivated. You are typically looking for something with at least 120 beats per minute (this can easily be googled) and that you WANT to listen to. I can tell you that there are plenty of country songs with a good beat, but country music just doesn’t motivate me or is something I enjoy listening to. So, instead, I will listen to Karmin, the Hamilton soundtrack, or turn on Workout Radio on Pandora.
- Get lost in a show or movie. My first gym membership post-college was at a local big name gym that had a media room with treadmills, bikes, and ellipticals. They would post a schedule of the movies they were playing each day or week, and you could get lost in a movie on the treadmill. If you don’t go to a gym, you can watch TV or set up your iPad or computer to get lost in a movie or your favorite Netflix show. When I first started watching TV on the treadmill, I would watch VH1 videos in the morning, until I realized that music does not distract me enough on my runs. So, I started watching the news instead (I know, I’m old). The news did a much better job of keeping my attention and my eyes off my time + distance. Now, I enjoy turning on Netflix and watching one of my favorite binge-worthy shows. Depending on the distance, you can get a nice little mini-binge watching session in!
- Find a good podcast. OK, so I am actually kind of obsessed with podcasts right now, but just like the news, they are a great way to keep you brain occupied. While my favorite lately is Amy Porterfield’s Online Marketing Made Easy podcast, there are also some great running ones as well. Check out the list of suggested running podcasts in the downloadable survival guide!
[BONUS TIP: One caveat to music, podcasts, or TV, especially in a gym setting, is needing to wear headphones. Personally, I HATE headphones and prefer to just listen through my phone or tablet speakers. But, in case you are looking for some awesome headphones for runners,I’ve included a list of highly recommended headphones + earbuds tested and approved by some of my favorite running buddies in the downloadable survival guide.]
- Dive into a good book. This is by far my favorite method of distraction on the treadmill, but it took A LOT of practice until I was able to finally master it. I can only read on my iPad – a physical book makes it almost impossible – and it has to be set at BELOW my eye level for me not to get motion sickness. This means I might have to look down just a little bit to read the book, but if it’s at eye level, my head is bouncing too much that I can’t keep focused. Something about having the iPad lower helps me keep my head a little more steady so I can actually read. I’ve gotten SO much reading done while on the treadmill, which also helps me look forward to those runs a little bit more!
[BONUS TIP: Increase the speed by 0.1 mph every time you turn a page!]
Step 3: Change it Up.
So, maybe you can’t read or watch TV while you run. Or, maybe those things just aren’t distracting enough for you and you need something else to help those minutes + miles tick by. This is when you start changing things up in regard to speed + incline. One of the easy things to do is to just increase the speed by 0.1 mph every couple of minutes (my sweet spot is 3 minutes, but it can be anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes). Keep ramping up the speed until you get to about 90% of your 5K pace (about 30 seconds to 1 minute slower than your current 5K pace), and then start to go back down to where you started. You could even do this with the incline if you wanted to, but just know that it will be harder to keep a good pace throughout.
I also like to do my speed workouts on the treadmill. The benefit of this is that it helps me get a “feel” for what those paces should be like. For example, I love doing 400m repeats on the treadmill – I will do 8-10 repeats with a 200m to 400m easy running recovery between each, hitting the speed/pace I need to for my 400m intervals. The time won’t be exactly the same since it takes some time to get to the actual speed, so definitely go by pace instead.
Or, if you just want to change things up a bit while you’re on the “dreadmill”, I’ve included 4 bonus workouts in the downloadable survival guide! These 4 workouts have been personally tested by me – they will help you increase your speed while busting your treadmill boredom as well!
So, stop dreading the treadmill this winter! It can be a useful tool for keeping you consistent with your training and helping you learn what your true paces feel like. Plus, it’s only temporary – the warm weather will be back before we know it, and then we’ll have the heat + humidity to start complaining about!