Yesterday, I ran on a treadmill. Some of my friends have strong feelings about treadmills. A few shun treadmills completely, because they don’t consider it to be “real” running. Others dislike treadmills, but view them as a necessary evil for fitting in a workout when the weather isn’t cooperating. More than one friend has referred to it as the “dreadmill.”
I don’t go that far. I prefer running outside. In fact, I found it difficult to run even one mile on a treadmill until I started listening to music during my indoor runs. Despite my preference for outside running, I often train on a treadmill. Sometimes it’s a way of avoiding inclement weather, but often I can get a better workout on the treadmill.
That was the case yesterday. It was a nice summer day. It was warm, but not uncomfortably hot. It wasn’t raining. It wasn’t even windy. I would have loved to run outside, but I realized I could get a better workout on the treadmill.
I bought a treadmill in 2001, when I was training for the Pike’s Peak Marathon. That race involves mile after mile of steep uphill running. The average grade is about 11 percent. There aren’t any mountains where I live. It’s hard to even find a hill as steep as that. The only way I could condition my legs for hours of uninterrupted uphill running was to train on a treadmill. So I did.
Once I owned a treadmill, I couldn’t resist using it to avoid winter weather. I live in Minnesota. For months we have temperatures below freezing, and the streets are covered with snow and ice. During the winter, we commonly have wind chills below zero. If you want to run outside, you can’t have any exposed skin. I used to bundle up, cover my face with a neoprene mask and ski goggles, and shuffle along slowly on slippery streets. It’s hard to do a quality workout like that.
Running on the treadmill was boring at first. I made it more interesting by playing music during my indoor runs. I don’t like to run with headphones, but I set up stereo speakers in my exercise room. It was still boring, but eventually I learned to make it more interesting with mental games. I started to tailor my treadmill workouts to upcoming races. Then I learned to imagine myself running in that race. I’d ask myself how I feel at specific points on the course. As I learned to connect my training with the challenges I would face in a race, I not only found the treadmill runs more enjoyable, but I also prepared myself mentally for the race.
Over the years, I came to realize that I actually trained better in the winter than I did in the summer. During my outdoor runs, I would often train at a pace that felt comfortable. I often didn’t wear a watch and had no idea what pace I was running. On the treadmill, I couldn’t help but be aware of my pace. I tended to drive myself harder in those workouts.
Every so often, I do a treadmill workout so I can train on long hills or force myself to hold a faster pace. I usually run outside on the nice days and use stormy days as opportunities to do more focused workouts on the treadmill. In June, we had lots of stormy days. We had record rainfall. Lately, we’ve had a long stretch of dry weather. August is normally a dry month, but it’s also a hot month. This August has been unusually nice. We’ve had days with highs in the upper 70s. It’s hard to convince myself to run indoors when it’s that nice outside.
My next race will be all downhill. It’s my fourth race of the summer with long stretches of downhill running. To train for these races, I’ve been doing a few treadmill workouts where I run fast on a gentle downgrade for several miles. My treadmill can’t do steep downgrades, but it can simulate downgrades of up to three percent. I realized I was overdue for a fast workout, and I was also overdue for a downhill workout. I can only do that on the treadmill, so I had to forgo the nice weather to do the workout I needed.
I got a quality workout, but now I’m looking forward to running outside again. What do you want to bet we’ll have a thunderstorm now?