Now that winter weather has arrived, I’m starting to read posts on other blogs about running on the treadmill. When I started running, I ran outside all winter. With the right clothes, I could endure the cold, but it’s hard to get a quality workout when you’re running on icy streets. It can also be dangerous if you have to run after dark.
Now I do most of my winter training on a treadmill. I’ve learned to use the treadmill to do a variety of different workouts, depending on my training needs. On Thursday, I decided to do a hill workout, largely because I hadn’t done one recently. It’s easy to neglect hill training when you’re running indoors.
I don’t listen to music when I run outside, but I always do when I’m running on the treadmill. Over the years, I’ve created a playlist with more than 1,000 songs. I have them arranged chronologically, so I gradually progress through time. It takes me several months to work my way through the entire playlist. I’m currently listening to songs from the early 70s.
For my Thursday workout, I did variable length hills. I used my music to determine the length of each hill. I started running on a level grade until I was warmed up. As I warmed up, I gradually increased my speed to 7.5 mph. That’s 8:00 per mile, which is my standard training pace.
The next time a new song started, I changed the incline to a 0.5 percent grade. That’s a barely perceptible hill. Outdoors, you might not notice it. I haven’t been doing much hill training recently, so I wanted to ease into it gradually. I ran at that grade until the end of the song.
Most treadmills can only do positive grades. You can run uphill, but not downhill. I have one that will let me run downhill, but the steepest downgrade is 3.0 percent. After running a 0.5 upgrade for one song, I switched to a 0.5 downgrade. I also increased the speed to 7.6 mph.
At the end of the next song, I switched from a 0.5 percent downgrade to a 1.0 percent upgrade. I also decreased the speed back to 7.5 mph. I continued this pattern for several miles. I alternated between uphill and downhill and steadily increased the grade in half percent increments. Running uphill, I always went 7.5 mph, which got progressively more difficult. Running downhill, I went a little bit faster each time I increased the grade.
There are two reasons why I like to change the incline on the transition between songs. The first is to add some variety. Some hills are long; some hills are short. Unless I can remember the next song in my play list, I don’t know in advance how long the next hill will be. The other reason is that it frees me from having to constantly watch the display. I know when I’m reaching the end of a hill just by listening to the music.
Eventually, I reached a grade of 3.0 percent. I was doing the uphills at 8:00 per mile and the downhills at 7:24 per mile. After that, I couldn’t get any steeper on the downhills, but I continued to increase the grade going uphill.
Before I started, I had decided to run 11 miles. I didn’t know exactly how many hills that would be. I planned to keep running hills until I was somewhere around 10.5 miles. Then I would finish the workout on a level grade. At 8.8 miles, I began running downhill. The song was Beginnings by Chicago. This was the album version, which is almost eight minutes long.
Since I can’t do steep downgrades, it was nice to have a long one. At a 7:24 pace, I would be running downhill for over a mile. That felt easy at first, but would eventually feel less comfortable. At first, I felt guilty that I was getting a downhill that was twice as long as most of the uphills. By the time the song ended, I was getting close to 10 miles total. I would only have one more uphill. I assumed it would be shorter, since most of the songs were between three and minutes long.
As the final notes of Beginnings faded out, I reduced the speed to 7.5 mph and changed the incline to a 5.0 percent grade. Before the treadmill was done adjusting the slope, I recognized the next song. It was Riders on the Storm by The Doors. “Oh Shit,” I thought. That song is over seven minutes. I no longer had to feel at all guilty about the length of my last downhill section. Seven minutes on a five percent grade at an 8:00 pace was going to be tough. I hadn’t planned to finish with such a long hill, but I did it. After that, I finished with about three minutes of level grade running.
This was a good workout, with the toughest hills coming toward the end. I think running hardest near the end of a workout helps prepare me mentally for the tough miles at the end of a race.
Although my hills varied in length, the grade was always predictable. This was still a fairly regimented workout. Sometimes I’ll do workouts where I don’t know in advance how steep each hill will be. I have a clock on the wall of my exercise room. I’ll wait until the song fades out and then look up at the clock. How steep I set the grade depends on where the second hand is pointing when I look up.
There are lots of ways you can keep treadmill workouts fresh. This is just one example. It works for me, because I really get into the music. I don’t always remember which song is next, but they’re all songs I picked, and I love them all.