How to learn to love the treadmill

Cindy Kuzma
·6-min read
Photo credit: nd3000
Photo credit: nd3000

From Runner's World

Jacob Puzey cringers when he hears references to the ‘dreadmill’ or talk about boredom. The US ultrarunner and coach doesn’t understand the hate for the mechanical marvel that
is the modern treadmill. But, like many runners, he didn’t always feel this way. Puzey first set foot on a treadmill when he was 14, but not again until he was 22 and a student at college. Pressed for time and low on cash for winter gear, Puzey trained for his first marathon very early in the morning at the deserted campus gym.

There, he scrutinised his form in the mirror, correcting the crossover in his arm swing and the excessive forward lean that once left him stooped over by the end of races. It not only got him fit, but the treadmill miles also reignited his love for running. He’s still at home out on the trails – Puzey has won races such as the Grizzly Ultra 50K – but he also holds the 50-mile treadmill world record, a 4:57:45 he ran in 2016. Now 37 and a father of six, the treadmill allows Puzey and his wife, Amy, also a runner and coach, to juggle training and life.

The reason for logging miles indoors goes beyond avoiding bad weather. US marathoner Galen Rupp has said he runs some of his 25- and 26-mile long runs on a treadmill to ease the burden of 140-mile weeks on his body. When training for the 2004 US Olympic Trials coincided with the birth of her daughter, Jenny Spangler logged nearly all her runs on a treadmill, beside a baby monitor. She ran 2:36:30 in the Trials and placed ninth – at the age of 40.

In June this year, US marathoner Sara Hall ran 1:09:03 on a treadmill in Arizona, US, taking 11 minutes off the women's treadmill half-marathon world record. It was her first race effort since the US Olympic Marathon Trials in February, and she finished within five seconds of her half-marathon PB of 1:08:58. ‘The beauty of the treadmill is you can just keep notching the pace up as you feel good,’ she says.

Jacky Hunt-Broersma, 44, from North Carolina, US, is a cancer survivor and amputee. The longest distance she had ever covered on a treadmill was 10 miles, so preparing herself for the mental challenge of a 100-mile virtual race in April seemed daunting. She approached it by splitting up the miles in her head into smaller goals –such as striving for the 50K mark – and taking a quick break to swap out gear. Her husband also coordinated a surprise (socially distanced) visit from friends to cheer her on. Hunt-Broersma finished in 23 hours and 38 minutes, becoming the first amputee to cover the distance on a treadmill in less than 24 hours.

‘After completing 100 miles on it, I have a different relationship with the treadmill and don’t expect to mentally struggle with it as much,’ she says.

Emily Toia, 43, has done 100-mile treadmill runs for charity and logs 3,000-4,000 miles a year on her precious Woodway treadmill. ‘I can get up and run when it’s dark. I don’t have to worry about anything, whether it's my safety or toilet breaks, or where the water, or where do I stash my fuel,’ she says.

The fuelling issue is huge, especially for marathoners and ultrarunners, says Puzey. Toting three hours’ worth of nutrition and hydration in a pack weighs you down. On a treadmill, easy access allows you to practise taking in gels and liquids as frequently as you will in the race.

Even on the flat, runners might find the treadmill’s consistency useful in learning proper pacing, says John Henwood, a former New Zealand Olympian who now coaches. The treadmill canal so help you practise long, sustained uphill runs that you might avoid on. the roads, or let you practise your kick when you're otherwise feeling tired. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you are running on a treadmill:

Prevent overheating

Staying cool and hydrated is just as important when you’re indoors. Some runners, in fact, will sweat even more on the treadmill than they do when they’re running outside. ‘When you’re on the treadmill, you don’t have the breeze you feel being outside and moving through the open air,’ says running coach Ashley Brasovan. She recommends using a fan to have the most productive workout. You can also set up a mini aid station to practice fuelling for future races.

Use the mirror

‘Having a visual on yourself helps you maintain good form,’ says Debora Warner, founder of the Mile High Run Club, a treadmill-only gym in New York. ‘Your arms should track back and forth, not across your midline; keep your shoulders relaxed and down.’

Watch your step

Maintain a high cadence. Research shows that at 10K pace, runners tend to have a longer stride length and lower cadence on the treadmill compared with running outside. ‘If your stride rate is much slower on the treadmill, it’s a sign you're struggling and probably overstriding,’ says form expert Jay Dicharry.

Stay engaged

It’s easy to slip into autopilot on the belt. Mix things up with intervals, hill repeats and ladders. Time passes faster and you get fitter.

Adjust your expectations

Don’t beat yourself up if a pace you can attain outdoors feels tougher on the treadmill. A 2012 study found that runners ran significantly slower on a treadmill immediately after running at a self-selected pace on a track.

The best treadmill workouts for runners:

Pacing primer:

Warmup for 5mins, then alternate 2 mins at 75-80 per cent effort with 2 mins of easy running. Do this 8 times. Trouble sustaining the pace? Slow down so you can finish the set.

Long-run mix-up:

For runs of 2 hours and more, alternate 17 mins at an easy pace with 3 mins at a challenging pace (about 85 per cent effort). For shorter runs, go 8 mins easy, 2 mins hard.

Treadmill tempo:

After a 1- to 2-mile warm-up, run 2 to 3 miles at marathon pace, 1 to 2 miles at half-marathon pace, then a half-mile to mile at 10K pace. Cool down for a mile.

Mountain mimicker:

Warm up for 15 mins, then do 3 × 10-15-min intervals on an 8 per cent incline at a pace that is a little slower than you could run for an hour. Recover between reps for 1 to 2 mins.

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