At the start of 2008, it felt like Colorado got hit with a snowstorm every Friday. I had just started training for another marathon after returning to Colorado from a disastrous European race the past fall. Winter is a great time to take a break and reset. I was mentally in a great place as far as training was going, but getting frustrated with the weather patterns. The snow would slowly melt throughout the week, and then we would get hit with another storm on Friday. This would only give me one choice for my long run….. the treadmill.
This post is aimed at the runner that has access to a treadmill. They are not a “must have” piece of equipment, but I’ve been training in Colorado for the last 25 years and know the challenge that our winters often provide for runners. When the temperature drops and the snow falls, I always ask myself where I will benefit most from what I need to do. I know that training on the treadmill can be tedious and mind-numbing, but you must remember that it’s a tool, and there are many benefits if you stick to a few basic guidelines.
#1. Have a plan. Know what you are doing before you step foot on the treadmill. Just like every run in the summer, you need a plan before you start putting on your shoes. If it’s an easy day, the run must be easy and about recovery. If you are scheduled for a workout, be prepared to run hard.
#2. Warm-up. I always start out at a speed of 5.0. Don’t ask me why; it’s just an excellent place to start, and if you’ve ever trained with a pack of Kenyans, you’ll know that if you warm up the muscles well, they will perform well. I start at 5.0, and then every 5 minutes, pick the speed up by .5 until I feel like I’m moving well.
#3. Use the incline. Most people don’t realize this, but most treadmills tilt downwards (and this is why many complain about having sore knees and hips after running on treadmills. Imagine how you would feel if you did an hour run that was all downhill). The first click or two of the incline button is enough; whether it’s .5 or 1.0, slightly raising the incline, all works out to be the same.
#4. Refrain from testing your limits. As I said, the treadmill is a training tool, not a test to see how fast you can go. Would you get any benefit from your training if you ran as hard as you could every day? Not really. Treadmills are great for tempo workouts, progressive tempo runs, intervals, and recovery runs, but with all of these, you need to know what you’re trying to achieve and only do what is required. I used to do a workout that was a 20-minute warm-up before running five intervals times 7 minutes, ending with a 10-minute cool-down. The best thing about the treadmill is that you can do a workout and be super precise about the effort without going all out.
#5. Cool down. As much as it seems like a waste of time in our busy lives, the cool-down is essential. This recovery period allows the legs to clean out all the junk that has accumulated and helps speed up recovery. I like to spend the final 10 minutes of each workout in this cool-down mode. Dropping the speed by .5 every 2 minutes until I am back at my starting pace of 5.0.
#6. Balance. As much as I like to use the treadmill on lousy weather days rather than slog it out in the cold and snow, it can’t be all one-sided. Treadmills are designed to have you run straight forward, and as runners, we need more. My rule is that if I do one run on the treadmill, I will balance that out with one run outside. When I was training, I ran twice a day. I would do the hard work in the morning on the treadmill and then my recovery run outside at night. Running outside helps us develop stability (strength in our lateral movements), which you know is essential if you have ever rolled an ankle.
Over the years, I’ve come up with a load of great treadmill workouts. If you have to go to the gym to use a treadmill, there is always that added bonus of getting in the hot tub or sauna after that hard workout. As it played out, I did most of my marathon build-up on the treadmill, and the race went great. I felt confident, fast, and strong as I stood on the start line, which showed in the results. Give it a try this season, and let me know how it goes. Reach out if you have questions about incorporating treadmill workouts into your weekly running routine.