The Dreadmill…

Also known as the hamster wheel, this contraption has single-handedly garnered an equal number of dirty and thankful looks from runners. Leaning more on the running purist side, I found this definition of a treadmill on Mark Remy’s RW blog to be pretty amusing:

“treadmill (n.) – A primitive torture device first imagined by medieval jailers and perfected in the late 20th century, designed to destroy one’s mind through sensory deprivation and monotony.”

All joking aside, I do prefer being outside, taking in the scenery and what passes for fresh air in downtown Toronto. There is a sense of freedom and fluidity of movement that happens when I pound the pavement or set out on trails. On the flip side, there is also the reality of snot from a runny nose freezing to your face and your eyelashes freezing to your eyebrows on a blustery winter run.

Cue some pros for treadmill running!

While I’ve committed to suck it up and push through the challenges and travails of Mother Nature this year (pending further examination of the weather forecast), I can certainly appreciate the allure of a climate controlled atmosphere, with self-regulated pacing, safe foot traction, and the possibility of a TV blaring the Food Network near by.

Treadmill running can be a great way to casually keep fit over the winter, especially if you’re not planning on running any races in the spring. According to Alex Hutchinson’s Jockology column on treadmill running vs. outdoor running, running on a treadmill is often softer on the joints than sidewalks or roads, but also means that it won’t build the muscle endurance needed for running outside. An easy solution is to not rely too heavily on the treadmill if running outside is something you want to keep your endurance for. The article also suggests adding a one-per-cent incline when running on a treadmill to account for the lack of wind resistance.

The truth of the matters, like many things in life, seems to be that it is not an all or nothing prospect. Many elite runners and coaches alike use treadmills as part of their training regime. The March edition of Runner’s World has blurb from Kristin Price (winner of the 2009 Pittsburgh Marathon) who uses the treadmill to simulate the challenge of running negative splits in a race for a strong finish.

While nothing can really replace the endurance slog of a long slow run, for everything else, the treadmill seems like a reasonable alternative for when the weather is bad. Mixing up your tempo runs, intervals and even hill repeats are all within the self-controlled scope of the modern treadmill.

I recently read of a fun way to approach tempo runs on the treadmill that involved putting on a half hour TV show. You run at your tempo pace while the show is on, and slow down slightly on commercials, putting in a warm up and cool-down before and after. See? Now you can watch some Judge Judy and train for a race at the same time!

Personally, I like to approach treadmills like junk food. I know it’s not the ideal, but sometimes, it’s a viable option that hits the spot. But maybe that’s not really fair either. Perhaps it’s better to look at treadmills for what they are: a tool that runners have the option of utilizing as part of their training.

I’m curious to know what you’re doing this winter? It’s been pretty mild here. Are you still running outside? Have you caved and used a treadmill because of the weather? What are your favourite treadmill workouts?

22 min. in 10lbs update:

Two days in and feeling good! The scale has begun to dip (rather dramatically actually) and I’m sitting at 182. This is likely water weight, and will balance out as I continue. In terms of food, I’ve been enjoying an awesome batch of chili and scoping out a few new recipes to try. I’ll have the recipe for one of my favourite winter dishes coming up in a post next week, so stay tuned!

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2 responses to “The Dreadmill…

  1. i find the treadmill useful when i want to do more than just run. on days that i do a body pump class or other cross training i can still get a short steady run in without the hassle of another outfit and venue change. it’s a timesaver for me in those cases. also, i’m kind of curious about the whole barefoot running thing so on my last treadmill run i did my cooldown in socks only to try to ease into it. seems to be safer and warmer than doing that on the street.

    • That’s a great point Aestus. I’m also curious about barefoot running, and hadn’t thought about using a tread mill to build up some stamina with it. And they can definitely be a time saver, especially on days like today, where it looks like the sky is falling ;-)

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