Despite the unseasonably warm (but welcome) temperatures in recent days, winter often sends some runners - myself included - seeking shelter. This means more trips to the gym and dates with the treadmill.
I used to affectionately call the contraption the "dread" mill. I disliked everything about it. I hated the stagnant air, the whir of the belt, the televisions flashing in a row at the front of the room, the endless chatter and distractions of the people around me.
But most importantly, it was boring. Really, really boring.
Treadmills somehow had a way of making three miles feel like seven. The thought of doing any of my longer runs on one made me want to poke myself in the eye with a stick. Each winter, I'd suffer through it on the coldest and iciest days. Hating every single minute.
Then something clicked for me. I dropped the word "dread" from my vocabulary and started a new treadmill approach made up of mind-games and training tips I picked up from others. Suddenly my disdain melted away a little. Don't get me wrong, there's still no love affair with the treadmill. But these things help me get through the long New Hampshire winter.
Play Games. One of the things I hated (and to some extent still do) about the treadmill is that it is so darn monotonous. There's no scenery to look at, nothing substantial to distract me or pass the time. I don't have to worry about routes or watching out for traffic. The miles just seem so long. Getting on the treadmill feels like a time warp. I'm convinced there must be a mileage conversion chart for treadmills, like dog years to human years. A mile on the treadmill must certainly be worth two miles on the road, at least when it comes to your state of mind.
I started to realize that it wasn't physically harder. In fact, it's actually easier, since you don't have wind, road resistance or hills. The problem was with my head.
So I started coming up with mind games to help me pass the time. I stopped using the set-it-and-forget-it strategy. Really, how often do we run outside at exactly the same pace for miles and miles?
The details of games change often but the rules are the same: mix it up. Play with the speed and the incline. A lot. I usually try to touch the treadmill controls every quarter-mile (if I'm not focused on a specific training drill). My favorite approach is to start slow and increase the speed by .1 miles per hour every quarter mile. Do this for a few miles and you'll be moving pretty quickly by the end. And, because you're so micro-focused on the quarter-mile increments, you'll won't even realize the miles are racking up.
Run With Purpose. A couple of years ago, while I was training with a coach for a marathon, I learned to use the treadmill as a tool. My training schedule had a weekly speed workout built in, and often the best way to effectively complete this was with the help of a treadmill. Yes, a positive place for the treadmill in your training.
My coach often told me that every run should have a purpose - a long run, a speed workout, a recovery run. Like each run is different, so are the tools to succeed them. For long runs, it's a varied, rolling route. For speed runs, it's the treadmill. My speed workouts vary from shorter intervals to longer tempo run (where I try to sustain a faster-than-usual pace over a longer time). Having that giant screen in front of my face during the run allowed me to accurately track (and adjust) the pace and precisely monitor my time. The bonus of all of this is that you will get faster.
Don't Peek. I've established that treadmill miles seem to pass slowly. There's no need to remind yourself of that during the workout. (Obviously, this advice doesn't work if you're playing the treadmill games or focusing on a certain workouts like I've described above). You can't entirely avoid the screen, conveniently placed right in front of your face, that ticks (slowly) through the minutes and miles. But you can cover it up. I usually face the treadmill armed with a towel or shirt to cover the entire screen. But I'll admit I do lift the towel to peek. A lot.
Get Outside. Last and certainly not least, remember to get outside sometimes. Winter running is wonderful and invigorating. There's nothing like fresh air and sunshine on your skin after being holed up inside. Invest in a few pieces of the right gear - like tights, base layers, gloves, hats and reflective gear - and you'll forget you ever thought it was too cold or dark to run outside in the winter. Save the treadmill for the coldest and iciest days or when it's not safe to run in the dark. Today seems like the perfect day to get outside. There will be plenty of days left better suited for the treadmill.
.Teresa Robinson's NH Runner column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. She can be reached at NHRunner123@gmail.com. Twitter: @teresakrobinson.