TMTOTW: Your Treadmill Is a Tool; Use It Like a Pro

tgftmThe winter rages on, and as I scroll through my morning news feed, the treadmill articles seem to be on repeat and it’s all the standard fare: tips to ward off boredom; workout ideas; and seventy-four variations of whether running on the treadmill is real running.

Sigh. Although I know it will never happen as long as certain running publications need to recycle the same old articles every year, I’d love to put this debate to rest.

Yes, it counts.

Yes, it is hard.

Yes, real runners do it.

If you’re reading this you know how drively this drivel is. I could go find some fat juicy physiology studies, but that’s been done and these article writers don’t seem to care. So let’s try a different tack: I trolled the web to find examples of real, inspiring runners who have used the ‘mill as a tool in their training arsenals. That’s right, let’s not forget that the treadmill, not unlike a person who insists “real runners” are a thing, is a tool and one that can make you a stronger, faster, and healthier runner if you know how to use it. Just ask these fine folks.

 Carol McLatchie

The 12th place finisher at the 1984 Olympic Marathon Trials, top masters runner, women’s distance coach for the US National team in 2012, plus the 2015 USTFCCCA Cross-Country high school coach of the year, Carol used her treadmill for one of its greatest advantages: perfectly simulating the hills of her upcoming races. In 1993, while training for Boston, she finished many an outdoor long run with six miles on her treadmill programmed to the exact gradient and length of the Newton hills, including Heartbreak itself. She and her training partner Joy Smith did the same while training for the 1992 Olympic Trials and when race day came said, “…our legs knew those hills.” Most race websites have a link to a course map that shows the elevation profile for the entire course, so you can follow her example.

Take-away: use your treadmill for hill simulations. If you know your upcoming race is hilly, study that map, program your ‘mill so you can practice those hills, and develop the muscle memory and stamina to hit them hard on race day.

A runner using a treadmill at the Olympic Village during the 1980 Olympics. See: Olympics and treadmill in same sentence. Image via wikipedia.

Kim Jones

This two-time runner-up in Boston (1991, 2:26:40 and 1993, 2:30:00) and New York (1989, 2:27:54 and 1990, 2:30:50) did much of her training indoors to avoid icy Colorado roads and sidewalks. Training for Boston in 1991, she logged 80% of her mileage indoors. She also suffers from asthma, and the treadmill allowed her to avoid cold or polluted air outside, just like our own Cardamom suggests.

Take-away: your treadmill can help you avoid asthma-triggers in any season (cold air, pollution, or high pollen count in the spring and summer).

Christine Clark

Chris Clark from Alaska, won the 2000 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and was the only U.S. woman to qualify for the Olympics that year. At the Sydney Games, she set her PR of 2:31:35 and finished 19th. How did she train through the brutal Alaskan winter? On her treadmill. She credited her treadmill for a couple of aspects of her success, both related to the weather. For one, her ‘mill was in her heated house, which acclimated her to temperatures more similar to Columbia, South Carolina (location of the 2000 OTM) and Sydney, Australia than Alaska. Of course, the treadmill also allowed her to get in her miles at pace when the harsh environment outside would have severely limited her training.

Take-away: the ‘mill allows you to acclimate for warmer races during the cold winter months as well as allowing your miles to stay high by avoiding freezing temperatures.

Kara Goucher

A woman who needs no introductions, but one who has an Alter-G treadmill in her home. True this treadmill is state-of-the-art and costs a serious chunk of change, but it helped her to run through her pregnancy, maintain her fitness, and hit a 2:24:52 at the Boston Marathon a mere seven months after giving birth to her son Colt. Most of us aren’t going to be able to afford an Alter-G, but even a regular treadmill can allow you to run easier during pregnancy. One of my biggest complaints while running pregnant was that I had to stop and pee every half-mile so planning routes where I could do that became very repetitive and boring. Had I used a ‘mill at the time, hopping off to use the bathroom would have been no problem. Take-away: a treadmill can be a useful tool during pregnancy to keep your fitness up while always being close to a bathroom.

Honorable Dude Mention: Antonio Vega

The winner of the 2010 U.S. Half Marathon Championships (61:54), trained 90% of his 120 mile weeks on his treadmill in Minnesota. Clearly, he used the ‘mill to continue training at levels that were impossible in the snow and ice. The sheer amount of miles he trained inside meant that he also used it for every other aspect of his training: long runs; hill work; speed intervals; and recovery runs.

Take-away: the treadmill is your friend, and you can use it to avoid weather, for base mileage, for speed and tempo workouts, hills, or long runs to be a CHAMPION.

Get off the couch, Bertha. Grab your damn sweat towel and use that ‘mill of love like the tool it is. These pros did, and so can YOU.

When do you pull the treadmill out of your tool box?

I'm an elementary P.E. teacher with a long-term, ongoing marathon addiction.The next big goal? Keeping up my BQ streak while aiming for a 3:10! I write about the not-so-glamorous side of running and fitting in serious training with a family while staying sane(ish).

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  1. I prefer outdoors, but will use the treadmill when conditions outdoors dictate. If I know my workout will be of poor quality because of conditions outside, I take it inside, and don’t worry what anyone thinks. 🙂

  2. I use my treadmill every day for warm-up and cool-down – to ensure I both do them and do them at appropriate levels of effort.

    I also use it regularly for specific workouts I can’t do in my local outdoors.
    One key workout I do periodically is a sustained downhill run (15-60 min) intended to trash and thence inoculate my quads against future eccentric loads – a downhill race course, an ultra marathon, etc.

  3. How about the moms that have to juggle training, kids, and other domestic responsibilities. I’ve been told that treadmill use for speed work is “cheating ” WTF! Cheating! some people are silly and I’ll stick to my treadmill runs and hopefully kick some ass.

    1. It’s always tone-deaf guys who say things like that – guys who don’t have to worry about fitting in runs while taking care of kids or have to worry about their personal safety running alone in the dark. Whatever dudes.

    2. It certainly is an advantage! I did 90% of my speedwork on a treadmill before a 16 minute marathon PR last spring. I think it was just easier than getting to a track and removed snow and ice from my list of excuses why I couldn’t get a run in or why I couldn’t hit my paces. But cheating? Nope. Not as long as you’re doing the work and not standing on the sideboards watching the belt fly by.

  4. After taking a few years off racing..I needed motivation to get going again so I signed up for indianpolis monumental marathon 2015 and started off using the treadmill for a lot of my runs and hill work and finished my marathon in 3:15. My only issue with the treadmill is I feel like I’m going to fall off and my balance is way off. So if I go weeks without being on a treadmill, it’s a sight for sore eyes watching me. Anyone else have this problem and what can I do to fix it.

    1. My balance is terrible on the ‘mill too– I hold on with one hand to the bar right in front me almost the entire time, even doing super-slow recovery miles. I switch hands throughout my run, and I’m not clenching when I hold on- often just sort of resting my hand there- but for some reason the second I let go I feel like I’m going to go off sideways. I run with the stroller a lot, so holding onto something with one hand feels pretty normal to me! I know some would say I’m not getting the full workout, or I’m throwing my form off, but all my treadmill work is paying off AND I’ve never had an injury (knock on wood.)