Treadmill Tip of the Week: Going Long, Baby

imageDid you hear? Spring training started. Spring MARATHON training, that is! Boston, the Eugene Marathon, and the Avenue of the Giants Marathon (to name a few of my personal favorites) amongst many others are on the calendar in less than 16 weeks, a standard length for many marathon training programs.

If tempo runs are the bread and butter of your training plan, the long run is the meat (or tofu, if that’s how you swing). It’s the solid, sustained effort of the long run that builds your endurance and mental toughness. They’re the grand finale of all those training weeks, their miles rising like Mt. Everest on those seven day chunks of your training plan. Oh, and they make you tough because, well, they are tough even during the finest weather.

When the weather is, shall we say, not so fine, like turning the streets to sheets of ice, blowing ice pellets in your face, or getting that real-feel down to negative double-digits, long runs can be worse than tough: not happening … unless you have a treadmill.

Oh no! Are you kidding me?! 14, 18, or even 22+ more miles on the treadmill?!

Fear not, Salties. I’ve gathered advice from true treadmill veterans Dill and Barley to make sure your spring race goals are not sabotaged by Mother Nature getting in the way of your long run.

Barley got through this 20 miler on the treadmill because she was prepared.

1. Prepare. 

I’ve written previously about the need to prepare for a treadmill run, and the importance of this increases right along with the amount of miles you need to get in for your sesh. Remember you are going long, so have adequate water and nutrition handy, along with your plan for when to take them. Dill advises having those gels, beans, honey packets, or pork chops counted out and in arm’s reach to avoid hopping off the ‘mill to grab whatever random sweet thing you happen to have in your kitchen when hunger strikes. She also suggests movies over live tv to avoid commercials. I’ll chime in here and suggest streaming for that same reason if you prefer a tv series rather than a full movie. Have them loaded up and ready to go!

2. Break. It. Down.

One of the tricks I use on regular outdoor long runs is fooling my brain into thinking I’m not running as far as I actually am. You know, by telling myself I’m only going out 10 and then turning around or I only need to do three 5.5-mile loops. This same strategy applies to treadmill long runs.

Break your run up and after each set of miles Dill suggests you step off for a moment to sip your water, take a gel, or make a quick bathroom break before getting back on for the next set. She even writes down her time for each section, then resets the treadmill so she’s only visually aiming for another 5-7 miles rather than watching them climb endlessly into the teens. If your long runs contain pace changes, have that sticky note with your prescribed workout easily visible.

For a little extra help getting through it, apply some of your other treadmill strategies to this one: do a section with hills at a particular incline, watch a show for your first section and then listen to music for your second, then pick up the pace and go back to a show for your third.

3. Know your treadmill’s time limit and have a plan for working around it. 

You might think that only the ‘mills at the gym have time limits, but many treadmills have a preset automatic shut down after a couple of hours. Dill points out this is another good reason to break the run into shorter sections and reset after each one.

Even if you go to a gym with time-limited treadmills, don’t despair! Barley has a hack for you. She discovered a feature called “marathon mode” that will override some treadmills’ time limit! It helps to know the make and model of the treadmills at your gym, because with that information and a little googling, you can easily find the manual and figure out the time limit override. We love technology!

4. Buddy up! 

One of the things that I love most about long runs is when I get a group together so I can use the power of my friends and the distraction of conversation to get through the miles. Best friends are often made after weeks of long runs together, when shit gets really real after mile 14. This one won’t work all the time, but try to get a friend to come along for moral support to run on the ‘mill next to you at the gym. This is a great opportunity to run with a friend who is either too fast or too slow for you to run outside with. You can also use the treadmill as an opportunity to run with friends in other states. I do this with my sister and far away friends: we put in our ear buds and talk on the phone while we both get our workouts in, sometimes thousands of miles apart!

Dill also reminds you to NEVER forget your sweat towel.

5. Stay cool!

The longer you go, the warmer you are going to get. It’s a law of physics or something. On the one hand, I love the treadmill for that reason: running in a bra and shorts in January? Awesome! Seriously, run in as little clothing as you dare, which for many of us running on home treadmills means our tiniest shorts, bras and ugly sock combos. One of our fellow Saltines even admits to running in her underwear on the mill!

If you’re at the gym and don’t want to feel like you’re running through the Amazon at noon, Barley suggests finding the ‘mill that is closest to a window, air vent, or fan. At home, position a fan so you can cool yourself down. If you’re really having a hard time getting through your long run, change up the wind speed between sections of your run to mimic outdoor running even more… I’m stretching with that one, but hey, anything to help you all get to your Spring-time race goals!

Any other tips for going long indoors? What’s the longest run you’ve accomplished on the ‘mill of love?

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. Great tips! I think my longest treadmill run ever was 10 miles and it was painful. Hopefully the weather cooperates for me to do most of my long runs outdoors, but these are some good ideas if I’m forced to the “mill of love.” haha!

    1. My longest was 8 before this training season– try one of the tempo workouts I posted last week. Seriously, they get me up over 11 miles sometimes and I can’t believe I was on that long.

  2. I haven’t done long run yet on TM, only intervals and tempo runs but great suggestions. We have apple TV in exercise room so might take opportunity to see some movies that I wouldn’t normally watch. Changing pace every few minutes is good idea as well as incline because that will also mimic better running outside.

  3. I have done 20 on the treadmill several times (I live near Boston, and it snows a lot…). Sometimes this is the most convenient way to get a long run in, especially when kiddie gymnastics, ballet, basketball, and other stuff starts mid-morning on the weekends. Hitting the gym at 5 AM means I can be done with my long run by 8 and not miss out on the rest of the day. Movies are key… or, “just 3 episodes of Law & Order”! I always try to break it up – for example, first 5 miles warmup, second 5 miles same tempo but mixing up with hills, third 5 miles add in a surge for 1/4 of every mile, last 5 miles increasing tempo…. 20 miles is painful no matter how you slice it, but sometimes it is better to be inside and not risk slipping, or having to drive somewhere making the long run last 4 hours with transit time…