Treadmill Tip of the Week: Work with the Time You Got

When we think of the treadmill, most of us think of it as a respite from crappy weather. But another top reason to hit the ‘mill? Sometimes it’s a convenient and less time-consuming way to get some miles in than heading outside.

Only have twenty minutes? Expecting to be interrupted? Rare long block of time to work with? Trying to get some miles in with the kids awake and at home? Whatever your schedule situation, having access to a treadmill and a willingness to be flexible means you can get some miles in. 

I’m new to the treadmill. Most of the Treadmill Tuesday posts from the other Saltines detail much more advanced, creative workouts. I’ll tuck these great workouts away for later when I’m ready to move up in my treadmill regimen. But for now, like my attitude towards running in general, I like to keep it simple.

Having a treadmill in my basement is supposed to give me the ability and flexibility to run at home with three young kids. But, that’s often a lot easier said than done. Trying to time a run so all three will tolerate my attention and energy elsewhere is complicated.

But in my brief trials and lots of errors, I’ve found three treadmill workouts that allow me to get the most bang for my buck.

Short on Time Cram

Two miles run at a much faster pace than normal pace.

If it’s been a long night and I need a jolt of exercise to wake up, or if I just have the opportunity to get a quick run in before we head out the door, this is my go-to. Ignoring all conventional advice about a warm-up and cool down, I just hop on and start running. The roughly 30 seconds it takes the treadmill to go from zero to fast is my warm-up, and vice versa for the cool down. I turn on Pandora Pop Exercise Radio and that seems to be enough mental fuel to get me through it. Knowing I only have to make it two miles helps me mentally hang on to the pace. If you end up having a little more time, you can jog a real cool down!

For reference, if I were to go on a normal longer treadmill run, I’d start somewhere on the slow end of my easy range, between 8-8:30 pace. For my fast and furious workout I start at sub seven minute pace, and try to quickly get it down to the mid-lower sixes. It’s intense!

Runnus Interruptus

Do a progression run.

This is for when you think you have time for a decent workout, but you’re not sure when you’ll get pulled away. Baby is sleeping, older two are playing together nicely, I might have a chance! Or maybe you’re expecting a phone call or a repairman to come over. Whatever the reason you expect to have to stop your run, here’s how to make the most of it. I start at a slightly faster than normal pace, and then up the speed at a regular interval. How fast I start, how I feel, and what the scene off the treadmill looks like dictates how quickly and in how many steps I ramp it up.

Specifically, I’ll start around a minute per mile faster than my usual treadmill starting easy pace, so say 7:30 pace. Then I increase the speed one click (.1 miles per hour) every quarter mile. If everything aligns kids behave and I end up getting to run for a long time, I lengthen the intervals at which I increase the speed, or settle in when I feel like I’ve reached a good pace to maintain.

Rare Block of Uninterrupted Time to Run Run Run

Try a wave run. 

If it seems like there’s a high probability you’ll have time to actually get a good amount of running in, which for me is all three kids are napping at the same time or for you might be a client canceling or something else. In these situations, I like to do a wave workout, which is, after a warm-up, to alternate a set distance interval at a faster pace with the same distance at a slower pace. You can do it with a mile hard, a mile easy or moderate pace. Or instead you can do it with whatever distance you want, .1 miles, .25 miles, .5 miles on up. This is a good approach to this scenario because it’s a great way to make a longer high-quality treadmill run fly by without killing you. Plus, if you end up having less time than you thought, you’re less likely to feel frustrated if you have to cut this one short.

treadmill mom
Keeping them entertained to get in an extra interval!

I like to do about a mile warm-up and then alternate a fast half mile with a moderate one. For example, I’ll run a mile warm-up at 8:00 pace. I’ll drop the next half mile to 6:30, then back the next half mile off to 7:15. Continue alternating, dropping back to 6:30, then 7:15 until I’m done.


So far, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot out of my treadmill training. By focusing on quality without the strict boundaries of a set workout, I’m able to get in what feels like more than just a regular run without any guilt or disappointment if it gets cut short.

How do you squeeze in some extra miles on the treadmill?

I have fun trying to sprint, enjoy long runs in the mountains, and everything in between. Former competitive runner (3 x marathon OTQ & trail marathon national champion) currently working through a lingering injury. I write about trying to stay competitive while raising young kids and moving into a new post-competitive stage.

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  1. When I can’t sleep, I used to get up and run. Watch some crap tv. Just a few miles, enough to tire me out. Not something to do everytime you can’t sleep, but once or twice it works.

  2. Love this! As much as I have been a treadmill runner for a long time- early on and even still now sometimes it’s simply just working with what you’ve got. 20 minutes- make it happen. I know that especially when little lady comes in a few more months this will be crucial!

    I also like jumping on the mill for a few minutes between strength circuits- it’s a good way to get a little extra time on feet and cardio, but also breaks up the workout so you’re always changing and mentally fresh.

    1. That’s a good idea. If I can ever get myself to do regular strength work, I like the idea of breaking it up with running!

  3. No doubt! I’ve no issue running outside…I’ve done it daily here in South Dakota all winter long, but even during the summer having a treadmill for a quick 3 miler would be sort of nice. The consistency of the TM is sort of…relieving?

  4. I love the idea that something is better than nothing — even if you’re not getting much of a training stimulus, you’re keeping yourself in the habit and building momentum. I don’t have a treadmill at home, but I have definitely split short easy runs into two treadmill sessions around classes at the gym!

  5. Parsley, this photo is the best! Love it! When I run more than 60 mile weeks, the treadmill is so nice for squeezing in a short shake-out run a couple of times a week. I can go run 3-4 miles while the kids watch a show or play. And it was a lifesaver for postpartum running with two late-fall babies. My third would nap next to the treadmill every day. It was so nice!

  6. I love your suggestion for the 2 miles all out sans warm-up. I’ve been doing 10 min warm up and go for 10 min at a ball busting speed, but I always feel a bit sad wasting the 10 up front. You’ve given me permission to give into my dark urge to skip wu/cd.

    1. That is my favorite way to run now. I feel like I get so much out of it, even though it’s short, and it isn’t long enough to be boring! And it’s fun to run fast!