Embrace the Treadmill and Transition Safely Outside

treadmill, treadmill running, transition from treadmillIt’s been a long winter, and here in New York, it looks to be a very wet spring. Which means ever more runs on “the dreadmill” before I’m back to road running full time.

It’s known as “the dreadmill” for a reason. Running on a treadmill can be nauseating at best and downright aggravating at worst. But sometimes I actually—gasp—enjoy the treadmill. Dare I say it? I have come to love it.

Love it, you say? Yes, there is a time and a place for treadmill running in my routine. The treadmill keeps me warm in the dead of winter, saves me time when I’m in a hurry, and keeps me dry in the rain—after all, I am made of sugar.

Treadmill Tricks

I have an arsenal of treadmill tricks up my sleeve to keep things interesting. My favorite trick? Fiddle with buttons. For me, steady state runs are what put the “D” in Dreadmill. So when I have to run indoors, I pick runs that let me fiddle with as many buttons as possible. Believe it or not, it really makes the time fly.

Treadmills are a great tool for running fartleks and intervals; I can gauge how hard I’m running and for how long, and I can do a ton of button pushing. I love to do pyramids. I love to do 800s. Any kind of interval will do. After a warm-up, I’ll do 5-4-3-2-1 running five minutes hard, five easy, four hard, four easy and so on. When I have a little more time I start at six or seven minutes and work my way down. And as the minutes dwindle, I up my speed so that by the last minute I’m really cranking.

Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I watch TV, and sometimes I just run. One of my favorites ploys of distraction is to run at a comfortable or moderate pace during TV programming, and then run hard during the commercials. That gives me a chance to focus away from the fact that I’m like a hamster on a wheel.

And then there are hills. The hill program is a great function. One often-touted suggestion for treadmill running is to use a 1 or 2 percent incline to best simulate running outside. No matter how mind numbing it can be, running on a treadmill is easier. You’ve got the “ground” moving under you, helping you turn those legs over, there’s no wind or other elemental factors to contend with, and the padded belt is much softer than pavement. Running at a slight incline can help compensate for those factors. But let’s face it—who wants to do an entire run at a 2 percent incline? Not I. It can mess with your form and it can be very demoralizing.

I’m not the only one who thinks so; Jenny Hadfield wrote a great post on that very topic on Ask Coach Jenny. I for one have never seen a hill with a three-mile long incline. So it might be better to use the built-in hills program or create one of your own, which gives you the chance to fiddle with the buttons even more often, as I love to do.

Transition from treadmill to road safely

But with spring just around the corner, remember to ease back into outdoor running with care. Your legs won’t be used to the pounding and will need time to adjust if you’ve been doing lots of treadmill training. Jeff Galloway suggests dropping your mileage, slowing down and gently working back up to where you left off when the winter went gnarly. You calves might be particularly sore from the extra effort of pushing off solid ground. So think about adding some strength training for your legs now, which will help you push through those early weeks on the road. And if you have a track near you, use it. It will be kinder on your legs as you transition.

I can hear the rain still beating on the window. Looks like I might be in for yet another run on the ‘mill. And you know what? I’m okay with that. It will simply make my outdoor jogs that much more fun when I’m running them.

Photo by SashaW/Flikr.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


04 2010