I have always hated treadmills, I find running on them mind numbingly boring and up until last week I had only ever run on treadmills on about 3 occasions and for no more than 20mins on each occasion.
However, treadmills are the number one exercise equipment in the world, so someone is liking them, or are they all in gyms or hiding in the back of people's garages?
When I first moved to Qld , if people told me they ran indoors on treadmills, I was stunned. We live in one of the most beautiful coastal and bush locations in the world, why would you ever opt to run indoors? They would tell me they found it easier, especially in summer when the humidity was high, they also found it safer and something you could do anytime, night or day.
However I just couldn’t buy it!
One of the reasons I run, is the feeling of getting out and away from it all, feeling free, the wind in my face and hopefully the same wind in my back on the return trip. Never is one run the same when you run outdoors, even if you run on the same course, there is always something or someone different to see.
But, in the last week, I have gained a new respect for the treadmill; I can see some benefits to using them.
My Treadmill Story- I am at week 13 of the Gold Coast Marathon Training Program, and I went away for a week where there was no opportunity to run outdoors…but there was a gym, that had four huge machines, lets just say they were the monster trucks of treadmills, with all the buttons, lights and whistles of a carnival flashing at me. The gym instructor told the three of us who braved a trip to the very well decked out gym, that each treadmill cost $8000, to which the guy next to me mumbled ‘Geez, you could by a small car for that and never have to run or walk again’, to with I nodded and laughed at the irony of it all.
Anyway, I told myself I was going to run 10km on my monster. My first hurdle, when all the lights and numbers came up I realised it was programmed in miles not kms. Luckily for me having run events in America, I was used to miles, and I knew what my usual mile pace was, so I thought I would start off with 7 miles an hour. Once I set it to seven it started moving and I soon realised if I didn’t keep up it was going to spit me off the back, so to save myself extreme embarrassment and pain, I kept up.
After about half a mile, I was over it, I was bored, already sweating and the TV screen on the treadmill only had sound if you had your own earphones, which I didn’t. So trying to run and read subtitles on BBC world was making me feel a little motion sick, how was I going to do another 5.5miles to make my 10km.
To distract myself I started to take notice of the panel of numbers glaring at me, one was a countdown clock from one hour, one was your pace (7miles an hour) one was how far you had run (half mile) and the other was how many calories you had burned (50, is that a tim tam?), Interesting I thought, what can I do to work these numbers, or what I really meant, was how can I get this mind numbing pain over quicker, so I can get back to doing what I really want to, eat and drink?
So I set the pace clock to 7.1, that was ok in fact not much difference from 7, I thought I will stay on that for 1/10 of a mile, then when the 1/10 was up I set it to 7.2, that felt fine as well for 1/10, so up to 7.3 for a 1/10, 2.5 miles later I’m screeching along on 9.5miles, holding on for dear life, so scared if my legs stopped moving I would be thrown off and end up gym road kill. I was belting along and managed to stay at the 9.5miles for half a mile, and boy was I working hard, harder than I had worked in a very long time.
The breathing was heavy, the sweat was flowing, the gym instructor was standing close by looking very worried and I’m sure it was the mini defibrillator he had tucked under his arm, but all I could focus on was the numbers and I soon found the faster I ran the faster the numbers moved, after one mile on 9.5 (I found out later that that equates to under 4min kms, any wonder I was hanging on for life, I have never run that pace before), I started to bring it down, so 9.4 for a 1/10, 9.3 for 1/10 until I was back to 7….6miles all up in 46mins, that broke down to 4.45min kms.
After the treadmill, I got straight onto a bike and slowly pedalled for one mile, just to cool down and assess my work out. I was amazed that I was on a treadmill for 46 mins, and blown away with the pace I had run. I haven’t put speed into my running for a long time and mostly I have just been running long distances with others and no idea of pace or time, so it was great to just belt out a run and then see what I could do over the shorter distance…I was hooked.
Every day I went to my monster truck before breakfast, couldn’t care less about the dead Osama or the newly weds Will and Kate on BBC, I just focused on my flashing numbers. I tried lots of the coaching techniques I use on Lazy Runners; ascending, descending fartlek, sprints, intervals (short and long), tempo training, many of the speed sessions I had created for Lazy Runner worked quite well on the treadmill.
I based each training session over 3 miles, once that three miles was up, I would pause the treadmill and have a drink and after two minutes get back on and do another 3 miles, usually reversing what I had just done in the first three, after the second three, and if I felt ok, I would do another 3mile (that is 9miles on a treadmill!!)
One day I just thought I would belt out an hour on it to see how far I could go, the clock counts down to 0, I just ran and ran at varying paces until the clock stopped, I got 8.1miles completed (that is 13.1km and the pace converts to 4.36min/km), I was stuffed, but blown away just how fast I could run if I really focused on it, something I am very lazy with when I’m outdoors running.
Some days I would do 6 miles in the morning and 6 miles in the afternoon, I found splitting it up a lot better than trying to complete 12 miles in the one go. On the very last day, I did 8 miles in the morning and 6 miles in the afternoon, that’s 14 miles (more than a half marathon). I was a treadmill convert….well not really, but I do have a new respect for them, I can see their purpose and for me, speed work under the controlled conditions in the gym is very good for my cardio fitness and to maintain a faster pace, something runners tend to lose when they get older!! or run long distances. I can’t wait to get back on the road and run my 18km marathon training run this week, but the treadmill really helped with my fitness and speed.
Another point on my treadmill experiences was how good I felt after and how well I recovered. I never advocate running every day, as I believe the body needs 24-48 hours of recovery, I was running daily and sometimes twice daily and my legs were fine. The gym instructor told me, the treadmills are easier and a safer surface to run on, they are sprung and absorb a lot of the shock that goes into our body (which road running does not) , there is also no jarring from avoiding obstacles and uneven road surfaces, so the injury risk is reduced by running on a treadmill.
Outdoor Running Vs Treadmill Running
Natural distraction- not so boring, lots of choices of courses, see the world!
Cheap- only need a pair of shoes
Breeze- natural cooling system helps to regulate overheating
Work out is harder so you get more benefits- you work harder outdoors even if you think there is no wind, the air still resists when you are running in it…air resistance can add 2-10% more effort to your run depending on the speed you are running at
Improves Core strength, balance and co ordination- out door running requires you to adapt to many different surfaces and terrains, so you need to master the obstacles and stay upright and running. This is a good for core strength and co ordination
Burn more calories- it is proven that running outdoors for the same distances as on a treadmill you will burn more calories
Builds and strengthen muscles- once again the varying terrains, hills (up and down) recruits several different muscle groups and in turn work them and strengthen them
Social- can be more fun as you can run with Lazy Runners or a running buddy, or mans best friend
Weather Restraints- Heat and extreme cold can affect outdoor running and your will power to get out there
Higher risk of injury- Falls, harder surfaces, difficult terrains, can add extra strain and pain the body
Safety- safety risks from traffic, terrain, humans and animals
Pace control- harder to set your pace, either slower of faster. Not easy to push yourself to the full limits in the outdoors
Safety- indoor running can be a lot safer
Convenience- you can run on the treadmill anytime of the day or night or in all weather conditions, you can even run in your pjs or undies if you want!
Beginners- it is a great way for beginner runners to get into running as you can set your pace and distance and each time work on increasing your distances safely
Easier- Treadmill running is easier than road running
Speed work- much easier and effective to do a speed work on the treadmill, all the bells and clocks allow you to push yourself to your limits and gain some great cardio fitness
Less risk of injury- if you fall it will most be likely onto the floor, the only thing you injure here is your pride!
Softer surface- the treadmill running belt is also a shock absorber; meaning when your foot lands a lot of the shock will go into the mat and not up into your body as road running does. This takes some pressure off your legs and joints and in turn creates less injury risk. Many injuries like runner’s knee, shin splints and plantar fasciitis are lessened with treadmill running
More control- all the flashing lights and timers help to control your workout. So if you are working to improve your speed you can do it far more effectively by devising your own training program and use it on the treadmill to reach your goal. If you are purely running to lose weight you can just monitor your workouts by the calorie counter, if you are learning to run your distance and pace can be monitored far more accurately on a treadmill
Boring-can be mind numbingly boring, hence the tv screen and music
Running gait- the unnatural gait of running in the one place with a moving belt can cause problems. On a treadmill you tend to lean too far forward, or you can run quite high and bounce, this changes your running mechanics. One of the biggest differences to your overall posture is if you hang on (which I do). Holding onto the side railings or the front handles changes your posture, it tightens you up through the upper body, it also take some of the pressure off the muscle groups in your legs to they don’t work as hard or gain the strength benefits. Hanging on can cause tension through shoulders and neck, so try not to hold on!
Cost- they can be very expensive, and I would recommend you get advice when purchasing a treadmill...hiring one for a month would be a good idea
Running Events- if you are training for a fun run, half or full marathon, the treadmill will not prepare you accurately for the distance, terrain, weather, crowds etc, you should always include road running in your training program if you plan to enter running events