Treadmill Idyll

Treadmill Idyll

Treadmill Idyll

I suspect we all knew that eventually we'd have to pay the price for two
mild winters in a row, and this year the bill came due. Last year I could
count on one hand the number of times between December and March that I
was forced to use my treadmill. This year it's looking to be just the
opposite.

I've had my treadmill for about five years now, and while I'm no devotee,
I really appreciate its presence on those cold/icy/snowy days when a five
mile run is more like a ten mile crawl. Some days, I'll admit, I'm simply
too wimpy to face single-digit temperatures in the early morning darkness.
Other days, the prevailing weather conditions leave me no choice:
treadmill or nothing. I'll generally take 3 boring miles on the treadmill
over nothing. It's not my first choice but it gets the job done.

I'm fortunate, I guess, that I have a reasonable tolerance for treadmill
running. On good days, when I settle in to a nice, steady rhythm, I can
easily handle 6, and sometimes even 7 or 8 miles, on the 'mill. Usually,
however, 6 miles is about my limit, and it isn't always pretty. Yes, I get
bored out of my mind. Yes, I start to feel the basement walls close in
from sensory deprivation. Yes, I question my identity as a "real runner."

Some people who own treadmills just can't stand to use them. These people
would rather attempt five miles in knee-deep snow than one mile on the
treadmill. They can't tolerate the tedium, or the "boxed-in" feeling of
running indoors. Running, they say, is about being outside with nature,
enjoying the sights, the sounds, the experience. I agree completely, but
it's just not the same when the sights are me falling on my butt, the
sounds are my expletives echoing through the air, and the experience is
total frustration.

On the opposite side of the scale, I have a couple of friends who live in
areas that get a lot more snow than Michigan, and they do the majority of
their winter training on the treadmill. One of them would regularly do 20
milers, or tempo runs of 5-10 miles at a time. She claimed that she had
"no problem" staying focused and rarely got bored (two elements that were
probably critical to her success as a marathoner). She also claimed that
treadmill training was helpful for warm-weather racing; she simply cranked
up the heat in her basement and took extra fluids. Hey, it worked for
Christine Clark.

One of my husband's college teammates works in New York City. While
preparing for the 1999 Hood to Coast Relay (a former miler, he was the
leadoff runner) he would frequent a health club close to his office, which
was stocked with professional-caliber treadmills. Two or three times per
week he would head over to the health club and practice mile repeats - at
sub-5:00 pace. Eventually he realized that the treadmills on either side
of him remained unoccupied. When he asked a fellow runner why, he was
informed that he was generating so much heat it was uncomfortable to use
those machines. He was amused but undaunted, and went on to average around
4:17/mile on his (downhill) leg of the Relay.

I try to use my treadmill time to polish my psychological skills. Earlier
this winter I created a "treadmill tape" with some of my favorite songs,
and I have a little speaker system set up right in front of the treadmill
so that I have music to keep me motivated. Some people like to watch TV,
but personally I find it annoying. Anyway, I start my tape and try to
focus on positive mental imaging. I re-live great races from the past and
plan for PRs of the future. I win Olympic medals, world championships, and
battles down to the wire. Sometimes I let my mind wander and pretend that
I'm running along a favorite route or in a favorite city. I think about
races I want to run, places I want to see, events that I want to
experience.

I agree that nothing beats an effortless run on a beautiful day. But for
me, sometimes the simple act of running is as important as the locale. And
for those days when Mother Nature won't cooperate, I'm grateful to have my
treadmill downstairs waiting for me. It's not ideal, but it gets the job
done.

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