We have already had a few waves of bad weather that resulted in missed or sub par runs and in some cases injury from not sticking the landing after being launched by a misstep on snow or ice. I am betting we have not seen the last of rough running weather (it’s warm and beautiful outside as I write this) so it is a good time to make peace with the treadmill. The following are some things to help you make the most of your treadmill time.
Let’s first address the differences between outdoor and treadmill running. The major factors are related to impact and overcoming air resistance. The brain and body become very efficient at processing information to attenuate shock rather than slamming the foot down on the ground. Too much treadmill running tends to change how one lands because most treadmills are much more forgiving. Returning to a harder surface require a little time to re-learn how to land softly. The other issue is that your backside (glutes, hamstrings, and calves) are not used as much or in the same way during treadmill running as they are outside. This is magnified at faster speeds. Maintaining strength training and easing into fast speed work outside after a prolonged break from fast outdoor running will keep your injury risk low. Balancing in and outdoor running will also mitigate these effects. There is no standardization among treadmills, but there are general rules. To make up for the absence of having to overcome air resistance, using an incline of 1-2% helps equate the treadmill to outdoor effort.
You may also notice a higher heart rate on a treadmill than outdoors at the same speed. Because you are not being cooled by moving air, heart rate tends to elevate and stay higher on a treadmill. Simply using a fan to cool you and minimize heat buildup can help solve this problem. By doing this you can also begin to judge the quality of the treadmill pace. Initially, most runners will find pace to feel alarmingly fast on the treadmill, but with a slower warmup and a conscious effort to relax, eventually the benefits of perfect pacing become apparent. Of course, under-powered treadmills can lag when changing speeds or inclines. Adapt workouts as needed for your equipment, but there is not much you cannot satisfactorily replicate on a treadmill.
Then there is the problem of the clock seemingly turning backwards on the treadmill. As is the case outdoors, you can either focus or disassociate. The best way to focus is to play games with time, speed, and incline. This is why often hard workouts seem to go faster on the treadmill than shorter easier runs. Systematically changing speeds or incline break the run into smaller more manageable blocks of time. Even with easy running you can increase these elements until you get to the top of the appropriate effort and then back down the effort and bounce back and forth. One of the most simple and effective treadmill workouts is the progression run. Start nice and slow and increase your speed (or incline) by .1 mph at a predetermined time interval. This interval might change as the speed become more challenging. If you get to a speed that you cannot maintain while still having time or miles to kill, just back off at the same interval until you have recovered enough to go back up until backing off for the cool-down. Of course, under-powered treadmills can lag when changing speeds or inclines. Adapt workouts as needed for your equipment, but there is not much you cannot satisfactorily replicate on a treadmill. Music, video, podcasts, recorded books, running meditation (letting you mind wander where it will) and people watching at the gym are all ways to disassociate.
Keep in mind watches cannot really measure treadmill distance. They can be somewhat close at a consistent speed, but once you start changing speeds the measurement becomes far less accurate. You can “teach to the test” and calibrate after a run, but once you begin to do intervals you will see the technology is not really there yet. Manual splits based on the treadmill distance will solve this problem. I do recommend learning how to use your manual split button before starting the workout. The danger of landing on your chin and flying off the back is not worth a neat training log entry.
Making peace with a treadmill can help you balance getting in the quality that might be missed in bad weather with the mental toughness that comes from getting outdoors when common sense urges otherwise. Both will have you fit and ready when the weather breaks.
You may be convinced your treadmill is faster than the speed indicates. It is possible, especially on models intended for home use. Some will have calibration procedures in the manual. If not, and it matters enough for the following project you can test it. Make a mark with tape that is easily visible so you can count belt revolutions. Then after setting a normal running speed, count how many revolutions occurred in a minute and then get ready to do some math. Multiply the number of revolutions in 1 minute x belt length (this will be 2 times the deck length + a few inches) = distance the belt traveled in 1 minute. Multiply this number by 60 to find how far it would go in an hour. Divide that number by 5,280 (if you measure the belt in feet or inches) and you can find the miles per hour. If this math comes out the the mph that equates to your pace, it’s on. If not, look into calibration options.