Treadmill Workouts to Keep Your Sanity Intact

Thanks to this week's weather I've put lots of miles on this sucker!  It snowed Monday night in RVA.  We ended up with a whopping five inches of snow which (unfortunately) is enough to cripple the town for a few days.   What does that mean for those of us that want to continue training?  Yup, you guessed it:  Treadmill (or "Dreadmill") time.

Sarah had a great post on a few of her favorite treadmill workouts so I thought I'd throw out a few of my own, plus a few tips on some of the peripheral stuff that makes for a better treadmill run.

Category 1:  "I'm Serious About This Workout" Treadmill Workouts:

These workouts are for the times when you want to try to stick to your training schedule as best you can and need something more substantial to do on the treadmill besides just trotting along trying not to die of boredom.

  • The Cutdown (or Progressive) Run:   Begin your run at your long run/easy run pace.  Every mile, drop the pace by 5-15 seconds per mile so that you are running your second-to-last mile at close to your tempo or 10K race pace.  Example:  If I've got 8 miles to do, I'll start my workout at 8:05 pace and progress each mile (7:50, 7:35, 7:20, 7:05, 6:50) and end at 6:35 pace for my second-to-last mile.  I'll take the final mile back up to 8:05 for a cool down mile.  This definitely helps keep you on your toes as it's fun/torturous to hit that speed button every mile.
  • The "Let's make marathon pace feel easier" Workout (aka Alternating 800s):    This one is sneaky.  It's sneaky because it's tough, but because it also works on the mental side of things.  Start out with at least a mile or two warmup at an easy long run pace, then do 4 miles of alternating intervals:  Run a half mile at tempo pace, followed by a half mile at marathon pace - repeating that sequence four times for a total of 4 miles of work.  Follow with a cooldown of a few miles.  This tricks your brain a bit because you actually RECOVER from your tempo intervals by slowing to marathon pace - thus making marathon pace feel "easier".  I really like this one for the mental boost that comes with knowing that there was at least one run this season where marathon pace didn't feel all that bad!

Category 2:  "Since I'm Stuck on the Treadmill Anyway, Let's Have Some Fun" Treadmill Workouts:

  • Race the Commercials:  I do this one at home when I'm watching a show on my computer (like Chopped) that has commercial breaks.  And it's even easier to do at the gym where there are TVs all around.  I'll hop on a treadmill and set it to my easy run pace.  Then I'll choose one channel to watch (or keep an eye on if I don't feel like actually watching the program) and whenever a commercial comes on, I'll up the pace to something faster (my marathon pace or my tempo pace) and run that pace for the duration of the commercial break!  Then it's back to easy until another set of commercials come on.  It's an easy way to make the time pass quickly and it's a good way to sneak in a bit of speed into your run.
  • Beat the Treadmill Clock:  The treadmills at my gym automatically slow down and force you into a cool down once they hit 60 minutes.  If I'm looking to get in an hour of running, I like to play the game where I see just how many miles I can get in before the treadmill starts shutting down on me.  I'll start out at an easy pace and run along and then about halfway through the run, I'll start bumping up the pace slightly to see if I can just squeak out one more mile (or half mile) before the treadmill quits.  It keeps my brain occupied as I try to do treadmill math late in the run, and it's a good way to end a run with a fast(er) finish!   If your treadmill doesn't quit on you like mine does, you can still do this run by picking a time limit and then seeing how many miles (or additional quarter or half miles) you can squeeze out before time expires.
  • The People Watch Challenge:  This is another great gym treadmill run.  I'll pick out a fellow gym goer who is working on a weight circuit (or other series of exercises) and then watch them.  When they start a new exercise/get to a new machine, set your treadmill to easy pace and run.  When they rest between sets (or machines) increase your pace to something faster and run harder until the person starts their next exercise or set.  So when they are lifting or working, you are running easy.  But when they rest, you pick up the pace.  Choose your person wisely though - I've gotten burned on this before by picking the guys that do one set of weights and then stand there and watch ESPN for 10 minutes!   You can also reverse this (you run faster when they are working, and go back to easy pace when they are resting), but I like it the first way since that makes me root for them to get their butt back to their machine and GO!

Tips on Surviving the Treadmill:

I really hate the treadmill, but on weeks like this I feel so fortunate that someone created this torturous fun invention.  It's not the most exciting thing to run 11 miles on the treadmill, but it can be done and it allows me to continue training when I'd be otherwise forced to take an unplanned rest day (or 5!).  I've found you can make it more palatable by doing a few things:

  • Save your favorite shows for treadmill viewing only.   This one works best for me.  I'm much more likely to haul myself out of bed to run on the treadmill if I know I've got the new episode of Modern Family or Downton Abbey waiting on me.   I will save those shows so that I actually look forward to running on the treadmill.
  • New music playlist/new podcast.  New tunes and/or new podcasts always help to get me excited about a treadmill run too.
  • Bright, energetic clothes/shoes.  This one is a bit of a stretch, but it does help at least a bit.  I'll try to pick a part of my outfit that makes me feel energized/happy.  The bright pink pair of shoes, the bright blue tank top.  It gives me a little tiny boost, but sometimes that's just enough to get me on the treadmill and on to my workout.
  • Favorite recovery beverage/Gatorade flavor:  Are you a fan of a post-run chocolate milk or coffee after your workout?  Great - pack it in your cooler or promise yourself that you'll make a nice cup of coffee when you are done.  Love the Limon Pepino (Lime Cucumber - it's awesome!) Gatorade flavor the best?   Perfect!  Save it for those treadmill days when you need just a tiny extra bit of motivation to get it done.   Little rewards help - and if you can save some special treats to reserve just for conquering those treadmill workouts, even better.


What's your favorite treadmill workout?  Any motivational tips to help get us through this treadmill-centered week?   Stay warm, everyone!