Life After Diets

How Not to Lose Your Mind on the Treadmill

Tips and tricks for those boring indoor runs this winter

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Back in November, as I watched in awe while the runners of the New York City Marathon made their way through my neighborhood, I was overcome by an unfortunately familiar feeling. I was inspired.

I grew up in Brooklyn, so I’ve seen this stretch of the course almost every year for the last 32 years. Still, it never stops being impressive and inspiring, particularly if you’re a runner yourself. Knowing the work and sacrifice that went into every mile run that day is overwhelming and beautiful and a reminder that ordinary people can accomplish truly amazing and breathtakingly foolish things if they set their minds to it.

I’ve never run the New York City Marathon, and I’m not sure I want to. Still, in the haze of motivation that inevitably follows me for days after, I decided to enter the lottery for the New York City Half Marathon, a far more manageable goal. And, the lottery odds weren’t exactly in my favor, so entering didn’t quite feel like a commitment.

But, a few weeks later, while on vacation, I got the unexpected email (and simultaneous credit card charge), letting me know that I had been accepted into the race. There’s nothing like being on vacation in Florida to remind you that back home in New York, the weather for the next few months would be miserable, and I had just voluntarily signed up for an event that would require me to be outside far more frequently than I’d like.

I started training and building up my base the week of Christmas, and for the last few weeks, the Northeast has been gifted with far better weather than usual. In fact, several of my long runs occurred on days when the temperatures were well over 50 degrees.

My luck was due to run out eventually, and this past weekend on the only day I could feasibly complete a ten-mile run, the temperature dropped, and a slick, slippery layer of snow coated the streets and sidewalks. I could have been brave. I could have found a reasonably flat trail where the roads would likely be plowed and well-salted and committed to the discomfort. After all, my social media feeds are often flooded with pictures of upper mid-west runners jogging between walls of freshly plowed snow, face masks dusted white against the red patches of whatever skin couldn’t be fully covered.

Bless their hearts, but that is not for me. I’m crazy enough to spend my Saturday running 10 miles voluntarily, but I’m not crazy enough to do it in below-freezing temperatures. So, running those miles on the treadmill felt like my best (only) option. This wasn’t my first long treadmill run, but it was definitely one of the more pleasant.

Okay, weirdo, please explain how running ten miles on a treadmill could possibly be pleasant?

I’m glad you asked.

I’ve learned a few things as a frequent treadmill runner over the years, and I put those lessons to work this weekend. Here are my tried and tested ways not to lose your mind on the treadmill.

Take it in sections

Running ten or twelve or however many miles is rarely fun, and when you’re running them on a treadmill, it feels like your mind will give up far faster than your legs will. I like to think of my run in quarter- or half-mile intervals so I can break up the run into sections that feel more manageable.

The run-walk style of training fits the treadmill really well, but there are other types of intervals you can incorporate. Try adjusting the speed or incline every half mile or add a sprint and a recovery jog every ten minutes. I’ve talked a lot about my use of the Aaptiv app for training, and adding in one or two interval workouts during your longer workout is another way to keep things interesting. The treadmill lets you have full control over your speed and incline, and this is a great way to take advantage of that and help the time go by a little faster.

Meditative running

This one takes more practice, but can help distract you from the drudgery of treadmill running. You’re not trying to distract yourself, necessarily, but you are allowing yourself to focus on the run itself. Since you won’t be looking out for traffic or dodging slow walkers on city sidewalks, the treadmill is a great time to practice the techniques of meditative running.

Start by counting your cadence. Ideally, you should be taking 160–180 steps per minute, and checking in regularly lets you know if you’re starting to lose your form or focus. Count each time your right foot strikes the tread for 30 seconds, then double that number. That tells you the number of times your right foot hit the ground, which should be approximately 80–90 times to get to the 160–180 steps you’re aiming for. This practice will help bring your focus back to your running and gets you ready for more focused meditation.

Next, pick something you’d like to focus on. This can be some element of your form, your breathing, or a visualization exercise. A few minutes feeling how your feet strike the tread or how you’re holding your shoulders will help you to really focus on improving your running economy, making you a better runner in the long term. Visualizing your race route if you’re training for one, or a route that you’ve done before that you know well is also helpful, especially as you’re just getting started.

If you need some help getting started, Headspace, collaborating with Nike, offers a series of guided meditations specifically for runners.

Netflix and run

The ability to bring endless hours of streaming shows and movies with us everywhere we go is one of the real blessings of the smartphone age. Prop up your phone (or tablet if you’re feeling indulgent) on your treadmill’s display stand, set your speed, and go. If the right true crime documentary series can make hours melt away on your couch, why not on the treadmill?

You can make it even more interesting (and less mindless) by also playing a drinkin…er, running game. Make a list of rules ahead of time like “add .2 each time someone looks at the camera” or “sprint during musical montages.” This will help break up the intervals (see above) and also keep you focused on your run even as you binge-watch The Office for the twelfth time.

Podcasts and audiobooks

Most people are firmly in either the music or no music while running camps, preferring to either distract themselves to the steady beat of their favorite music (more on that later) or focus entirely on the feel of the run.

Podcasts and audiobooks, if chosen correctly, can provide the same distraction as music, while forcing you to use more of your brain, leading to optimal boredom reduction. Choose books and podcasts that really tell a story. That might seem obvious, but you aren’t looking for prize-winning literature or brilliant political analysis here. You want to choose things that have a lot of momentum in the story — think romance, murder mystery, or a memoir by a favorite comedian.

This past weekend I spent part of my run listening to Karina Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This. This isn’t an ad, I just really like her storytelling, and the content is both intellectually stimulating and fast-paced, making it perfect for a long run indoors or out.

Awesome playlist (that you only get to listen to on the treadmill)

Creating the best running playlist is a science. I mean that literally. Studies have shown that matching your cadence to music with a specific range of beats per minute (BPM) helps improve performance. For optimal results, you should aim for music with 150–180 BPM (just like the cadence range above).

And it should go without saying, it’s important to choose music you really like. Favorite songs can act as mood boosters, putting you “in the zone” and reducing your perceived exertion.

Christine Luff of Very Well Fit published a list of songs with 180 BPM, sorted by genre, to help you get started. Similarly, if you use Spotify, they have a pre-made playlist of 180 BPM songs you can use on your next run.

Don’t forget the basics

Just because you’re running from the comfort of your gym or home, doesn’t mean you can forget the basics. Remember to stick to your regular hydration and nutrition plan. It’s easy to overlook those things when you’re on a treadmill in a temperature-controlled environment, but you still need to drink water and have whatever snacks, gels, or chews you normally bring with you on a longer run.

And finally, remember why you signed up to spend your weekend running for hours. What are you training for, why do you want to achieve this, how will you feel afterward, and what does doing this give you physically or emotionally? Whatever you ‘why’ is, that should be what gets you through those miles.

Good luck to everyone slogging through the cold to train for those spring races!

If you’d like to read more about my quest to destroy diet culture and just be healthier, check out these stories as well.

Follow along on my quest to make diet culture another millennial casualty. Find me on Insta @life_after_diets

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