As any Northern climate runner or triathlete can attest, training through the winter months can take some creativity, commitment, and strategy. We were hit by an early winter last week and it was a reminder of the perils and challenges of navigating the snowy, icey and dark days that will be around for the next several months. I was in the middle of a high mileage block of running and, boom, snow. Suddenly my runs became jogs, and workouts were impossible, as I tiptoed across ice fields and slush ponds. Graham (who is training for a sub 9:30 hour Ironman next year and Kona qualifier) and I came up with the brilliant idea that a treadmill in our basement would help us both put in the extra mileage, particularly in the evening after the day’s commitment of work and life so we can both stay on top of our 2012 goals.
It’s funny how four years ago I used many of the same arguments to support my Oxtane Elliptical purchase as I am now for my quest to bring a treadmill into our basement. I hate the cardio gym (but I love the weight gym, go figure.). I find the spacing of the machines in the gym invades my personal space. Sweat flies and odour waft, you know what I mean?
I prefer to control my environment when I am running hard and I find that much more difficult to do with the noise, lights and crowds typical in the cardio section of a gym. I also love to do a 45 minute run in about 47 minutes and not the hour and a half it takes to drive to the gym, park, change, run, change, un-park and drive home. If I am tired – which I always am when I am training hard (and who else isn’t after a day of work?) – I am tempted to skip a second run if it requires too much extra effort. But if there is a fresh foot of snow, yoga is not necessarily the right answer. This is a fine approach for a many people athlete, but it probably won’t help my Olympic quest.
I know several people who have had exceptional success training through the winter on a treadmill and have achieved a higher level of fitness than they would with outdoor running. I can understand why – if I am supposed to run a certain pace it is pretty hard to fake it. Set the speed on the treadmill and hang on for dear life! Sink or Swim. (Or Sink or Run?)
Treadmill training is not only reserved for the recreation / fitness minded athlete, it can be a serious training tool. The Canadian recorder holder in the 5000m (14:54)and 10, 000 meters (31:44) races, Courtney Babcock set her National records after a particularly brutal winter in her hometown of Missoula. She partly credited her treadmill as she would set her run pace and force herself to keep it for the entire tempo run. Another famous treadmill advocate is US Marathoner (2:30) Tera Moody. She logs 30-40% of her annual running on a treadmill (http://tera-moody.com/2011/11/07/treadmill-running/) and even more in the winter. She has run up to 25 miles on the treadmill and has perfected the skill of reading and running. Apparently she can read several issues of the New Yorker on a run – talk about multi-tasking!
There is also the benefit of injury prevention with its stable, soft surface and no risk of ice, snow or other hazards. I asked my physiotherapist, Greg Redman (owner of Wave Physiotherapy and Marda Loop Physiotherapy) his opinion on treadmill running and injury prevention and he agreed that “if the athlete is using the treadmill run for a recovery run or is rehabbing an injury there is less physiological and mechanical stress on certain joints, ligaments and tendons as the treadmill surface is smooth and cushioned reducing the forces on joints”, however, he warned that treadmill running can also change a runner’s body position have a negative impact on their biomechanics so it should also be used with caution. He wrote a longer blog response to my question that you can read on his blog.
**Wanted: Must be a high quality, strong, stable, sturdy, fast machine and last a long time. Must be eager to put serious work in over the years. **
Some weeks, Graham and I will log 200 miles in the 5 to 7 minute per mile range between us. Although this is nothing for a commercial treadmill, this kind of use does put some demands on a normal motor. We are both highly committed “life time” athletes and the risk of an albatross in our basement is low – we want a machine that is going to last as long as we will. A long, long time! I would rather do it right the first time and not clog up the landfill with a broken piece of crap in five years’ time.
Where to begin:
Of course, my first research session began with the internet. But I am always wary of unsolicited internet reviews, as it is difficult to tell which ones are sponsored and which are not. I did a quick twitter / Facebook survey and two treadmills came back with flying colours: Woodway and Landice. My sources are highly reputable, including professional triathlete Kyle Marcotte and Avia Shoes Product Line Manager Shawn Frack. I have not had the opportunity to run on a Landice before but based on my more narrow research, it rates very highly among serious athletes. And of course, the Woodway is the cream of the crop, but unfortunately, the price tag may make it a difficult reality for me.
I would love to hear anyone else’s ideas about their favourite treadmills, workouts, and how it keeps them motivated. This post is already long enough but I have a couple other treadmill anecdotes and evidence of how, although boring as it may seem, it can be a really fantastic training tool for serious athletes, as well with some tips I have used to survive and benefit from treadmill running. In the meantime, I will continue my research and hope that it comes to fruition.