Treadmill: It gets the Job Done

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 ( 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.


8 Responses to “Treadmill: It gets the Job Done”

  1. I cant really help you here because I avoid any indoor cardio at all costs. However, since 5 weeks (2 before marathon, then that marathon thing, now 3 after the marathon) hasn’t been enough, apparently, for my IT band (seriously, how much not running is this going to take?) so I guess I have to make peace with the whole elliptical thing. Usually after 3 times, I’m over it.

    If you do find a good treadmill, please let the internet world know, so I can know because I think a treadmill will be my gift to myself in residency (well,med school graduation gift, really), because I plan to keep running even if I’m working 80 hours a week. I figure if its in my apartment, I can squeeze in 45 min or something while I watch TV, right? Don’t tell me I can’t.

    The people I babysit for have one, but its pretty basic and nothing crazy. I think its made by life fitness, but don’t quote me on that.

    You guys can have his and hers sessions – one on the elliptical then one on the treadmill and then you switch. You can race and stuff. It’s sure to be exhilarating! Too bad they don’t have Kelly Blue Book for treadmills…

  2. I recommend coming to train with me in New Zealand. Way better than running in a basement!

  3. Even though I love running outdoors and the (mostly) mild Seattle winters would not seem to justify buying a treadmill, I’m thinking of getting one too. Some days, if it’s dark when I’m free, and/or rainy (what are the chances, right?), or when I’ve woken up with an hour to spare but an embarrassing level of bedhead, it would be nice to have a plan B and just run inside. And I imagine it would be good for getting some controlled doses of tempo running in, as Malindi mentioned.

    So I am thinking about getting an entry-level Precor or perhaps a Sole treadmill, which look to be solid units around 2K. Granted, you’re not getting decline, they top out at (supposedly) 12mph, and the programs may not be the fanciest, but those are more luxuries than necessities for me. However, I am not quite at Olympic level (though I did place top 10 in Theta Breakers one year ;-) ). So I think Malindi & Graham are more than justified to get a Landice or even a Woodway if they can swing it. The sleeker attachment points of the console the Woodway Desmo also reminds me a little of the Jetsons’ treadmill

    which is another plus in my book. Have fun and good luck!

  4. Another plus of the Woodways for the Speedy Gonzales set is that they go up to 15mph standard (and apparently as high as 18), and they tout “absolute accurate speeds with zero belt stretch or slippage.”

  5. Saw Kyle post this on facebook.

    My wife and I bought a BH T10 treadmill 3 years ago. Great machine. Superb quality. Goes to 12.5mph, despite the spec saying 12mph. It’s not as responsive to speed changes as the Woodway, but good enough.

  6. James Davison says:

    I had one when we were in Calgary. Hated it but used it often. I had a Vision Fitness treadmill that got the job done but was on the simple side. It got a bit shaky when the pace dipped much below 6 minute pace.

    I have heard good things about the Landice but decided to not spend that much money…if I were you I might look at doing so. A big factor is the stability of the base. You want a solid base so that it feels the same at 5 minute miles as it does at 7 minute miles. I’d also get one with a programmable workout mode – you may think you don’t need a fancy console but it’s really hard to think about punching numbers at the end of a 3 minute interval at high speed, let alone do it effectively. Being able to custom program an interval session is mandatory in my opinion.

    As for training with one, I found that it was mentally very difficult to run longer and steady with it, but it’s a very good tool for mental toughness training. I would play games with the pace to keep things interesting – every half mile I’d increase the pace by 0.1mph etc. in a progression run.

    I’d caution to not take the pace of the treadmill at face value – I found personally that I could run much faster on the ‘mill than on the outside. I would use perceived effort rather than pace. Also, get outside and run on solid ground at regular intervals – if I didn’t I would get weak in the feet, ankles etc. because of a lack of variety in terrain. The repetition is much more acute – I’d liken it to running on the track in spikes, or worse. I would run on my toes on the treadmill, but am a toes/midfoot runner outside. So, watch for that.

  7. Kathy Butler says:

    Since moving to Nederland where it is often very windy in the winter and there aren’t really places to run in the dark I’ve really appreciated our Woodway. The thing is huge, heavy and really well built. Yes, they are expensive but it is possible to get a refurbished one from Woodway for half the price of new and you can get them chipped to go down to 4 min/mile. A feature I have only use for strides but I do often go faster than the traditional 5 or 6 min/mile so it is nice to have the option. The surface is excellent and comfortable to run on. I would definitely recommend, if it’s possible to recommend something you kind of hate having to use!

  8. A few more Woodway thoughts gives much praise:
    “The design is so good that with our 400 lb. test, the treadmill never pulled more electricity than what other treadmills pull without a person on them. That means very little strain…ever…on the drive system.”

    Otoh, you may want to look into whether the rubber slats might wear or compress at all over the many years you aim to keep the machine, and if so, if they can be replaced.

    The Desmo model can indeed be special-ordered to go up to 18mph but you’ll need a 220v (washer/dryer-style) outlet. The manual cautions, in boldface: “These options should only be ordered where constant supervision is available.” (If it were me I might put one of those huge foam gymnastics blocks behind the mill, just in case. . if I could go 18mph, that is.)


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