Friday, January 25, 2013

Making peace with treadmills

While I will always prefer running on trails outside, I have come to appreciate treadmill running in certain situations. At the moment I find two main advantages to running on a treadmill:

1. form-work
2. shelter from the storm

I was recently forced into treadmill running again. I was on a business trip and I had to get ready for the day’s work early enough and work late enough that running with the sun on my back was not an option. My work schedule combined with the cold weather in the morning (11 °F) caused me to rethink my plan of driving to a nearby bike path network and use the treadmills at my hotel.

The funny thing was that I turned off the TV that was on the treadmill in the hotel’s workout room. It was not just because the news program was classic TV new dribble (I could really care less if BeyoncĂ© lip-synced the national anthem), but I realized that I have come to really enjoy the silence of running. I have also come to a separate peace with the boredom of treadmill running. At some point my thoughts grudgingly admitted to what I liked about treadmills.

I realized that a treadmill running is a great way to focus on my form. If I swing my arms wide they hit the side rails. Most often I am looking at a mirror or, in this case, the turned-off TV screen. I can see when I am hunched or my shoulder are scrunched. Since I am usually at some point in my run checking the time countdown every 15-20 seconds, this is a great time to see how close my stride frequency is to the magic 90 strides per minutes that they claim the best runners have – regardless of the distance raced. When I say 90 strides per minute, I count the left or right footstrikes in a minute (180 if you count both). This first time I found that I was around 80 to start. I found when I tried to go closer to 90 the running felt easier. While a lot of this is probably finding the result that I want to find, it is definitely something I plan to try next time I am on the treadmill.

Finally, a treadmill can be a necessary shelter from the storm (i.e. weather). In this case the treadmill saved me from running in an unfamiliar place in the dark and cold (or, more likely, not running at all). The other time in my life I turned to treadmills was when I was on base in Afghanistan. This base was not plowed. By February the roads were an icy, hard-packed snow. After one run in the cold were I took several falls I decided that my body would not take too many more runs in these conditions and went to the treadmill. I was blessed to be on  base with a gym and reasonably good power. The treadmill allowed me to maintain a base of running fitness until the base roads cleared with the spring.

While I still find treadmills monotonous and a poor substitute for even most cold, dark and / or rainy conditions, they do have a place when the weather crosses my thresholds (which I imagine will get lower with age and, someday, parenthood).

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