Runners, get ready to groan. The temperatures are dropping, the winter winds are just weeks away from whipping, and your heat tech running gear is calling your name. Some of you might brave the chilly, great outdoors. For others, though, this time of year means taking your runs to the treadmill. Yes, even the long ones.
Running on the tread for a long time is mentally taxing and tortuous. Especially if you're doing serious milage because you're training for a big race like a marathon (or you just have tons of energy to burn). It can feel like you're sprinting on a hamster wheel of doom to nowhere — seemingly until you die. Although the act of running isn't physically harder on a treadmill, this stagnant form of training can take a toll on your motivation and mentality, John Honerkamp, an NYC running coach, Strava's Fall Marathon Club trainer, and the founder and CEO of Run Kamp.
“Mentally, it’s tougher [to run long] on the treadmill — there’s no chance of scenery, and staring at yourself in the mirror gets old (at least for most of us),” Honerkamp says
However, Honerkamp has tips for keeping your spirits high and sanity intact on the dreadmill, even for 10-plus mile runs.
Have your water bottle filled up, your tennis shoes laced tightly, and your bladder empty when you start the run. Once you take a break, it can be hard to get back on.
Don’t focus on the numbers.
The beauty and the downfall of the treadmill is it will show you exactly how far you’ve gone (and how many miles you have to go) at all times. This can psych you out mentally, especially during the early miles.
“I try not to look at the screen too much, so covering it with a towel is a smart move,” he says. “You can always check in with the screen from time to time.” But focusing on things other than “holy cannoli, I have 13 more miles to go” can help you get through.
Consider your goals.
If you’re training for a marathon or half, Honerkamp says it can be helpful to visualize different parts of your upcoming course. You can also recreate a pleasant loop you’ve done in the park, if that’s easier. You also might think about your goals, whether they have to do with sticking with your pace group on race day, or doing more hills.
Let your mind wander.
“I also do my best thinking when I am running alone,” Honerkamp says. “You can work through a scenario at your job that’s been bugging you, or even just list out what you need from the grocery store.”
Honerkamp recommends listening to a book on tape or podcast to keep your mind occupied. “The run will go faster, and you'll be gaining some knowledge or insight, depending on what you are listening to,” he says.
Get a power playlist.
If your favorite podcast is in the off season (looking at you, Serial), make sure you have a lineup of bops to jam out to on the treadmill.
If you feel like your music is getting stale, put out a call on social media asking for song recommendations for your next race. You’ll be exposed to new tunes, and you can think of the person who suggested each song when it comes on.
Mix up your pace and incline.
“I find that I have to vary things while on the treadmill, especially if it’s for more than 30 minutes,” Honerkamp says. “Varying pace is good, but you don't want to run too hard on a long run. You can pick up the pace every few miles or run segments at goal pace.”
Playing with incline can help, too, but don't make it too steep, or you’ll be too tired to finish your full run.
When in doubt, think about technique.
Honerkamp says coming back to the basics and thinking about form can help if you’re in a bind for motivation. “Visualizing beating your local rival works, too,” he says. “Whatever gets you through the run.”