The Treadmill…the Friend You Love to Hate!

It is that time of the year again when you start to hear the increased rumblings from the treadmill naysayers.  Cold weather and shorter days can force even the most dedicated runners indoors for at least some of their runs.  I get the sour attitude…treadmills are boring, feel different, and don’t offer the scenery that running outside does.  Still, I don’t think the treadmill deserves all of the bad reputation it has garnered over the years.  If you take a moment to think about it from a “glass half full” perspective, you can see that the treadmill does offer some benefits.

Softer surface.  For me, when the trails become snow covered, I dread the idea of having to spend more time running on the pavement.  The harder surface is quite a bit more impact than I am used to after a season of running on the trails.  The soft surface of a treadmill more closely resembles the trail surfaces that I am used to.
Structured workouts.  The thing I like about the treadmill that causes me to use it even on nice days is the ability to use it to create a structured workout. While I don’t generally like a lot of structure, there are times where I need the discipline to help with a particular training goal.
Mental challenge.  I think this one is particularly helpful for long distance runners.  Running on the treadmill doesn’t offer the scenery that can be found outside, which can be mentally exhausting.  I use the treadmill for some long runs to help build up mental toughness, which comes in handy at the end of a long ultra.
Break from the elements.  Most of the time, I find solace in running outside in the rain or snow, but other days I want nothing to do with it. The treadmill provides a way of getting in my run without the elements to contend with.
Schedule Flexibility.  With a full time job, two young kids, and a wife that works, sometimes I don’t have the luxury of going outside for a run.  Whether you have to keep an eye on the kids, wait at home for an appointment, or cut your commute time by making a stop at the gym, a treadmill grants a bit more flexibility.
Safety.  Some people have concerns about safety, especially if they often run alone.  This could be safety from animals, people, injuries, getting lost, or a number of other things.  In any case, running on a treadmill often helps alleviate many of these concerns.

So you see, maybe you should cut the poor treadmill some slack…it isn’t all that bad.  It will help you stay on track with your training goals, which after all, is important for many of us.  And if all else fails, you can try to pretend that you are out on the trails!

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Training Tips: Don’t Forget Hiking!

Like many other people, I transitioned into ultra trail running from several years running on the pavement. Training for road races often consists of structured plans that incorporate speed work, tempo runs, hill repeats, fartleks, etc. While these things can and do carry over into the ultrarunner’s training plan, one thing that is often overlooked is hiking.

I too was guilty of ignoring hiking almost entirely during my first couple years of running trail ultras.  After all, I came to believe through my time training on the road that I had to run, even during my easy runs; hiking was a waste of a workout!  As I have progressed over the last few years, I have realized how critical it is to effective ultra running.  Here are some of the benefits I get from hiking:

  1. Ultra runners (especially those that run mountainous courses and longer distances) know that steep climbs and hiking go hand and hand.  We all have also experienced the dreaded 3+ mile uphill grind that seems to go on forever.  Incorporating hiking during your training helps master these scenarios.  In addition to conditioning myself for the mental grind, many of my time improvements have come from becoming a better, faster hiker.
  2. Hiking is also great for injury prevention and rehabilitation.  Whether or not you simply want to give the body a break from the pounding or you are just getting back into the swing of things from a prolonged injury, hiking is a great way to accomplish these things while also incorporating a productive training session.
  3. When we are running, we often forget to stop and enjoy the scenery.  Hiking affords us the ability to take our time, look around, and take in the fresh air.  I often spend this time with my family too, which is a great way to bond and expose them to the beauty of the outdoors.  Hikers allow us to cherish one of the main reasons that cause most of us flee the roads and head for the trails.

So, whether you are new to ultra trail running or a veteran, take some time to take in the beauty around  and don’t forget the hike it out!