No More ‘Run of the Mill’ Workouts!

It’s winter again (at least in this northern hemisphere). That wonderful time of the year when many a runner’s enthusiasm has to be dragged out of the hibernation cave by its blackened toenails. Right on schedule, magazines and websites are suggesting we learn to live with boring treadmill workouts. Well, boring is boring, and life is short, so here’s the Follow-dog’s recipe for a treadmill workout that will hold your attention.

Ingredients – one treadmill, one runner, said runner’s preferred music, one heart rate monitor (that doesn’t require your hands on the treadmill grips), one water bottle and one sweatband – of the functional type, ‘cause you’re gonna need it.

Warning: As with any exercise, you gotta do what is appropriate for your body, your fitness, your health. Don’t take my work for what you can do; make your own choices; work up to high exertion levels gradually and only when you know you can handle them. In doubt? Talk to a doctor, trainer or other professional, which I am not.

The recipe – set the mill to at least 1% incline and start slow, with the belt moving just fast enough for a running stride. (Or start at a walk and work up to a run, whatever works for you).

After one to two minutes, speed up a notch and run at that steady pace. After two minutes, speed up another notch and hold that pace. Repeat as many times as it takes to arrive at your own 5K pace and hold that for two minutes. Choose your starting pace and notches so you arrive at that 5K pace about fifteen minutes in, or however long it takes your body to be truly warmed-up and muscles fully-loose, because this is where it gets real.

After two minute at 5K pace, speed the mill up another notch (I progress mostly in 30 second/mile notches, but there’s no magic to that). Do two minutes at that pace, then throttle up another notch. Rinse and repeat…

When (not if) you reach the point where you cannot keep raising the pace without a break, hop on the rails for fifteen to thirty seconds while you throttle the mill down to a comfortable long-run pace, then hop back on for the remainder of two minutes. Watch how quickly your heart rate drops! After that rest, ramp the mill up to one notch higher than your last interval and hold that pace for two minutes, then rest and increase again. Check in with your heart rate at the end of each interval and rest to watch how it rises and falls with intensity.

When (not if) you reach a pace you can’t hold for two minutes, challenge yourself to hold it for one and a half. Then for one.

When (not if) you get to a pace you can only hold for 30 seconds, even with two minute rests between intervals, start working your way back, slowing the pace a notch for each interval, and increasing the duration back to one minute and eventually two. When you get back down paces you can easily hold for two minutes with rests between, it’s time for a cool-down as you meditate upon how much easier a given pace felt when you laddered-back to it than it felt when were first laddering-up to it.

Variation A, if your warm-weather running includes hills: once you get the pace back down to where you can hold two minute intervals, start laddering the incline up, dropping the pace when you must, till you get to such steep incline/slow pace that running is less efficient than walking.

Variation B, if your summer ambitions include trail runs with lots of vertical: do a similar ladder of intervals, but set the mill at maximum incline (15% for most) for the slow start, then as you ladder up the pace, notch the incline down so your 5K segment is as at maybe 2 or 2 1/2%.

The goal – to use the treadmill’s most maddening attribute – the ability to maintain a constant and known pace – to give yourself a continually changing challenge, while using the clock to break the time into segments too short for boredom to set in, and the heart monitor to learn about your body’s performance and give the complaining-brain something else to focus on.

“Oh the weather outside is frightful, but this treadmill’s so delightful!”

(OK, maybe that’s going too far…)

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