Treadmills have been around for a long time. There is nothing polarizing about them. The “I hate treadmills” camp is strong, but I have a hard time finding anyone in the “I love treadmills” camp. There is also a strong opinion that running on treadmills is easier than running outside on pavement. I am not here to argue this point one way or the other. I for one am on the opposite side of this and think running on a treadmill can certainly be harder than running on pavement outside (given the conditions outside are similar). It is fine if you disagree and I will not say you are wrong or right. What may be harder for may certainly may be easier for you.
There are some major advantages to treadmill running:
1. Uphill Training – Unless you live in the mountains you probably do not have access to a hill that theoretically never ends. A treadmill gives you this. If you do have access to long hills you will have to run down after getting up. This may not always be ideal if you are going for just an uphill workout. I am an ultra runner and love mountainous races. I live in an area with 0 hills. The treadmill is essential to prepare me for the long 1000+ feet climbs of most of the races I run.
2. Speed / Temp Training – A treadmill allows you to hit a pace and stay there. You can turn your brain off a bit and just focus on pushing through the workout. You can easily measure your effort and improvement over a time period based on the same or similar workouts.
3. Mental Toughness – Most people will agree that running on the treadmill takes some mental toughness due to the boredom it brings. With no change in scenery you can quickly get bored. In my opinion (at least in ultras) being mentally tough is just as important as being trained properly. Hanging in on those tough treadmill workouts when your mind is bored and you can easily quit without having to walk 3 miles back to your house or car builds that toughness. Ultras that consist of loops are tough because of this car factor. A few years ago I dropped out of the Umstead 100 miler after 87 miles. I was at my car and a warm fire. If I was feeling that bad at a different point in the race I still would have had to walk it in and who knows, maybe I would of felt better. It is always easier to quit when you can quickly have the creature comforts we are accustomed to.
4. Race Simulation – Treadmills allow you to simulate a race course and reduce its length. A coach I had a few years back put me onto this idea. Break down your race into %incline of every segment and then simulate those climbs and flats/declines on the treadmill. This has really caught on as some treadmills now have a capability to upload a gps track and they will automatically change the incline based on real world data. I am going to write a post on this sometime soon and go into more detail about my manual way of doing this.
5. Time Saving – Unless you live near the hills or track you want to train on a treadmill can save you time (especially if it is in your home or at your work). I have a treadmill at my house and my office complex has one in its workout room. I can easily do a run at lunch or anytime at home. This gives me more time due to less driving, money savings on gas, and more time with my family.
6. Climate – Sometimes the weather is not cooperative even for experienced mountain runners. My former coach had a top of the line treadmill because he lives at high altitude in Colorado. The winters are snowed in, but he still had a need to get in quality workouts. This guy is no slouch as he has won the Vermont 100 and Leadville 100 twice. In my case the summers are hot and humid. This weekend the low is 80 with a “real feel” of 90. The high is 100 with a “real feel” of 115. I am sure I could go out and hit my long run in this weather if I ran at night and went really slow. I am choosing the treadmill instead. I know I will get a better workout this way and not be exposed to the heat and all the possible ailments it brings. I am not training for a hot race so why should I expose myself to this extreme heat when I can run a Race Simulation instead?
I hope you will consider the treadmill as just another tool to help you reach your goals. It can hold a key place in most runners training and can be very helpful in reaching your goals. In the following months I am going to continue to expand on each of the above points and hopefully give some more insight into how the treadmill can be a useful training tool. So what do you think, are treadmills useful to you or are they nothing more than “dreadmills”?