Monday, December 16, 2013

How to Enjoy the Treadmill

I like the treadmill.  There, I said it.  You heard me right...I LIKE IT.  Now, I didn't say I LOVE it, but I do like it.  It's definitely not running outside and far from perfect, but I don't have the same hatred of the treadmill as others.  Commonly referred to as the "dreadmill", it can be a perfectly good tool to make you a better runner.  This doesn't mean that every run should be on the treadmill, much like every run shouldn't be in the same pair of shoes.  But what it does mean, is that you can benefit greatly by incorporating treadmill runs into your regular routine.  Now before I go any further, I'd note than outdoor runs are almost always preferable,  since it gives you the closest simulation to what your actual race will resemble. 

Let me clear that I haven't always been a huge fan of the treadmill.  I've said my fair share of four letter words when realizing that I'd be running on one.  But what I've learned or found over time is that it doesn't have to suck.  It can be enjoyable and you can find some of the same appreciation for running on a treadmill as you can for doing it outside.  So while there are plenty of reasons to dislike it, let's talk about why you should be enjoying the treadmill more than you do:

  • You are what you think you are - Only the space inside your head decides it's a "deadmill" run versus another opportunity to improve your running.  Change the mindset and your perspective of the run changes as well.  It doesn't all have to suck.  View the positive and focus on it.  Use it as a mantra if you need it to get you through the run, but bringing a positive outlook will almost always result in a more positive experience.
  • Find the purpose - As with any planned run, there should be a purpose to the workout.  If you simply hop on the treadmill with no idea other than "just run", my bet is that you'll find it boring.  But find a purpose, whether a speed/tempo workout or simply an easy run, and the clear goal helps bring clarity to your mind about why you are doing what you are doing.
  • Focus on new things - When you're outside, chances are you're thinking more about your next step or something else you that requires your immediate attention.  But treadmill running allows you to focus on things you might not have an opportunity to think about otherwise, such as form.  Have a friend take a short video from multiple angles and use the run as motivation to run with good form.  Then, when you're done (or even in the middle of the run), you can review it to determine if there are any immediate changes you'd like to implement.
  • Multitasking for the overachiever - We're all busy people and sometimes life isn't ALL about running.  Well, the nice thing about the treadmill is that it can allow you do accomplish other things.  If you have an ipad or an e-reader, you can keep tabs on work or virtually anything else.  An easy run can be a great opportunity to zip through some articles you've been wanting to read.  Simply crank up the font size so you don't have to squint and read away.
  • TV/Movies galore - The most surefire way to get through a run on a treadmill is to dial up your favorite series or movie and get running.  Seriously, time flies when you don't have to think about running.  Now, be sure you are running at a half decent speed and not slacking off.  Its too easy to slog through at a slow pace and get stuck in the show, but you can log some serious miles by going through your Netflix queue.  Just make sure they're quality miles.
  • Embrace the suck - I'm not saying every run is rainbows and unicorns, so I am well aware that some runs just suck.  Even 10 minutes can feel like torture.  Embrace it and remember that the person that comes out the other end of that run is stronger because of the struggle to get through it.  Training for something always takes effort, both physically and mentally.  Sometimes, a treadmill can bring the more mental aspect of a workout to the table.  That should be something you can embrace, knowing that you'll be more ready to fight when things get tough.
 With the addition of a treadmill, you really don't have any excuse for missing a run.  And as much as we all like to commiserate with being stuck on a treadmill, it can be beneficial, but you need to make peace with that fact.  Trust me, you'll be better for it. 

With winter already rearing its ugly head in most of the country, its time to hunker down and get ready for some treadmill miles if they are called upon.  Consistency is king, so don't let some nasty winter conditions prevent you from becoming your best. 

The real question is, will you be able to handle it or will winter get the best of you?  My recommendation is to be ready and willing to do what it takes. I know I am.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Lessons Learned From The 2013 New York City Marathon

After any race, I like to go back and review the race itself, the training cycle, and anything else surrounding the race to determine areas for improvement.  New York City has been a tough one to write an assessment about.  The race report was easy.  I had a great time enjoying the experience, raced well given the circumstances, and fully moved on from the race.  However, it has been difficult to sit down and do a fair assessment and review.  Why?  Most likely because I've been savoring the race.  I know there are things I'd do differently, which I'll describe below, but it has more to do with closure on the race.  I feel like once I do my review, its over officially.  And to be honest, I've been enjoying the post-race glow, freedom to run how I feel, and not be driven by a plan.  The month since the race has felt like ages in some respects, while I can practically replay much of the day in my head as if it was yesterday.  But the time has come to close this chapter and move onto the next, so without further adieu, my lessons learned from New York City:

- Hills - Do Them Up and Down: No matter how the course of your goal race is designed - flat or hilly.  They build strength, secretly work some speed, and help improve your running form.  But most importantly, work both the ups and downs.  One of the main reasons I believe I experienced early cramping at NYC was due to focusing primarily on the ups.  Knowing I had bridges to cross, I wanted to make sure I had my climbing legs.  However, what goes up must come down, and in order to run NYC or any hilly course well, you need to have the specific strength on both sides or else the fatigue will get you.  Run short hills fast, long hills steady, both at race effort, but most importantly, alternate focusing on ups and downs.  It frustrates me that I didn't think of this during training, but that's what these reviews are for, right?

- Adjusting Paces - Gut It Out and Get Over It: It's easy in the thick of training to opt for the less challenging route when you are fatigued both mentally and physically.  The same could be said for life.  Usually, if you have to work for it, the end result is better.  For example, choosing the slower range for a workout, which may not provide as much benefit as would nailing the faster end (as long as it is still within the purpose of the workout).  As my paces have progressed faster, I had gotten a little complacent in adjusting them downward.  We all have mental barriers, such as easy runs that start with a 9:xx becoming 8:xx, even if it is only a matter of a few seconds.  Well for me, my lactate threshold pace dropped below 6:30/mi for the first time to around 6:20/mi and it added a little mental stress/intimidation before those workouts.  My marathon pace also dropped below 7:00/mi to around 6:55/mi.  And while running a workout close to the goal still gave me a great workout, I'd be lying to myself if I didn't think I could have trained a bit harder.  Too frequently, I hung on to my old training paces, which were still challenging, but I was more comfortable with those as my goal.  I need to get over the mental barriers and just train at my ideal paces, even if they scare me a bit.  I can't expect optimal results if I don't train to optimal paces.

- Strength Work: Add Variety: Throughout this training cycle, I've held on to my commitment to make strength work a part of my usual business, whether it was included in my warm ups, cool downs, or as a separate workout.  I am proud to have kept that promise to myself, because I truly do believe in the power of strength work to building a better runner.  However, I've been set in my ways through a few pretty standard (to me) routines.  I know them like the back of my hand, which means I can do them anywhere and much faster than a routine I'm not familiar with.  And while the targeting of different muscles through these routines no doubt made me a better runner, adding some variety will offer alternative ways of hitting those same muscle groups.  Variety is good, as long as you know what you're doing.  I need to seek out alternatives to add to my rotation so I don't get stale.  There are plenty of other resources out there that I trust, but I just need to make the effort to learn those routines rather than defaulting to my usual ones.

This is a relatively short list, but each one is meaningful and can provide direct results in future training cycles (for both myself and for any runner seeking to become better).  I was very pleased with my race and felt like I mostly met my expectations (aside from the time on the finish line) given the conditions.  I have more work to do and my commitment to do so never wavers. 

So you're probably wondering where I go from here?  What's next?  Well, I'm still trying to figure that one out.  There are a handful of Spring marathons I am considering (primarily March-April time frame), but am always open to recommendations if you've got them! 
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