Once upon a time, several years ago, after some serious mom
nagging pressure, I became a runner. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with the sport, often labeled by friends and acquaintances as crazy, animal, beast, running fool, and many other nicknames I simply take as compliments. They say crazy…I say dedicated. 😉 Since taking a break from marathons last year, I’ve made my way back to the 5K scene. What a shift it’s been! While I hadn’t slowed down much, it felt as if my entire body had forgotten how to run that fast. Now I want to get even faster. Unlike my mom, the speed demon who goes all Nike and just does it, I know I can’t just want it – I have to work for it. Insert exasperated sigh here. The only way to get faster is to engage in my least favorite workout. It’s no secret that speed work and I are not friends. I don’t know that I will ever find a love for it, but maybe in time one will begin to grow. After all, my love has surely grown for my hills, which may be partly because my choices are limited given I live and train on a mountain. Hills, in my opinion, are speed work in disguise. I love the feeling of strength and invincibility that I feel when charging up a hill, almost as much as the feeling of reaching the top and flying back down again. Bring ON those mountains! As much as I’ve tried, I have a hard time doing speed work on the road unless I’m being pushed in a race, and I only lasted one lap at the track. I know…I really outdid myself. 😉 I had to figure out how to force myself to do my speed work. Enter the treadmill. Having talked to fellow racers who shed many minutes off their times in a short amount of time, it seemed the treadmill was a surefire way to force me to run fast. I mean, the options are quite simple: run as fast as you can or fly off. No brainer, right? One would hope. Before I crossed over into runner’s world, I had an older model elliptical that I quickly grew bored with. I needed to feel the impact of my feet hitting the ground, so I decided to buy a treadmill. Not a top of the line professional gym grade, but middle of the line machine which suits my needs just fine even after seven years of use and two moves. Happily climbing away walking on the maximum incline, I could easily spend an hour or more on it, reading or singing along to my music. Sometimes I’d get somewhat adventurous and throw an occasional run in here and there, but nothing beyond a mile. When I became a runner, my treadmill became more of a frenemy to me, and I completely understand why others have labeled it the dreadmill. I have an extremely difficult time even getting on my treadmill. Actually, “can’t stand” probably more accurately describes my feelings. It’s nothing personal, it’s just painful for me. I feel like I’m working so much harder, time drags on, and running begins to feel like a chore, and not at all enjoyable. I give those of you who can do it regularly all the credit you deserve. I’ve read numerous articles suggesting that treadmills are better for your joints yet there are equal amounts of articles claiming they are bad for you. Regardless of the research, I know what works for me, and I’ll take the road or trail any day. Literally. Rain, snow, ice, wind, heat, and humidity, I’m outdoors. I whine the whole way through those last two mentioned elements, being I’m a winter runner to the core, but I still go because it would be worse to not run. I 100% prefer to run outside, and have done so in dangerous conditions not to look “badass” or impress anyone, but because I truly enjoy the fresh air, changing scenery, and colder temperatures.
So the time came for me to come out of hiding,and stare my frenemy straight in the face. Since it is so torturous to me, I figured I would find a positive spin on my situation: I’m building mental toughness, which isn’t supposed to be easy. In order to survive my time spent on the treadmill, I had to find ways to entertain/cope/get it done. Here are some tried, true, and failed ways I’ve been using, along with some entertainment most likely only runners/athletes will appreciate.
Flip switch to On position and begrudgingly step onto the mill. Push Start and set the speed to 6.5 mph. Run for a warm up of at least 0.25 mile, then turn it up to 7.5 mph. Okay, this doesn’t hurt, but it still sucks on here. I would rather be outside, and if I’m running at this pace, I should be on the road. How long has it been? Peek at distance indicator. Only 0.34 miles?! You’ve got to be kidding me!! Note to self: do not stare at the distance. Do NOT. It only makes it go slower. For real. Do not make eye contact. Stare off into space and imagine happy trails, trees, and vast blue skies. Treadmill loudly sings its tune “roorooroorooroorooroo.” Ahhh!! This. Is. Horrible. Maybe I’ll make up my own song. “I am a hamster running along on my wheel. Hamster hamster, yes I am, this is how I roll. Oh, I am a runner of steel.” I should probably stick to my day job. And my iPod. My song selection must be carefully thought out though. After many experiences of nearly flying off the machine because I attempted to dance and run simultaneously, I’ve come to the realization that the treadmill is not the place to be busting a move along to Britney. It’s really quite dangerous for those with balancing issues. I save that kind of multi-tasking for the road or trail, so for now, Avril and Kesha will get me through. Okay, where are those happy visions? Nowhere in sight. Ahhh, I need cold, fresh air and wind. Now. No. You’ve come this far – you’re finishing this. With a heavy sigh, I continue. Sometimes my voice of reason can be really annoying. I know – this is the perfect time to focus on my running form to ensure consistency. I always forget to do this outside because I’m too busy enjoying/basking in my surroundings. Unlike right now. Back straight, leaning slightly forward, chin up, staring straight ahead, shoulders relaxed but not slumped, hands unclenched, arms swinging gently at hip level. Check. Increase speed to 8 mph. Hold it. Okay, you’ve got this. Maybe I’ll count my cadence every few minutes, but make sure to only look at the clock. I’m averaging 93-94 steps on each side per minute. I’m getting better with adjusting those longer strides to shorter, faster ones. I feel a new habit forming. How could I have gotten that wrong all these years? Set speed to 9 mph. Whoah! Okay, now I feel a difference, but I can do this. I peek at the distance indicator and smile when I see the numbers are moving along faster. I’m feeling good. I can maintain this pace. Maybe I’ll just stay here and forget about faster. I’m fast enough. But think about how good it will feel to see that race clock displaying an even faster time. True. Increase speed to 9.5 mph. Uh oh, is that the back edge I feel under my feet? I had better get my legs moving. Focus! Putting on my game face, I do just that, my feet hitting the belt faster and harder as I make my way forward, pulling on every motivational thought I can find. I picture Forrest running for all those years and start to sing in his honor “Oh, I’m runnin against the wind…” Oh, how I wish I were out in the wind right now. Okay, I think I’m good now. I’m practically on top of the electronics panel now, and I am flying! Not the relaxing kind of flying, but flying. I’m sweating and the effort required to hold this pace exhausts my mind more than it does my legs. I need a distraction. I’ll try that breathing technique I read about in Runner’s World that reduces the risk of injury. Inhale for two steps, exhale on the third, landing on the opposite foot following every set. Got it. I don’t know that I’ll make that habitual though. Okay. Time to turn up the speed again. Maybe I’ll see if the this thing goes beyond 10 mph. Then this will be over quicker. Nope. 10 mph it is. Bam! Please don’t fly off! Please don’t fly off! Please, please, please don’t fly off! The wall behind me will most definitely hurt if I were to go airborne and slam into it. I envision my legs flying across the asphault, sailing effortlessly to the finish line, closing in on the clock reflecting that next PR. I can do it, I can do this. Now singing loudly: “Cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roarrrrrrrrr. Roarrrrrrrr. Roarrrrrrr.” Oh, I’m roaring all right. Get me off of here. PLEASE. I watch the distance indicator creep from 5.84 to 6 miles, and happily fumble for the button that decreases my speed back to 6.5 mph. Enough. Now I feel as if I’m barely moving, so I bump it back up to 7 and run easy until I reach 6.18 miles, resisting the urge to keep going until I reach a quarter mile. Done! I survived six miles split in sets of 0.5-mile and 1-mile speed increments with 0.25 recoveries in between. Pant pant pant. I. AM. SHAKING. Unsteadily, I stretch to cool down before starting my lunges and squats. I’m worn out, yet somehow I already feel stronger. Faster. I’m so glad I did it, and even more so that it’s over. I will sleep like a rock tonight.