Surviving runs on the treadmill (dreadmill)

treadmillI prefer to run outside, but sometimes the weather does not co-operate. My goal race is April 15th and Ottawa has had a winter of snow, frostbite warnings and freezing rain. In addition to a number of mid-week runs I have been driven to completing four of my long runs on the treadmill: 2X26 km, 29km, and 32 km. The most common question I get when I tell this to other runners is how did you do that without going insane? So I thought I would share some of my survival tips.

Some of these tricks may not work if you are using the treadmill at a gym, but some of the tricks work anywhere. 

There are two basic challenges when running on the treadmill: Boredom and Sweat

Battle the boredom

Build up your treadmill mileage

If you know your training season has a high chance of unrunnable weather, do some of your shorter runs on the treadmill.  It’s a lot harder to drag yourself through 26 km on the treadmill if it’s your first treadmill run of the season.  I usually end up running one run a week on the treadmill in the winter due to weather, road conditions, or scheduling. When I have run 5km , 10 km, and 15 km on the treadmill I am better equipped mentally to do 26 km.  Let’s be clear I *never* enjoy doing my long runs on the treadmill, but having built up the mileage and the mentality of being on the treadmill from shorter runs does help.

Watch a movie or tv show

the-barkley-marathonsExperiment with different types of shows to find out what works for you. Here is a sampling of my go-to treadmill viewing:

TIP: Turn on subtitles so you can catch the quieter dialog over the noise of the treadmill and fan.

Bluetooth headphones

HeadphonesAudioLose the corded headphones, it’s one less thing to worry about on the treadmill. Whether you are watching movies on your tablet or phone, or on the big screen. The exception is when you are watching the TVs at the gym. Those only work with corded headphones. I use AfterShokz Trekz Air

For Christmas my husband bought me a bluetooth audio transmitter from Avantree . This gadget allows me to have the audio from my home entertainment system connected to my Bluetooth headphones. This is great because I usually have to crank the volume to hear anything over the noise of the treadmill. As a result I used to avoid the treadmill if my husband was on the computer or the kids were in bed. Now I don’t have to blast my entertainment choices throughout the house when I am on the treadmill.

Having audio through headphones does result in some amusing moments. The other evening, my 16 year old came downstairs to see me run/dancing on the treadmill in a silent room (in my defense John Travolta was taking over the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever at the time).  Fortunately my family has learned to accept that mum can get caught up in her movies, they’ve seen me choked up as I watch Jesse Owens in Race, and singing along with Russell Crowe in Les Miserables. They’ve learned to accept that when mom is on the treadmill, anything goes.

Zwift it

Zwift is a very popular app for spin cyclists and they have expanded to running.  I have not tried it yet, but I can see the appeal. basically you join a virtual running group on a virtual running route.

Break up the run

I think the worst thing you can do on the treadmill is hop on, choose a program, set the time and run.  Mix it up and take control of the settings yourself.  It gives you something to do as you mark off the miles. Instead of setting the treadmill to random hills, I prefer to change the incline myself.

  • 5 km? Treat the first km as a warm up and then increase the speed every km.
  • 10 km? What if every time you finish a km you have to increase the incline by .5. But after 5 km each time you finish a km you get to decrease the incline by .5?
  • 15 km? Look up the inclines on your goal race, pick a hilly section of your race and simulate it on your run.  I actually sat down and calculated the inclines for every 400 m (1/4 mile) of the Boston marathon. Whenever I am on the treadmill I run a different section of the course.
  • More than 15 km? Plan on hopping off the treadmill every 5-8 km. Decide ahead of time when you will take your breaks, what shows you will watch (you may need more than one!), how you will mix up the runs (will you simulate the inclines of your race? will you play around with pace?).  Today I ran 26 km on the treadmill. I did 5 km slow, 5 km slow, 6 km at race pace, 5 km slow, 5 km slow.

How to cope with the heat

fanYou don’t realize how much being outdoors on a nice day cools you down until you run on a treadmill indoors. I don’t sweat a lot, but any run on the treadmill results in a shirt that is sticking to my body and some impressive water weight loss.

Buy a standing fan

Having a standing fan directed at you throughout your run will help. You may find it a bit cool when you start your run, but after about 15 minutes you won’t even notice it’s there. I had to put my fan on top of a stool to get it to a suitable height

Minimize the layers

Dress as if you are going out for a hot summer run. If you are home alone you can skip the shirt altogether, no-ones going to see you anyway and it will allow that fan to cool you off a little better

Double the water

Drink water any time you are thirsty.  When I do my long runs outside I sometimes practice taking water at the same intervals as the water stops on my race. Not so, when I run on the treadmill. I drink whenever I feel like it and I keep a second filled water bottle handy just in case the first water bottle runs out (which it always does on the long runs)

Bring back the 70s and 80s by rocking a headband

BjornJohnJohn McEnroe and Bjorn Borg knew what they were doing! Some sort of headband will reduce the amount of sweat dripping down your face.

Change your clothes

On longer treadmill runs, you may want to change your headband, shirt, socks, or running bra part way through the run. Today I ran 26 km on the treadmill. I changed my headband every 5 km and after 16 km I changed my shirt and running bra.  Fresh dry clothes can help you feel a little fresher as you hop back on the treadmill to finish out your run.

Grab a towel

I agree with Douglas Adams on this one, a towel is very useful. Great to wipe off excess sweat, though if anyone has found a way to stop it falling off the rail, landing between my feet and flying off the back of the treadmill please let me know!

Don’t forget your gels/chomps

For longer treadmill runs you should take your nutrition just like you would on an outdoor training run, that includes electrolytes and gels.

Hope this helps you cope with the dreadmill, please share any tips you have for getting through those miles on the treadmill! If you enjoyed this, check out my other running related posts.


One response to this post.

  1. […] How to avoid slipping on icy winter runs Surviving runs on the treadmill (dreadmill) […]


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