It’s 5 p.m, dark and -10 degrees outside. While speed walking on the crispy snow with my headlight on I try to find my way to the gym also known as the “sweat room”. It’s nothing more than a 4x5m wooden shed with no heating, one flood light and it’s located in the forest at the back of our house. I open the door and it looks like a hurricane just passed through….”mmmmh this definitely looks like a category 5 hurricane…..or Elvin has gone nuts on his push bike with an ice-cream in his hand...
The place is filled with bikes, toys, furniture and all sorts of other stuff you don’t really need but can’t seem to throw away. The walls are covered with reminders of the past….Ironman trophies, swimrun shoes, maps, medals, posters and…in a dark corner my “faithful training buddy”…. or should I call it: “cold blooded killer”. The treadmill has no mercy or bad day….once you set the speed and inclination it goes……forever without fading. There is no sign of weakness in this mechanical super power…it’s unbeatable. While stepping on the running mat I put on some music: “killing in the name”….from “Rage against the Machine” seems like an appropriate warm-up song. During the 5-10 minute warm-up I think about what kind of training I have done in the last few days and how my legs feel. I opt for a 10km strength work-out with some steep (hill) inclination repeats mixed into it. I keep reminding myself to work more on my weaknesses. So the purpose of this training session is designed to improve leg strength (especially hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors).
There are so many different kind of run work-outs you can do on a treadmill and I don’t really understand why people find it so boring. OK, it’s true that the view does not really change while running but it does provide you with the perfect tool to experiment. Nowadays treadmills are not so expensive anymore and they are ideal to diversify your outdoor running routine. On the road or trails you are more in tune with your immediate surroundings but on a treadmill you can really isolate certain running aspects and purely focus on improving one thing at a time. As mentioned in another blog, winter is the perfect time to focus on strength, technique and volume. Talking about technique, over the last three years I have tried to change my running form from “sitting duck” to “running tall” (straight back, leaning slightly forward over the ankles, with a strong hip drive). In order to self-analyse my running form I put two mirrors close to the treadmill: one in front and one on the side. It immediately shows when I start to sag, hunch or twist from my back or hips. Then there are work-outs where I practise negative split threshold running. It’s a 1 hour run where I gradually increase the speed every 5 minutes. The unwritten rule I have maintained over the years (to make it more fun…. I guess) is that once I increase the speed from say 14 to 15 km/hr I cannot reduce it anymore before the one hour is over. On some occasions where I completely misjudged my shape it turned out to be a disaster to reach the 60 minute mark (even with 13 km/hr on a bad day). It sounds funny but sometimes I compare my treadmill workouts with a game of chess…..I pick my settings (there are only three variables: speed, inclination and time) and then I need to beat the machine….just like chess player Garry Kasparov beat “Deep Blue” (a super computer developed by IBM). The rule is that I have to stick to the program so I am defeated when I jump on the plastic side skirts of the treadmill (or touch buttons that deviate from the program). Holding onto the handle bars is also not allowed but over the years I have realised that it’s still better to finish a work-out then to run myself completely
into the ground and ultimately not finishing the program……the handle bars soften the pain a little bit and buy me some time to make it to the next rest period. Still, deep inside I know it’s cheating…. “Man, it can be so hard to stay true to yourself!”
I am pretty sure that everybody at some point has used some kind of mind game in their training sessions in order to either finish a workout, push yourself to the next level or simply to let time pass faster. During long work-outs on a treadmill I often dream about food, sauna, massage or our next holiday destination. It’s funny that during a perfect race I don’t think at all…. I am 100% in the moment with my race partner. That’s why training is completely different than racing in my view. Training is pure attitude and racing is a mindset.
Anyway, I am digressing so back to my 10km strength work-out. After my 5-10 minute warm-up which I normally run at an inclination of 2% and a speed of 12-13 km/hr I put the treadmill at maximum inclination of 10% and increase the speed to 14km/hr. During the first 30 seconds I focus on high knee running strides with exaggerated arm swings, the next 30 seconds I focus on lunge type running strides keeping longer foot contact time and the last 30 seconds I focus on a stride where my foot swings back high (almost like a but kick). Each stride type emphasises the use of a specific muscle group. For a duration of 5 kilometres I incorporate 2 times 1 ½ minutes of the above described strength exercises into each kilometre which leaves me about a 45 seconds to 1 minute of rest between each set. So in total I do 10 sets of 1 ½ minute of running strength exercises on the treadmill where the first 2 km’s are warm-up and the last 3 km’s cool down. It’s just an example but the options are infinite.
So, how much does running on a treadmill differ from running on the road in terms of perceived effort? Well, in my view running on a treadmill feels easier then running on the road (at a certain speed). For starters there is no head wind and secondly the running mat is generating the friction underneath your feet whereas running on the road your feet need to generate the “push off” friction to propel forward. Having said that I do believe that a treadmill can really help to push yourself to the next level by setting the speed just a tiny bit faster than you would normally run outside. At least you are guaranteed to run at the same speed over a certain distance.
I also think it’s fun to experiment with different running speeds and if nothing else it has made me put my own running skills in the right perspective. Guess what I am actually not that fast!…. just to confront myself once and a while I try to run at 20km/hr for a while which equates to running the marathon in 2 hrs and 6 minutes. After a short while my heart rate goes through the roof, I am gasping for air and my legs fill with lactic acid in no time. It’s these sessions that make me realise that there are actually people out there who can run at even faster speeds like Dennis Kimeto (current world record holder at the marathon distance). Not too long ago I met him in Kenya and we had a friendly chat about running. At the end I had to tell him: “Dennis, do you know that my “unbeatable” treadmill cannot keep up with you….? You are a machine! He then started laughing and invited me for a cup of cha (tea) inside his wooden 4x5m shed (yes, about the same size as our gym….) where he lives most of time. Live simple, run and be happy! It seems to be the life philosophy of most Kenyan runners. I tend to sympathise with that kind of thinking.
Me: Thomas Schreven
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