Up until yesterday, I hated running on a treadmill. Granted, I had only tried it a few times during various winters, but I always came away frustrated and disappointed with my run. It felt like it was sucking the joy of running right out of me. I have tried it in cushioned running shoes (pre-barefoot days), Vibrams Five-Fingers,and Moc3’s, since I don’t own a treadmill and footwear was always required at the gyms I was at. Nothing seemed to help. The pace always felt stiff. My perceived effort was higher than running on the road or a track, but my pace as recorded by the machine was significantly slower. Then, yesterday, several factors combined to make me decide to give the treadmill another try.
The day time high temperatures were in the teens to mid 20’s (F). There was ice packed all over my favorite off-road paths; the sides of the roads were slushy and icy. It was already very overcast and it was going to get dark while I was running. But I needed to run. Physically and mentally, I needed to run for about 2 hours. 10 miles is about an average run distance for me right now, with my MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) training. I stewed about all the choices, or lack of them, outside. I have made progress with my barefooting and general ability to run in colder temperatures, but there was too much against it that day. Then, I recalled the dreaded treadmill.
I have also never run more than 5 miles on a treadmill. Was it crazy to attempt to double that distance when it had nearly been mental suicide before? I began to problem solve and evaluate.
- I had never tried it at my MAF pacing. Maybe this would make a difference.
- I had never tried it in my Luna sandals. Inside the gym, I thought my feet would likely be too hot even in running moccasins. I’ve lately been driven to take off my boots once inside stores, in spite of the chilling outside weather. My feet speak loudly to me if they are confined for very long.
- I was desperate.
So, there I was getting on the treadmill, as always a little terrified that it was going to spit me off of the back unexpectedly. I had my Luna sandals on. I was visiting a gym I had never been to before because I knew the other gym near me stipulated close-toe shoes. The only signs I had seen here simply said, “Footwear required at all times.” I was actually fine with the idea of the sandals because I have heard on my barefoot runners forum that it can be easy to get blisters on bare feet from treadmill running. I figured the sandals were not any less “bare” than running on the treadmill. They allow full splaying of my toes and my feet were open to the air.
With the goal of just getting a feel for how to run on the treadmill at my MAF pace, I hit the quick start button. It revved up at a slow walk. I gradually increased the pace until I had to switch to running form to be comfortable. For a little while, every couple of minutes I felt both the need and the comfort level to increase the speed some. I tried really hard to disregard the pace that the machine was advertising and just stick to how I felt. Pretty soon, I had a sense of comfortably cruising.
I was having a good time! There was the obnoxious TV screen blocking my view out the window onto the snowy landscape. I worked on not getting a crick in my neck from looking sideways, to see between the machines. I had some music piping in from my iPod. My whole body was relaxed. I played some with my cadence, which was possible because I wasn’t attempting a speed that was testing my balance. Much like the MAF pace on the road, running this way was producing better form. Amazingly, after 45 minutes, I was still occasionally increasing my speed. Soon I was actually approaching the MAF speeds clocked by my Garmin watch on the open road.
Since I had begun the treadmill on an automatic program, it stopped after 60 minutes. 5 miles according to the treadmill electronic readout. I needed a short break in the little girls room anyway, so I got off. When I returned, I was torn about getting back on. Would my body be able to get back into the rhythm or had I peaked already. Maybe the break had sent the message to my legs that I was done. I decided to just get on and begin again.
It was very comfortable and fun to get right back up to the pace I had left. I even got a touch faster. I even sang a tiny little bit out loud. That was how comfortable the pace was. Yet, I still really felt like I was running, cruising along in a picturesque way.
All of a sudden, after 90 minutes into the run, it occurred to me that the treadmill had a heart rate monitor. I had been trying this whole MAF thing without a heart monitor, so I thought it would be interesting to see how I was doing. I had calculated my optimum heart rate for MAF training, but never actually measured my rate while running. There was a disclaimer on the machine that trying to read the heart rate above a certain treadmill pace was possibly inaccurate. My pace was over this speed. Still, I put my hands on the sensors. My heart rate was very close to the target! Using my perceived effort was working!
My Luna sandals were mostly unnoticeable. After a while, I noticed I had the left one a bit tight, but not so much that I wanted to stop the run. I’m still not very fast at adjusting them, so I didn’t know how long it would take. Then, right as I hit 10 miles, the spot between the toes on that foot really started to hurt. I was done anyway.
When I got home, I looked at that left foot, half expecting to see a blister or raw spot. Nothing. I had not recently explored the skin between my toes and was impressed to find how tough it was. The next day, I loosened the sandal before I rode my spin bike. I didn’t have any trouble with pain during the 90 minutes of that.
I have to conclude that the Luna sandals and the MAF training are going to make treadmill running an enjoyable option for me in the winter now. When I am overwhelmed by the thought of battling the elements, I need not be distressed. The treadmill is now my friend.