“The road to success runs uphill.” **Willie Davis**
I am enjoying being back to running, but is hasn’t been a perfectly smooth road. Ups and downs are part of every runner’s routine, and I’m certainly no exception. What makes runners different is our ability to stick to our running plan even when we feel like skipping a run or just quitting and going home. It can be a serious challenge to squeeze a run into an action packed day with everyone placing endless demands on your time.
The hardest part about coming back from an injury is facing the fact that getting back to 100% is a slow process. There are so many components to a good run and each item that is missing adds exponentially to the difficulty of finishing the way you want. While out with an injury, it seems like, “If I could just run, everything would be fantastic.” So when you finally hit the road for your first run, the lack of speed, heavy legs, and screaming muscles are very frustrating! The injury is healed and feels good, but everything else that has been out of use complains loudly making you feel like you will never be a runner again, or question whether you were ever a runner to begin with. Being back to running does NOT mean being back where you left off.
This past week I finally ran a 25 mile week, but 20 of them were on the treadmill. My goal is to maintain this as my average for the next several months, moving more and more runs to the great outdoors (weather permitting). I will not dive into structured race training, but focus on strength training to build up my hips and core. It is weird for me not to fill my calendar with races, planning my life around structured runs and preset distances, but I can live with the adjustment.
Running so much on the treadmill has been interesting. I have heard many people over the years complain about running on the roads after spending a lot of time on the treadmill. We are told to set it at an incline to replicate the effort of being on the road, or to set it on a decline to replicate the pounding. In the end everyone agrees that running on the treadmill is easier than running on the road. It may be lack of wind resistance, or the fact that you are not propelling yourself forward, but I find the biggest difference to be mental. When you are on a treadmill you pick a speed, dial it up, and run. It takes will power to not reach up and dial it down when you get tired, but if you can distract yourself with a TV, MP3 player, or chatting with the friend on the next treadmill, you can cease to think consciously about your pace and just keep up with the belt. On the road it is a very different matter. As my mind drifts, I relax and slow down, sailing along at an ever slowing pace until something catches my attention and makes me realize I have dropped my speed and heart rate into a lower zone. Tempo runs in particular are easier on a treadmill. No need to think, just program in the plan and go.
I also think treadmills produce a different muscle balance. We use so many muscles when running, to keep balanced, move forward and get the next foot out for the next step, but the treadmill leaves some of this out. On a treadmill you don’t work as hard to balance because it is such a smooth consistent surface, devoid of surprises like pine cones, dog poop, or driveway entrances. With the belt moving under you, there is no engagement of the muscles to push your body weight forward. The one advantage is that the process of getting the next leg up and out in front of you is the same. Since treadmill running is easier, you can run “faster” and engage more fast twitch muscles for the same heart rate.
One other issue with treadmills, I frequently get vertigo and have to grab the hand rails to keep from falling off. On the road or trail, I have been known to close my eyes for a few seconds at a time, but if I do that on a treadmill my head swims and I crash into the hand rail (which is more than a little embarrassing in a crowded gym). I also feel very disoriented and off balance when I get off a treadmill so I have to stand still on it long enough to get my bearings (also mildly embarrassing).
All and all, I would say treadmills have their place, but I’d rather be on the road, even when it is uphill. (Except today since it is 1 degree Fahrenheit as I type.)