Dealing with the Monotony of Treadmill Runs

During colder weather, I head to the treadmill for my long runs. I used to have a lot of difficulty figuring out how to pass the time and dreaded the feelings of boredom and the realization that I had “____ minutes left to go (woof!).” After many treadmill runs of up to 10 miles per journey, I’ve found three broad strategies that have helped me to manage these feelings and actually look forward (not all the time) to my treadmill jobs. First, though, don’t forget that proper equipment (GOOD running shoes and other necessary gear–I wear a light knee brace on each leg) and plenty of water are essential prerequisites for ANY run! Also, if you go on longer runs–or simply feel the need–take along some energy gel or some type of sugar (along with bringing either gel packs or cubes, I have re-discovered my childhood love of Jolly Ranchers).

1. Use variety in how you run. I don’t typically do consecutive runs in exactly the same way, meaning I don’t pick a pace and then jog for “x” amount of time. Instead, I try to play a different type of game each time that I run (not in the Jigsaw “let’s play a game” type of way), where I vary the treadmill speed and incline according to the show I’m watching, the music I’m hearing, or the audiobook that I’m listening to. For example, I might decide, “I’m going to slightly adjust the incline, one click up or down, during the refrain of each song.” Or, using a shuffled playlist, “I’ll jog at this pace until a song by Prince plays and then slow down a bit until I hear Journey.” Or, when watching a tv show or movie, I’ll decide to adjust my incline during each commercial break, every time Wake Forest scores (watching Wake basketball this year was much less enjoyable than watching Wake football), or after every scene switch. I think you get the point, which is to try to add some variety and flavor to your treadmill runs. Doing this type of thing has also broken up my 90-minute runs into sections that I find are easier to get through from a mental standpoint.

2. Embrace the feelings you feel. Even now, after logging several hundred miles, I feel like my runs are often a struggle. More often than not, this struggle is mostly in my head. And, more often than not, it’s a matter of overcoming your mind telling you that what you’re doing is too hard, too boring, too exhausting, etc. But if you just get started and try to keep going–try to push through those feelings–you’ll see that the feelings will pass. That doesn’t mean that you won’t have to re-engage these feelings later on in the same run or in runs on other days. But you’ll build up a memory bank of instances in which you DID get through those feelings and emotional hurdles. For me, knowing that I have gotten through such struggles before–and will get through now and in the future–is a very empowering feeling. I not only use that feeling to get through a difficult run on a given day but also take that feeling with me outside of the gym. While completing a hard run gives me self-confidence and shows some degree of resilience, running has become something that consistently gives me energy (both emotionally and physically).

3. Think the thoughts that you have. You can use your runs–and I’ve done this myself on many occasions–as a time for trying to work out strategies for unrelated problems, concerns, and anxieties that you are experiencing; likewise, you can, if you’re in the mood, use the treadmill as a space for letting ideas and thoughts marinate and grow. Who knows, maybe you’ll come up with a great idea for a weekend trip, figure out a solution to a nagging research question or issue at work, or figure out what you’re TRULY passionate about, what you REALLY want to do as a career.

A final point. If you feel like you are having a serious problem, STOP! Don’t force it. I’ve attempted to push through a serious physical problem more than once, and I can assure you that it’s not worth it in the long run (pun intended). As Journey’s Steve Perry sang in 1986, “be good to yourself!”

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