It was earlier this year, actually, when I decided I needed to try to actively commit to running again. I even signed up for the New York Road Runners, one of the many organizations in the city who throw the countless races that take place here. What would be more serendipitous for me, the neophyte Brooklynite, than to make my first race the Brooklyn Half Marathon?

According to everyone I knew, it was an awfully tough race to register for. Tough, as in, it sells out in under three hours, and you’re lucky if the server doesn’t crash on you.

Still, as it were, I got in. I was running the Brooklyn Half, and my goal was simply to finish in under 3 hours. I figured that was an easy enough goal from someone recovering from an injury, right?

I even committed to training for it. Four days a week, I hit up my gym, and jumped on that miserable treadmill. I’d turn the TV to the news (or put my iPod on something ratchet), and I’d do my little hamster thing.

The gym made it easy. I’d drop Mini-me off at the Kids’ Club, put my things in my locker, and boom. She’d outgrown her jogging stroller, and isn’t quite able to keep up with me (here’s hoping she doesn’t start passing me anytime soon) so being able to have her safe and nearby in an air conditioned space – which, I’m ashamed to admit, is important to me – while I get my daily fill of political foolishness and a steam room? The decision felt easy. I’d just make sure that I hit the pavement during the taper, and the final long run of my training to get a feel for the great outdoors. Surely, it couldn’t be that big of a problem, right?

Right?

The final Saturday of my training, before my taper, I grabbed Sushi and Sala and headed out towards Prospect Park. We were doing fine… for about twenty minutes. Eventually, the lower-body fatigue began to set in. If you think Sushi looks bad here:

…then you should’ve seen me, by about mile 7. Ed had to come out, bring us all food, and sat with us until I had enough energy to walk back home. There was no way he was letting me “run” the Brooklyn Half, and I’m pretty sure he uttered a few swear words and something about being “nuttier than squirrel sh-t” before the phrase “give someone your registration” flew out of his mouth.

In hindsight, there are several things I did wrong. Please, be wise, and learn from my epic, epic mistakes.

1) If you are coming off of an injury, you absolutely must train away from a treadmill simply to regain muscle memory. Running on a treadmill is great at training you to run forward, but what about turning and running? What about leaping over things? What about uneven ground?

2) Running on a treadmill insulates you from learning how to adapt to changing weather. I ran faster when it was cold than when it was hot. I ran even faster in the rain. I was Greased Lightening when it’s overcast. I know all of these things because I’ve embraced running outside. What happens if you don’t respond well to certain types of weather? You have to learn what makes you perform poorly, what forces you to use too much energy (saving all your energy is always important) and how to mitigate those circumstances on your own. You don’t want any surprises the final week of your training.

3) Treadmill running, because it generally requires less energy than outdoor hoofing-it, actually insulates you from having to learn how much sugar you need to complete certain legs of your run. Do you need more calories after every mile? In 15-minute increments? Maybe every 20 minutes? And if so, how many?

4) The treadmill is counterproductive to speed work and, often, makes you think you’re slower than you actually are. Unless you have a highly advanced treadmill that has the simple buttons that allow you shift through several pre-set jogging speeds, it’s tough to get an adequate understanding of your average speed. Sometimes, you have to stop altogether or “step on the sides” in order to change your treadmill speed. Nobody is here for that.

5) The natural pulling function of the treadmill actually pulls your foot behind you, instead of you planting your foot into the ground and pushing your body forward. When you think about the actual biomechanics of running, you put your foot down and push forward… the treadmill encourages the opposite… which can encourage poor form, “elephant syndrome” (if, when you’re on the treadmill and it sounds like a herd of elephants because you’re stomping so loudly? poor form.), and the ever-popular shin and knee injuries.

So, when the question becomes “can you train for a race on a treadmill?” My personal answer would have to be something along the lines of, “Don’t do it! Reconsider! Read some literature on the subject!” but that doesn’t mean the treadmill can’t help. I have “easy days” built into my training schedule, where I hit my treadmill instead of the concrete… and you can never count out the treadmill for lower-body strengthening. Many a person have – and probably will – use the treadmill for full-on training, but for consistent improvement I’d strongly suggest leaving it behind.

Have you trained for a 10k or above on a treadmill? What was your experience? What’s your biggest training blunder?

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