Coach Mike Mead

February 2010

Tread Lightly Dear Runner!

Wow, I’m glad January is behind us! It had to be one of the coldest one’s I’ve experienced in my years living in Georgia. I have experienced colder Januarys during my years growing up in Michigan. In particular, the years of 1976-78 were particularly memorable since I was becoming a more serious runner.

The winter of 1976 was my senior year of high school and I intended to get into competitive shape before outdoor track season, but I was not a tough runner. My school did not have tread mills, so it was either get out and run outside or run through the hallways of my high school after hours. I was soft and chose to run the hallways – about four laps for a mile, depending if I cut through the cafeteria or took the more challenging route running through the balcony of the gym.

When I went off to college, I spent my first two winters in Michigan training in some pretty snowy conditions of the winters of 1977 and 1978. With no more access to my old high school, it was pretty much running outdoors, except in blizzard-conditions that we faced at least once each of those two winters. My junior college did not have indoor training facilities to run, so it was the snow-packed roads around campus that were often slick that were our training sites during those short, cold, gloomy days. It wasn’t until March of those two years that we were usually able to once again run the pavement free from snow and ice, or the nearby trails that were blanketed in snow for two or three months.

When I got to Georgia in 1978 and spent my first winter in 1979, I did not have to deal with the seasonal obstacles of back home, except for the occasional “snow jams” that came about once a winter in the years since. The point I’m building up to is that since those days, runners today have more options for running indoors during such conditions we faced last month.

Georgia, unfortunately, does not have any legitimate indoor training facilities like one finds in other parts of the country. Runners can find some alternatives at health clubs and centers that have tread mills and other sorts of apparatuses.

It seems more and more runners make use of tread mills, even when the weather is fair. I’ve given tread mills a try now and then over the last 20 years and I just don’t care for them. The last time I ran on one was in November 2008 when I was at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships in Slippery Rock, Pa. The weather was not too kind -- snow and about 25 degrees most of the week. I wimped out and ran on a tread mill twice during the five days I was in Slippery Rock.

Tread mills just do not fit me. Perhaps being vertically enhanced – at almost 6-foot, 4-inches – creates most of my dislike since I’m always fearful I’ll fly off the back of the contraption. With my stride length, I feel like I have to shorten it to fit on these potential death traps. I also feel like the dog behind the lead dog of a sled team – the scenery never changes! The televisions that are placed in front of these tread mills have their limitations.

I like battling the elements most of the time, except in cold, rainy conditions. There are no challenges on a tread mill. I tell my runners that battling the elements give you mental and physical advantages over competitors who take the “fair-weather” training route.

Once I finish running on a tread mill for more than 15 minutes, I feel like my equilibrium is thrown off when I step off. I stagger around the room for a minute or two as though I’m a drunk failing a sobriety test at a traffic stop. At least the room isn’t spinning!

The “non-believers” say running is boring. Tread mill running IS boring! You might as well place them in a prison cell to get the full claustrophobic effect!

But to be fair, tread mills have some usefulness. For runners coming back from lengthy injuries, using a tread mill to begin a steady return is beneficial. They provide a smooth, consistent and soft surface compared to pavement or trails.

If you like to sweat, running on a tread mill – at least for me – makes one sweat faster than running outdoors. I usually sweat buckets when I’ve run on a tread mill. It’s more like running with a shirt on in July.

Perhaps if you need to sharpen your mental game as a runner, you might benefit running on a tread mill. While it’s boring for me, maybe for those needing to better focus on running efforts and mechanics just might get some help in this department. No distractions, for sure!

If you are trying to get faster, a valid benefit to running on a tread mill is helping with improving your pace. Say you’re having trouble running a certain speed. Using a tread mill allows you to set a particular speed and see how long you can hold your pace. I recommend you get proper instruction from trained fitness experts if you use a tread mill for any kind of speed training.

For me, I’ll stick to running on good old Mother Earth until the next time I feel compelled to running in place.