COLUMN: Runners should not dread the treadmill

It’ll probably be raining by the time this goes to print, which means everyone will skip their Friday classes and either stay in watching Netflix or contemplate going to the gym. It’s always a toss-up at the Lyon Center on rainy days.

On the days I brave the precipitation for a gym session, I spend most of my miserable walk over there working up the motivation to overcome my dread of the treadmill. This workout machine of nightmares isn’t particularly difficult, but it can be boring beyond belief. There’s something so mentally frustrating about exerting so much effort and not going anywhere.

In fact, the earliest treadmill was practically a torture device. During the 1800s, the British actually forced prisoners to use a treadmill as a method of hard labor. The treadmill’s power would pump water or grind corn or simply do nothing at all except torture the prisoners. According to The Washington Post, running on a treadmill was considered one of the harshest forms of punishment for almost 100 years. It was outlawed in British prisons in 1889.

It’s not hard to see why. Treadmills are monotonous in a way that outdoor runs will never be. There are no quick dips in the sidewalk when you come to a driveway. There aren’t any traffic lights to give you an excuse to take a two-minute breather. There is no change of scenery, just a little flashing green dot that never seems to be going as fast as your legs are.

However, when I figured out how to use the pace consistency to my advantage, I discovered the secret to treadmill workouts. It’s pushing the pace. The faster you run, the faster you can get off the darned contraption. I started by just upping the speed with every lap that I completed. Every lap became a much harder challenge than the one before, but I surprised myself by how quickly I could get comfortable at a new pace. Before I knew it, I was running much faster than I ever do outside, and I shaved several minutes off of my usual 5K jog.

I found out treadmills are also great for speed workouts, which is one of the most underappreciated and underused training methods for casual runners. Ultimately, running is all about muscle memory, so forcing your legs and lungs to learn a new pace is the key to getting faster. Of course, most people can’t run much faster for long periods of time, so that’s where speed workouts come in.

The idea is to alternate between a fast and slow pace, usually with a 1:2 ratio. That could mean running all out for one minute, and then walking for two minutes. It could also mean running a certain distance, and slow jogging twice that distance to recover. One of my favorite methods is to sprint during the chorus of songs in my running playlists and then take it easy during the verses. Silly speed workouts like that one remind me of how ironic it is that these torture machines of the past have ultimately become an element of modern-day leisure.

Today, treadmills are a main staple in gyms and homes all over the world. Almost 40 percent of the $3.5 billion of fitness equipment retail sales in North America come from treadmills.

What you’re paying for is control. The powerful thing about treadmills is that it gives you complete autonomy over your pace, your incline, your distance, your workout. I usually get off the treadmill after about 35 minutes, feeling a little unsteady on solid ground again but very confident that I completed a run that satisfied all of my physical goals for the day.

When I get up the next day, the soreness from my treadmill workout has settled into my muscles overnight. I want to stretch out my legs on an easy run, but I can hear the cars splashing through puddles outside the window and know that it’s another nasty day without even looking. As much as I hate treadmills, I appreciate that it gives me the option to run on rainy days.

Meghan Coyle is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. She is also the online managing editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Chasing Pavements,” typically  runs Tuesdays.