Skip to main content

Treadmill or Dreadmill - snow solutions

Winter time - the bane of most athletes because of the adverse conditions. Snow, ice, sub-freezing temperatures all make getting outside for workouts and training difficult. Cyclists don't seem to mind moving inside onto the trainer when things get sketchy and some triathletes always ride inside. But runners? Treadmills are to be reserved those days when there is no other option and given the photos circulating the internet, that rarely happens. I'll admit to having an adverse reaction to a treadmill as well, trying to avoid playing hamster at all costs. But is that always the correct response? Well, it depends. (There never is an easy answer...) What are the goals of the workout? If there's a specific time pace or interval set that needs to be hit, then perhaps the treadmill is the smartest answer. Another thing to consider is modifying the workout - hills on the trail instead of a speed workout on slick roads. There are still benefits from hills that will carry over into added strength and speed. If the road conditions are such that it's more dangerous to be outside then in, find a safer place to get the miles done. However, it the mental stress of the treadmill would lead to a less then effective workout, then find a way to get outside. 

In 2006, when I was training for the Myrtle Beach Marathon (a Feburary race) Denver got hit hard with big snow storms on back to back weekends. One of those storms dumped three feet of snow in a day. My long run was replaced by a snowshoe outing that weekend and shoveling as my strength training. And the rest of my workouts that month were moved inside at the local YMCA. With an hour limit on the treadmils during peak times, it was just enough to get in and get nine miles of quaility running - although I did try to avoid peak hours. I designed workouts that were treadmill friendly - based on time instead of miles for the repeats and hills. I even did my long runs on the treadmill - up to 24 miles one time. Once the snow started melting, I moved some of my runs back outside, but kept returning to the safety of the treadmill for the speed work. Was I worried that I wouldn't be able to handle the pounding in the road for 26.2 miles after spending most of my time on the softer treadmill deck? Yes. I had heard horror stories about people crashing and burning because they weren't ready for the pavement. Turned out that the few runs I was still able to get done outside were enought. I ran one of my fastest times (2:55) and felt great the entire time. So if a treadmill is easily accessible and there is a specific goal race in mind, I will advocate for the safety and effectiveness the machine provides. 

But if running is a mental relase and staring at walls makes the thought of the miles work instead of fun, then head outside and run. Understand that times will be slower and the phsycial effort harder.   Before you do, some things to think about for safety. Getting those fresh tracks on a few inches of snow is an amazing experience - even more so if there's more coming down. But snow can cover dangers like ice and make being aware even more important. If there is a chance of ice, I always bring my Kahtoola microspikes. There are plenty of options out there for additional traction - that's just what I prefer. The extra weight of having effective traction is far better then slipping and breaking something. And if I need traction, then it means I need to be more alert for cars. Stopping 3000 lbs on ice isn't a given - it's better for me to wait and make sure they see me and can stop. Obviously, on trails that isn't an issue, but for road runners personal awareness is vital. Another thing to consider is visibility. The standard practice is to try to wear light and bright colored clothes in the dark to make yourself more visible to other people. Well, light and bright doesn't work as well in falling snow. The light colors blend into the landscape, making you harder to see. This is one of the few times I would actually suggest running in darker colors! They stand out against the white on white world of snow and ice. As always, reflective gear and a headlight should be considered mandatory - be seen and see what you are running over. I personally like sticking to side streets during my early morning snowy runs - quieter roads mean less traffic and fewer cars. I'll still do some workouts in the snow and ice, but I'll adjust my goal pace or routes to account for conditions. If it means hills instead of sub-max intervals, that's what happens. It also means using heart rate for the intervals instead of pace - the effort level will be there even if the speed is not because of the cold or ice.

Regardless of what you choose - inside on the treadmill or outside, getting the work done is what matters. Running is running and the personal reasons and goals of each run should be what determines the location, not peer pressure from the frozen eyelash and bead selfies.