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AMR Aid Station: How to Beat Treadmill Boredom

Eight years ago, the treadmill saved my life.

If that sounds overly dramatic, well, at the time, I was feeling overly dramatic.

Nearly to this day eight years ago, my then-husband sprung on me a surprise divorce. We lived together for more than 20 years, but it took only four months to separate our shared lives, divide our possessions and find new places to live.

I remember these dates acutely for obvious reasons but also because while I was running the Boston Marathon in April 2011, my mortgage lender called and left a message saying if I didn’t fax over a certain document by 5 pm, the whole deal would collapse. I got the message after I crossed the finish line and staggered back to the hotel room where my mother and daughter, then 6, awaited. It was 4:20. Racing down to the business center to fax said document after running 26.2 miles—that was dramatic!

How was I going to run with primary custody of a 6-year-old, a full-time job outside the home and no family within 250 miles?

[Download Another Mother Runner's Five Sanity-Saving Treadmill Workouts]

treadmill boredom
Do you want to play Princess, do you want to play Princess, do you want to play Princess? Mom. Mom! Mom?

Ex got the couch, I got the treadmill.

I had to hire a mechanic to take apart the treadmill and put it back together in the basement of the tiny house that Nina and I moved into. My dear friend Hillary sent over her handy husband to install the required 3-prong outlet and do something-something with the wiring.

“You’re going to have to cut a hole in the ceiling,” said Hillary’s handy husband, who stood 6’4’’ and had to stoop in our basement.

I looked up at him—way, way up. “No, I’m not,” I said. He was smart, but I am short.

treadmill boredom
Life changer: Treadmill-friendly outlet installed by friend's handy husband, summer of 2011.

I can hear you moaning through the Ethernet: But the treadmill is so boooorrrrrrinnnnng.

Yes. But so is playing Princess in a Tent all afternoon with an exhausted nap-refusenik preschooler. Hitting “repeat” on a 1-minute toddler tune for the entirety of a 45-minute car ride. Reading the exact same books in the exact same order with the exact same inflections every single night for six months. Mom! You missed a page! Start over!

I love my kid. You love yours. Endurance is our superpower.

I was going to say that treadmills are the saviors of single/divorced running moms, but I know plenty of married moms of kids under the age of 10 who swear by theirs too. We won’t need them forever, but while the kids are still too young to leave at home alone, there are ways to survive the boredom of the treadmill to save your sanity for the other 23.5 hours of the day.

treadmill boredom
Today the treadmill is an expensive drying and shoe rack + storage area. Tomorrow, if the freeze holds, the runway will be cleared for takeoff and Netflix queued up for motivation.


1.The TV

It is a true fact that time drags on the treadmill. The obvious solution for any kind of boredom, as every mother knows, is distraction. My basement treadmill faces a TV. But oftentimes in those early years, Nina would watch Sponge Bob while I ran, so I plugged headphones into our iPad, which had the dual purpose of covering the treadmill display, so I couldn’t see just how little I had run.

I came to prefer watching on the iPad, even on early mornings when I ran before Nina woke up, and even, dare I say, came to look forward to it (okay, not really, but almost, and that counts, right?). Motivation was allowing myself to watch episodes of Girls or Orange Is the New Black or Downton Abbey only on the treadmill.

2. Music

BF Rick runs on a treadmill at the Y, and his survival strategy is to have sports on the treadmill console TV, sound off—any sport with lots of movement, he says, basketball is best. He listens to music through headphones. Double down distraction.

The "ideal" pace for music while running is 160 to 180 beats per minute. Or whatever moves you.

treadmill boredom
Chris Clark, then a 37-year-old mom of two in Alaska, qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics doing ALL HER RUNS ON THE TREADMILL.

3. Workouts

Take your normal, regular run outside, one that makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something but that hasn’t leveled you—whether that’s 2 miles or 6 miles—at your normal I’ve-got-this pace, whether that’s 10 or 15 minutes per mile.

Now put that same run at the same pace on a treadmill and O.M.G. It takes for-EVER. And this may just be me and my brain, but my “easy” pace outside feels SO much harder on the treadmill.

The fix for this is NOT to do the same runs inside as you would outside. If at all possible, save your long runs for the days when someone can watch your kids.

Change it up. For instance, you might warm up at an easy pace for 5 to 10 minutes, then speed up the pace one click for one minute for however long and fast you can stand, then click back down. Or you could run one or two minutes per mile faster for a minute or three, then go back to easy pace. You can use this trick with the incline too—ticking up by 1% every minute. The possibilities are endless, and you can easily fool yourself into running 20-30 minutes, which is all you really need for a decent workout.

Of course, you can run long if you want to or you must. Chris Clark, then a 37-year-old pathologist with two kids under the age of 10, qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics doing ALL of her runs on her treadmill in her home in Anchorage, Alaska.

Need ideas, specifics? Mother Runners chimed in with their treadmill workouts here. Lisa Rainsberger, 1985 Boston Marathon champ, who used the treadmill to train through Michigan winters offers designed four challenging workouts for Runner’s World to increase speed, build strength, burn fat and crush hills.

[Download Another Mother Runner's Five Sanity-Saving Treadmill Workouts]

4. Some physical considerations

On the treadmill, you are not facing the same wind resistance you do when you run outside. This means SWEAT. A big fan helps. A hand towel is useful.

Coaches and physiologists will tell you that you should set the incline at 1 percent to offset the absent wind resistance. This is (obviously) more important if you are training frequently on the treadmill with intent for a serious goal.

Also: Because the treadmill is moving and always straight ahead, you’re not pushing off in the same way you do on ground and your footfall is pretty much always the same. The lack of micro-movements affects your biomechanics; your calf muscles might feel a little wonky.

I sometimes fantasize about getting rid of the treadmill, now that daughter Nina is 14. But then we have a storm like this weekend’s, where snow and rain were followed by a flash freeze. I’ll run in snow, but ice is an obvious no-go zone. You know what that means: Time to find something to look forward to watching on Netflix …



*Note: Shame-free, another-mother-runner-supportive zone.]]

22 responses to “AMR Aid Station: How to Beat Treadmill Boredom

  1. I never thought I would say this but I miss my treadmill. My husband thought I didn’t use it and truthfully I did rarely use it. And it truthfully was really, really, really old. But anyway he donated it and now I don’t have one and it’s a super hot and humid stormy summer here. Thanks for this post.

  2. Love this post! I am wayyyy slower on the treadmill too. I love/hate the “machine”, but I have to admit that it’s a lifesaver for me (single mom of 1 kid who lives in Québec, with forever winters and icy roads). I don’t have access to a tv, but I listen to music or podcasts. I sometimes feel guilty for running slow, but at least, I get my workout done. One of my resolutions this year is to go on the treadmill early in the morning. That way, no excuses after work. Sometimes, my son wakes up in the middle of the workout and I have to stop to go upstairs and feed him something (or find the iPad). He’s almost 10: 1 stop is OK, more than 1, no!

  3. I’m glad to hear that others run slower on the treadmill as well. It’s definately a necessity for the shorter daylight, icy roads, and sub zero temperatures of Michigan winters.

  4. Thanks for the perfectly-timed post! I’m always comparing my (infrequent) treadmill attempts to outdoor runs and feeling terrible about them. With a work trip scheduled this week, I bookmarked the post and vowed to give it another try. Yesterday I got through the “Minutes of Misery” workout you gals liked to and felt like a rock star. Thanks!!

  5. Thanks for this article. I know a lot of people hate the treadmill but it keeps me from making excuses after work. Since I need to be at work at 7 the AM’s are a struggle. I find that the treadmill gives me no excuses, and real safety when it is icy. I only run outside in the winter when I can run in light- usually on the weekends. The boredom can be overcome- another challenge to conquer! At least I am moving when watching TV! And even though I don’t always pop dinner into the oven before I get on it I feel like it is more convenient for making dinner, etc. I bought mine with some money from my Dad’s after his death so I typically also feel very thankful to him for being a part of my running life even now.

  6. I created a playlist that I would go faster for one song and then slower for the next. The goal was to run 5 miles I think. HOWEVER, I put this terrible song at then end. SO, I would have an incentive to push my pace and not have to listen to Britany Spears… I mean the song I didn’t like.

  7. The treadmill for me is a blessing and a curse. I get to run, which is great, but sometimes it can get dull, even while watching Netflix.

    FYI the link to the treadmill workout PDF is linking to another blog post. I was able to find it in the email though. Thanks, I especially like the Miles + Muscle workout for some cross training!

  8. When adding up my miles from last year I saw how those mid-week 4am, not otherwise possible, treadmill runs added up. I try to read articles on the screen while running but my WiFi isn’t the best and many links fail on its browser so that keeps me focused on that silliness while miles go by. I also get my incline training on it – sometimes before adding outside miles for distance. The downhill option on mine also gets me to do that last mile when I really want to stop sooner. Life is better with a treadmill!

  9. I bought a treadmill when I first started running and was a single mom of young kids. It was a life saver. Then, I found AMR and decided I was a weather wimp compared to everyone else. I live in New Mexico! My kids got older, I decided I liked running outside. I got rid of the treadmill after I went a whole year without using it. I don’t mind most weather but I hate the wind. Early in the morning when I am still cozy in bed, and I can hear the wind, I really think about that treadmill!

  10. I am a baby – I hate winter but live in Minnesota. I use the treadmill every year all winter long and I have for years. We have ours set up in front of a TV that has access to our DVR, Netflix, Amazon Prime or a DVD. There have been shows I only watch while running on a treadmill. Lately I have been adding in Aaptiv workouts a couple days a week and absolutely love them. I think they are just like going to Orange Theory but better – on my schedule, in my basement, and cheaper. The longest I have run is 18 miles once while marathon training and it was pouring raining out and that was the only day I could do my long run. It does not bother me and I love the convenience.

  11. Just got off my treadmill, it’s really cold here in Ohio today. I watched the Today show and varied the speed every half mile or so. It’s been a lifesaver for me, I got divorced 9 years ago and my kids were too young to leave alone at that time. The farthest I have run on my treadmill is 13 miles, I watched a James Bond movie! I definitely prefer outside but I am grateful for the treadmill!

  12. Definitely have a love/ hate relationship with the treadmill. I try to be positive because it allows me to run safely in the dark after my son goes to bed and keeps me safe and sane through cold snowy winters. I will listen to pump up music and use pandora so I am not listening to the same songs over and over. I will sometimes save a particular Netflix show for the treadmill only. Also I find workouts where I get to push buttons are easier because it is more dynamic than just running. If I need to just run I will cover the screen.

  13. Tish – LOVE THIS!! Especially – ” 1 minute of your favorite exercise**
    **Not having one is not an option. Sorry.”

  14. I LOVE my treadmill, always have. It helped me get started running when I lived in a runner-unfriendly climate (Houston) and did shift work, and it’s kept me running for going on 23 years since through moves, job changes, cancer, other health issues. (up until last summer, I’d say 99% of my running was on treadmill with occasional outside short runs and of course races) It’s great mental training too. When I first started, listened to NPR on a boom box (esp Sat AM programs) and CD/mix tapes, then the magic ipod shuffle arrived and took over. First I used it with music, now with podcasts (train with pods, race marathon/shorter with music, race ultras with podcasts and some music). My treadmill got me my BQs and Bostons. I did paces on the tmill I don’t think I would have gotten outside, and allowed me to run in safety at any time of day or night. (yes, I’m a treadmill LOVER) I find movies/TV hard to watch given my vertical motion, though I can stream a race on my iphone on the console (e.g., Houston marathon) and sort of watch it while I listen to something else. I also have an old Runervals DVD that I used to use occasionally but now don’t have a TV in the treadmill area. One thing treadmills are great for is simulating race courses – on long runs, I simulated my BQ races and Boston (0% for the downhill/flat) and it really made a difference. Longest treadmill run so far: 25.2 miles (yeah, I know, but I was DONE LOL). Tip – stretch your hip flexors and do lateral strength to help offset the stride-shortening and reduced side-to-side movements on the treadmill. Also stretch shins and top of feet (hero pose) as well as calves. Enjoy!

  15. The first step is to approach a treadmill workout with a positive attitude. To avoid ice, I often have to do runs on the treadmill and I am greatful that I can. When I do long runs on the treadmill (my longest is 22), I break them up into smaller chunks and get off to go to the bathroom or refill my water bottle. I GET to run when I’m on the treadmill. How lucky am I?

  16. I have stopped fighting the reality that my “comfortable” pace on the TM is way slower than my “comfortable” pace outside and run for time instead of distance. Having an audiobook, podcast, or TV show that is Only For The Treadmill sweetness it up for me. I have Season 2 of The Good Place waiting for me today!

  17. AMR has a coupon code for Aaptiv. No more boring treadmill workouts. P,is, you’ll get into the best shape of your life. I sound like a commercial, I know. But it’s true.

  18. I read my Kindle and watch t.v. Although the book I read on my kindle has to be quick moving and no slow to develop books. The treadmill saved me the year of the Polar Vortex we had in Michigan. I was newly divorced, 3 kiddos, and training for a spring 50k with the worst winter we had in 90 years.

  19. I started using the Aaptiv app a year ago and I love it! Treadmill specific sessions which are all about frequent changes in speed and incline to get you through!

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