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.]]