How to Run Long on the Treadmill Without Losing Your Mind

I live in Boston, and I’m training for a marathon this spring. I’ve been doing all my long runs on a treadmill due to #snowmageddon, and I’m up to 16 miles. Do you have any tips to help get me through the boredom? Also, how do I transition back to the roads if the weather ever improves? —Stephanie

Kudos to you for taking your training to the treadmill this season. The key to marathon preparation is to train with quality and consistency, which you can accomplish on a treadmill. That said, running longer than an hour on a treadmill can be—yawn!—boring, because of the lack of stimulation and scenery change that outdoor long runs provide.

However, it is possible to simulate an outdoor long run indoors without going crazy. Here are my three favorite strategies.

Eat the elephant one bite at a time. One of the worst parts of an indoor long run is imagining the hours you’ll spend running in place. Instead, change something (the incline, the speed, your focus) every quarter mile. You’ll be more engaged, and it’ll be more similar to an outdoor long run. Try this:

  • At 0.25 of every mile Increase the pace by 0.2 to 0.3 mph for 30 to 60 seconds to change up your stride. When you return to your slower long run pace, it will feel easier.
  • At 0.50 of every mile Perform a head-to-toe form inventory to shift your focus from the run to your body. Relax your shoulders, swing your arms parallel to one another, and center your shoulders over your hips. Count how many times your right foot hits the belt for 60 seconds. The ideal cadence is around 85 to 92 right strides per minute.
  • At 0.75 of every mile Increase the incline slightly to two to three percent, or just enough to make it feel a little more challenging. You’ll use different muscles and build strength. If your goal race is hilly, use the treadmill to exactly simulate the inclines and declines of your course.
  • At the mile marker Before you begin, write out a numbered list that corresponds to the number of miles you’re planning to run. Dedicate each mile to a person or charity that’s important to you, or spend a mile focusing on a mantra or visualizing part of your goal race’s course. This gives your mind a positive distraction for each mile.

Entertain yourself. Binge-watching television shows or inspiring running movies while on the treadmill helps pass the time and keep you engaged. If a screen isn’t available, listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or a custom running playlist. It’s an obvious strategy, but it works to fight boredom.

Break it into two separate runs. If nothing can help you fathom the idea of completing your full distance in one shot, you can break up the run into two shorter runs that total your target distance. For example, if you need to run 16 miles, you could run 10 miles in the morning and another six in the afternoon. To learn more about splitting up long runs,click here.

For those who are training full-time on a treadmill due to bad weather, be cautious when transitioning back to roads or trails. Move shorter runs outside before you tackle an outdoor long run. It’s also wise to train by effort instead of pace at all times, since your pace will vary from inside to outside.

In the end, it’s all about getting in the time on your feet and simulating the changes in speed and terrain a runner experiences during an outdoor long run. Have faith in your preparation this season. Although treadmill running differs from road running, it is a very effective way to prepare for a marathon.

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You can ask Coach Jenny a running question on the Ask Coach Jenny Facebook Page or email your question here. Follow her on Twitter @coachjenny.

Back to Boston

To say that I’ve never been a runner is an understatement. In fact, any time I’ve even seen people running for fun, I have always wondered to myself, What are they running from? How miserable are their lives that they would resort to such torture? I don’t mean to offend serious runners, it’s just I never understood their passion. This might have stemmed from my childhood. I had asthma, and every time we would play tag at recess, I would think my lungs were going to give out on me.

As I became older, I became friends with more people who loved to run. In fact, their happiness pretty much depended on it. I would hear about the runner’s high, and how there’s nothing else like it. Being an impulsive decision maker, I signed up for my first half-marathon in 2011. Go big or go home right? During that time, I went to the gym maybe once a month. So you probably can guess how much real training I actually did. But when race day came, I was ready. After all, I had on super-cute running clothes. I thought 13.1 miles would be a breeze. Boy, was I wrong. I think I might’ve made it about two miles before I wanted to die. Where was that runner’s high? I promised myself I would never do something so stupid ever again.

Now here I am, nearly five years later, and I have made the insane goal to complete 26.2 miles in the Boston Marathon this April. The funniest part about all this is not the fact I am running. It is that I will be running on a prosthetic leg. Why on Earth would I put myself through this? It’s quite simple: To show myself—and the rest of the world—that I can.

Unbreakable

On April 15, 2013, two brothers tried to destroy my life when they brought bombs to the Boston Marathon. I can remember everything so vividly. It was my birthday weekend. My boyfriend at the time had flown my five-year-old son and I into town to watch his mom run in the race. It was such a great weekend. We caught a game at Fenway Park, toured the city, went to a concert. On Monday, our group of nine made our way to the marathon route. First we stopped at the 17-mile marker. There she was. Mona must have been experiencing that runner’s high that everyone always talks about, because she was smiling! Mile 17 and still happy? I was impressed.

We wanted to see her cross the finish line, so we made our way toward Boylston Street. Just a few minutes after we found our spot near the finish, my son Noah grew restless. “How many runners are there, Mom?” he asked with a sarcastic tone. “When can we finally go?” We were on a crowded street, and I had nothing to keep him occupied. Then the most random idea came to me. “Hey Noah, why don’t you sit on Mommy’s feet and play in the rocks like you are a scientist?” Thankfully, this was a cool idea to a five-year-old. I can still remember my feet wanting to fall asleep with his body weight on top of me, but at least I would be able to see Mona and ensure my child wouldn’t be lost in the crowd.

Thinking about that decision still gives me chills. Only a few moments after Noah sat down, the first bomb went off. That is the part I wish I could forget, but the memory enters my dreams every night. I can replay everything. I was hoisted into the air and thrown onto the hard pavement. I tried to move, but my body parts were flung out around me. My eyes scanned my surroundings: Pools of blood, piles of BBs. Was that a foot? I glanced to my right and literally saw a woman take her last breath. It was like the worst possible horror movie, only I was the star. What just happened? Why am I in excruciating pain? But more importantly, Where is Noah?!? I remember turning my head every which way looking for him. I saw tons of people. Their faces were screaming in terror, but the sounds were muffled. (I later found out my eardrums were blown out from the blast.) “Mommy! Mommy!” I couldn’t hear anyone else, but I knew I heard Noah. I had found him. My eyes locked with his, and I began trying to figure out a way for me to get him—but how? I looked down and my legs were arranged in positions even the best contortionist could never pull off. I had an idea. I could pull him toward me. I just had to get my arm above my head. Surely I could do that. Everything would be okay. I took a deep breath. But then I saw my left hand. Its bones were completely exposed and sticking out. This was it. I could do nothing to protect my son. This was the moment I was going to die. My breathing got heavier. I laid my head down and looked up at the sky and said a prayer. “Lord if this is my time, take me. But let me know that my son is okay.” If you don’t believe in miracles already, you will after this next part: Moments after I said that prayer, my boyfriend’s aunt picked Noah up and sat him directly beside me. I knew he was alright. It was going to be okay.

Following the blast, I was in a medically induced coma for a week. Doctors performed surgery after surgery to clean out bomb debris from my body. I remember waking up. My mom is the first person I saw. She came all the way from Texas to be by my side. I tried to talk. But nothing came out. A large feeding tube had been placed down my throat, and the words I was trying so desperately to form came out like gasps of air. My mom gave me a piece of paper and shakily I attempted to write the words, “God is not finished with me yet.” Nearly two years and more than 30 surgeries later, and I still believe that with all of my heart.

Road to Recovery

I spent 56 days in the hospital while doctors tried to piece me back together. I wish I could say that things went back to normal. But any sense of normalcy in my life was blown away. I sustained injuries from head to toe. The worst injury was to my lower left leg. Suddenly, the word “amputation” was mentioned a lot. Doctors spent 18 months trying to save my leg, even though in my heart, I knew I would eventually have to have it amputated. It was still physically attached, but my leg stopped being a part of me the day of the bombing. Chunks of it were missing, and I didn’t have the bones it needed to function properly. I looked like leftovers from a shark’s meal. But still, the doctors knew a lot better than I did, and I trusted that limb salvage was the best route to go. I waited patiently, trying every surgery and trusting in a bigger plan. After all, I was just blessed to still be alive.

After 17 major reconstructive surgeries, I knew what had to be done. It was time to cut off what was holding me back. On November 10, 2014, I made the decision to amputate my left leg below the knee. I referred to it as a bad boyfriend, something I needed to get out of my life for good. So the weekend before I threw it a goodbye party, gave my foot one last pedicure and bid it a final farewell. And let me tell you, the feeling I felt after waking up from my amputation was one I will never forget—the purest form of relief. I knew from the point on I was no longer in limbo, and wouldn’t have to rely on pain medicine or a wheelchair to make it through the day. My life was finally moving forward again.

Doctors attempted to salvage DiMartino’s mangled left leg. But after 17 surgeries, she decided to have it amputated. Before the surgery, she threw her leg a goodbye party and treated her foot to a “Boston Strong” pedicure. (Photo courtesy of Rebekah DiMartino)

After receiving her prosthetic leg on January 7, 2015, DiMartino made this announcement on Facebook: After what seemed like the most excruciating labor and much anticipation, I am pleased to announce the arrival of my new addition at 1:06pm today. Meet Felicia. 4 pounds 8 ounces…18 inches long and absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!!!!. (Photo courtesy of Rebekah DiMartino)

I guess I had never realized how much I took my legs for granted. I had just gotten up everyday expecting to walk, to run, to jump on the trampoline with my son. But that was taken away from me. In its place though, I received gratitude. Thankfulness for every new day I get to be here, grateful for the platform I have been given to encourage others through my struggles, and so appreciative for how far technology has come in prosthetics.

My life isn’t the same, and it never will be again. But I was standing three feet away from a bomb, and I survived. And every time I look down and see where my left leg should be, instead of being angry, I am reminded that life is precious. Because of it, I will hug my son a little tighter, love my family and friends a little more, and do my small part in changing the world for the better every single day.

Two bombers may have taken my leg, but in a lot of ways they saved my life. They tried to destroy me and instead they made me stronger. That is why I vowed to run Boston this year. I can’t wait to cross the finish line.

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Rebekah DiMartino is chronicling her journey to the Boston Marathon for pace.com. She is also available for speaking engagements. For more information, follow her at facebook.com/newday.newhope.rebekahgregory.

Nutrition for Peak Performance

You Asked Me

Liz answers your questions posted on Facebook

This year I’ve lost 60 pounds, quit smoking, and started training for a half. How do I balance my dieting-self with my always hungry runner-self?

To keep your weight down and your performance up, remember food is for pleasure as well as for fueling your runs. Aim for three to four meals a day that each include 20 to 25 grams of protein to curb appetite and support recovery. Include quality carbs, which will sustain your energy and health. And every other day or so include treats you enjoy to strike a balance with those dueling inner-selves.

I’ve discovered I need more energy during my long runs. Portable energy products upset my stomach. Are there natural or home-made options?

It may be the carbohydrate load in these products that bothers you. It can be a lot to digest. Try fresh or dried fruit, such as raisins, dried pears, or apricots. Drink water after eating them to help you absorb the carbs and stay hydrated. Honey may also be easier on your stomach. Studies show it works as well as energy chews and gels in boosting endurance and it’s also a much cheaper option!

Consuming News

Liz brings you the latest research reveals foods and drinks that can
help (or hurt) your running.

Chocolate, Please

In happy news, researchers from London’s Kingston University found that dark chocolate may boost performance. Cyclists who ate two ounces daily for two weeks rode farther and tolerated more intense exercise compared with baseline tests. Researchers think epicatechins (a type of polyphenol in chocolate) may indirectly increase nitric oxide availability, which improves oxygen delivery to muscles by enhancing bloodflow. Studies show that beet juice improves performance in a similar way.

CHEW ON THIS You can make dark chocolate a part of your daily diet, but cut back on calories elsewhere. Two ounces pack about 300 calories.

Pass the Beer

Researchers at Granada University in Spain have found that beer can help the body rehydrate better after a workout than water or Gatorade.

Professor Manuel Garzon also claimed the carbonation in beer helps to quench the thirst and that its carbohydrate content can help replace lost calories, The Telegraph reports.

The study involved a group of students who were asked to work out until their body temperature reached 104 degrees. Researchers then gave beer to half of the students and water to the other half. Mr. Garzon announced the results at a press conference in Granada, saying the hydration effect in those who drank beer was “slightly better,”.

Juan Antonio Corbalan, a cardiologist who worked formerly with Real Madrid football players and Spain’s national basketball team, said beer had the perfect profile for re-hydration after sport. He has long recommended barley drinks to professional sportsmen after exercise.

Previous studies have shown most alcoholic drinks have a diuretic effect—meaning they increase the amount of liquid lost by the body through urination.

SIP ON THIS The study concluded that having more than one beer created a diuretic effect and no longer was a better hydration choice. Aim for one post-run beer and then stick to water.

Good Bugs

Gut bacteria are essential for overall health, and the more the better. Researchers from Ireland found that compared with healthy but unfit overweight men, professional rugby players had much greater bug diversity—and more of a strain called akkermansia-ceae, which is linked to lower obesity risk and lower levels of inflammatory markers that signal disease progression.

CHEW ON THIS More research needs to be done, but another reason to keep running!

A Bitter (Better) End

Rinsing your mouth with a sweet, carb-containing sports drink seems to activate brain centers, stimulating you to run harder. But what about other tastes? Australian scientists gave cyclists a bitter, calorie-free quinine drink (similar to diet tonic) to swish for 10 seconds and then swallow before sprinting. The bitter flavor boosted effort by about three percent.

SIP ON THIS Try a sweet or bitter rinse near the end of a training run to see if it helps you.

The Mysterious Intrigue of 26.2

I have yet to meet a runner this century who hasn’t been asked whether they’ve done a marathon—and if not, when they are going to. Because all runners do marathons, right? If you haven’t run one yet, then surely it’s just a matter of time, right?

I did my first marathon 23 years ago. Back then, people used to ask, ‘Where did you come in?’ because in the early 1990s, the marathon was still seen as a race against a field of opponents, not against time or the distance itself.

No one asks that now. The non-running public has realized that the answer—7,350th, 32,006th—is likely to be meaningless. It won’t matter whether you ran sub-three or walked the whole way in seven hours: once you’ve got that medal round your neck you’re a hero in their eyes.

In the minds of many runners, the marathon has a special status. It’s a journey that takes us far further than the 26.2 miles we pound out on the road. It tests us in a unique way, posing a question that cannot be answered until the finish line is reached. It is the rite of passage into real ‘runnerhood’.

Or is it? I’ve been wondering lately whether our reverence for the marathon distance has caused us to bestow upon it a holy grail status it doesn’t merit. Is it really more admirable to have completed a marathon, regardless of time, than to have channeled your efforts into a shorter event and smashed your PB?

For running coach Jeff Gaudette (runners
connect.com), the answer is an emphatic no. ‘I strongly believe that the marathon is too much of a focus these days,’he says.‘Specifically, there are many beginner runners who have no business trying to run a marathon.

I’d advise new runners to consider very carefully whether running a marathon is the right choice for their short- and long-term development. ’For me, the real issue is more a question of whether it’ll reap you the greatest rewards. For two runners I know, Helen and Chris, training for a marathon within a year of first donning their trainers nearly ended their running careers. The long runs, the injury woes and the everyday exhaustion took a toll, and though they finished the race, they fell out of love with running along the way and it took a few months for them to regain their mojo.

I know other newbies who, giddy with enthusiasm, rushed headlong towards the big one before having run so much as a 10K. A couple were felled by injury, while others achieved their goal but then hung up their running shoes altogether, perhaps feeling that there wasn’t anything else to achieve. Or maybe they’d just pounded all the fun out of their running and saw no reason to carry on.

I counter the popular view that progressing as a runner means having to move up to the marathon. Progressing from a 2:05 half marathon PB to a 1:46 finish, as Helen has since her one and only marathon, is to my mind a greater measure of improvement than battling round 26.2 miles.

Don’t see this as a diatribe against beginners taking on the marathon.

At the risk of sounding like a parent telling their children,‘Don’t try to grow up too fast—you’ve got your whole life ahead of you’, all I’m saying is there’s no need to rush to the marathon start line.

And besides, veteran runners are equally guilty of getting fixated on the mythical distance. ‘Too many runners just jump from marathon to marathon,’ agrees Gaudette.

‘Not only does continually training for the same goal race distance lead to burnout, but it’s also one of the reasons runners fail to improve, year after year.’

There are a lot of positives in training for shorter distances. It consumes less of your time and energy. And it doesn’t mean putting all your eggs in one basket: if a marathon doesn’t go to plan, it’s back to the drawing board for a good few months before you can give it another try—compare that with a 5K or 10K, when you could be back on the start line in a week or two. It also gets you ready for a big race.

And guess what? At the end of your race plan, you’re going to be  in a far better position to move over, not up, to that marathon. Should you want to, that is.