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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Consider the Treadmill Your Friend

Summer has turned to autumn, and infernal conditions have turned temperate (a good change), but the hours of daylight have dropped as quickly as the mercury. The runner in training, and even the runner who wants to stay fit and healthy through the season of junk food and socials has to consider the benefit of a few changes to their routine:

Change the time of the run from the increasingly dark morning and evening hours.
Change the run venue from outdoor trails and tracks to indoor facilities and treadmills. Change the run gear from lightweight to lighted (or reflectorized).

Not every runner is blessed with access to workout (shower!) facilities or flexible schedules, but a run during the work day can be a pleasant diversion from the "typical" stress of the work place. A runner who is not able to do a short run in the middle of the day might benefit from sliding the run time "to the left" or "to the right" to take advantage of daylight hours. Of course, that also depends on the good will of one's employer.

Many people hate running lap after lap on a track. Others can't stand to run indoors on a treadmill. When I suggest either option they often tell me it's either too painful or too boring. Given the choice of running a solo track workout or running on a treadmill I am most likely to choose treadmill running. The treadmill allows the individual runner to control nearly all of the workout variables, such as pace, duration, distance, and elevation. A runner who is willing to pay attention to the timer or the odometer can simulate almost every track workout imaginable. Pace discipline is almost absolute over time; there's no variation in pace, unless the runner changes. Most importantly, if something goes wrong biomechanically, they can stop the workout and immediately treat the issue.

I've even had people tell me treadmills were not good for runners because the mechanics of running were different. But I've always trusted my instincts about the treadmill and not listened to the nay-sayers. Then, last week, I watched a Running Times magazine podcast video about "Fixing Injured Runners". In the video, Jay Dicharry, MPT, CSCS, Director of the SPEED Performance Clinic and the Motion Analysis Lab Coordinator at the University of Virginia, was working with a middle-distance runner who had been dealing with achilles tendinosis for about a year. Dicharry's laboratory uses infrared cameras and a high-tech treadmill to help analyze the gait of runners of all ability levels, part of a three-fold process to determine "what's broken". About three minutes into the video, Dicharry said something which made me feel very confident (not only about my own recovery path, but also about training alternatives):

"Old lore states running on a treadmill and running over ground are dramatically different. A lot of coaches out there will tell you when you run over ground you're pushing yourself along the ground and when you run on a treadmill you pull yourself along. We can state this is not true. When you run on a treadmill versus over ground you are still pushing the body along. The treadmill is moving but you are pushing on a moving surface. The GRF (ground force reaction) profiles we measure are fairly similar."

"We published a study a few years ago (Riley, P.O., Dicharry, J., Franz, J.R., Wilder, R.P., Kerrigan, D.C., A kinematic and kinetic comparison of over ground and treadmill running. Medical Science, Sport & Exercise 2008; 40(6):1093-100) which looked at differences between over ground versus treadmill running. What it showed was about 60 percent of people ran almost identically on a treadmill versus over ground; while 40 percent had some differences. The differences we saw were really no more apparent than they would be if you ran on a track versus a treadmill versus a gravel road versus a trail. You want to acclimate and accomodate your body to prolonged running on a new surface..."

"We have noticed over the years after five minutes of running the variability in the gait cycle tends to decrease....As far as training, think about one more factor: on trail or any place someone is running around...if they want to speed up or slow down they can, it's no problem. On a treadmill they can't because the speed is set and held constant by the motor. If someone runs at a higher speed, gets fatigued and can't keep up with their leg speed they'll tend to overstride. When a runner overstrides they are running with a compensated gait pattern. That's one of the mechanisms people complain about. They claim treadmills cause them to get injured when they are running."

"I don't think it's the treadmill causing the injury, I think it's their compensated gait style causing them to get injured while on the treadmill."

As Mike Smayda, the middle-distance runner featured in the (three-part) podcast series said: "People set their treadmills too fast and overestimate their ability."

Most runners are more likely to adapt to the outdoor conditions and move their workouts to times with more light or bring the light (or reflectors!) with them, but the treadmill can also be the training runner's bst friend during the dark days of late autumn and early winter.

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