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Trail Tips

Ask the Coach: Treadmill Dance Party

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What are the best winter treadmill workouts?
—Laura, Atlanta, GA

Last winter, Megan Roche did 75 percent of her weekly mileage on the treadmill due to early morning work commitments. Then, in her first race of the year at the Way Too Cool 50K, she won in one of the fastest times ever.

To avoid boredom, Megan breaks up her runs, even on easier days. In winter, she generally does three types of workouts on the treadmill: easy aerobic maintenance, hard workouts and extra-easy recovery days. While everyone’s workout will vary, Megan’s treadmill routine provides a solid framework.

Easy aerobic maintenance is her rinse-and-repeat run that she does as often as possible each week—usually Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday in a typical week (this includes a Monday rest day). For aerobic maintenance, she runs by heart rate, settling in at a relaxed aerobic effort for 70 to 90 minutes (for her, a heart rate of around 150 beats per minute). Starting at 20 minutes after she is warmed up, she does a 20-to-40-second acceleration to her 5K pace. During the aerobic sections, she sometimes alternates between 0- and 2-percent gradient to change up the stress on her muscles.

Workout days are usually just once a week—Wednesday typically. For these runs, she does a 20-minute aerobic warm-up with a few strides at the end to loosen up. Then, she gets to work.

For Way Too Cool, she focused on lactate-threshold (LT) efforts, or the pace she could maintain for an hour in a race. Examples of workouts include 6 x 5 minutes with 2-minute rest, 8 x 3 minutes with 1-minute rest and 12 x 2 minutes with 40 seconds rest.

“I prefer not to do treadmill workouts with ‘hills,’” she says. “I am most concerned with going faster at LT, and the treadmill is a great opportunity to work on the metronomic efficiency that can be difficult to cultivate on the trails.”

On easy recovery days, she subtracts 10 to 20 beats per minute from her aerobic effort and stays there for 40 to 60 minutes. Then, she will alternate between 0- and 2-percent grades every five minutes to give her brain something to fixate on.

Finally, once a week—usually Saturday—Megan would do her key long run on trails, using the dirt time to get muddy and let out a few woohoos.

“View the treadmill as a chance to work on your speed and efficiency,” Megan says. “Oh, and to work on your music playlist. Treadmill dance parties are the best workout of all.”