This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Graduate Student Topology and Geometry Conference at Notre Dame. Just to clarify, I did not type that sentence with even a shread of sarcasm. The math world paid for me to fly to Notre Dame, interact with other graduate students and young faculty with similar math research interests, and watch a smattering of talks which, for the most part, were very inspiring. The hotel was nice, the food was decent, and overall there was nothing to complain about. Here I am at the herb garden at the Chicago O’Hare airport:
So what was I dreading and what does the above have to do with running?
Here’s the answer: I had to fit an 18 mile training run into the already packed schedule of this conference. Here is, specifically, why I was filled with dread:
1) I had to run 18 miles (my farthest distance ever)
2) I wouldn’t have Lina to keep me company (sad, boring and lonely) *Also, a very funny post about her 18 miler can be read here.*
3) I had to wake up at 4am in order to fit it in
4) I had to do either some or all of the run on a TREADMILL, since there would be 2 hours of darkness during my run before the sun came up. (Had I been a man, I would have planned to run outside. But let’s be honest: it just isn’t safe for a 25 year old woman to run around a dark, unfamiliar city. Boo.)
5) I had to function as an intelligent human for the WHOLE rest of the day; normally, this is not the case.
Ok, so hopefully we all agree that my dread wasn’t completely unfounded. I had been worrying about this run for weeks – ever since I realized the conference and the 18 miler coincided. First, I briefly weighed the consequences of skipping the long long run and just doing a 10 miler. (Ha. ‘just.’) I fancy myself a disciplined person, so that idea was nixed. Next, I considered running on Friday morning before leaving for the airport, with the thought that I would at least be in familiar territory. I mapped out a 9 mile loop, and told myself I would run 9 on a treadmill at my gym and then do the second half outside. This plan face-planted when I was still very sore from my Wednesday run/lift workout, and when I desperately needed to do laundry before I left.
So then, it was decided that the run would be done at Notre Dame. Again, I mapped out a 4 mile loop, with the same plan as above but with the thought that I’d just do the loop twice. After giving the timing aspect of my plan even more thought, however, I finally ditched the outdoor loop idea and resigned myself to having to do this run on the hotel treadmill. *Sigh* . Okay. Right before I left for the airport, I read a handful of articles online about running long on a treadmill to pump myself up, which proved to be a great idea. I realized that most/all committed runners at some point have to do a long workout on a treadmill due to traveling, weather, schedules, etc. What was encouraging was knowing that there are people out there that have run MORE than 18 miles on a treadmill, and they are still alive. Boredom, in fact, cannot actually kill a person.
These articles highlighted some of the advantages of treadmill running long runs, and this slight shift in perspective (looking at the positives instead of the negatives) really helped me settle in to my decision. I won’t even list the disadvantages because they are so obvious, but here are some of the upsides to long treadmill runs:
-No need to carry a water belt and fuel. Just set everything on the treadmill!
-Less impact on joints!
-Bathroom and water refill “station” always nearby!
-Safe at all hours!
-Complete control over pace!
These turned out to be significant plusses and I took advantage of each and every one of them. Was I bored? Yes, but not the entire time. I think it’s important that I emphasize that. I made myself a very long playlist with some great music on it, and when a particularly awesome song came on, I forgot entirely where I was and what I was doing. There was a television in the little hotel gym, and even though I wasn’t listening to the words, I distracted myself by watching it sometimes, too. Every mile or two, I would increase the incline and run a little hill for a quarter or half mile. Most importantly, I covered up the treadmill screen and broke the run into three 6-mile chunks. This served two purposes: 1) It helped me to cope with my run mentally and 2) I was never surprised by the treadmill suddenly turning off at 99 minutes (I’ve heard some treadmills do this and when they stop, that it’s an unpleasant surprise for the runner). Also, I took the opportunity after each 6 mile block to use the bathroom, refill my water bottle, or switch treadmills, all of which made the situation more bearable and less boring.
Naturally, I took some pictures at the end of each block just to stay honest. Here’s the breakdown of my run:
I was very content with having run negative splits. These particular treadmills were a little different from the ones I normally use and for whatever reason, I felt like I was having to move my legs faster than I normally do to run at my usual pace; for this reason, I just wasn’t able to run sub 9:00 pace when I first started. It was too early. Also, these were treadmills that took almost a full minute to get up to speed, which was annoying because it messed with my time a little bit. That’s okay though. I was happy with the last 6 miles and at the end of the day, you just can’t be upset if you successfully run 18 miles.
A side note on fuel: I had a Cliff Bar and a small cup of coffee about 20 minutes before starting to run. At 9 miles, I had an espresso Gu (yum!) and at 14 miles, I had a key lime Gu. Immediately after the run, I stretched a little then hit up the very respectable continental breakfast at my hotel. Here’s what I ate:
Yum. I have to say though, sometimes I have to force myself to eat after certain runs and this was one of those runs. I had to eat really slowly in order to not upset my stomach. That said, I know how important it is to restore the glycogen in your muscles after strenuous exercise, so I battled through it. I found my appetite for lunch and all went back to normal :).
Overall, I was mostly just happy to have this run completed. Looking back on it though, it just wasn’t that bad. Am I looking forward to running outside next weekend? YES. Most definitely. But will I dread a long treadmill run for months in advance the next time one comes up? No. There’s no need. Like anything else difficult, you just have to put your head down and DO IT. Once it’s done, you will be proud and relieved and at peace with the knowledge that you did what had to be done. I hope it’s clear why I titled this post ‘Conquering the dreadmill.’ Obviously it had a lot to do with having to run 18 miles on a treadmill, but the more significant aspect of this whole thing was overcoming the dread I felt about the run. More than defeating the treadmill, I defeated the dreadmill.
P.S. Rage Against the Machine was the artist that really spoke to me during my run, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the appropriateness of that since I was, in fact, on a machine. Great stuff. Below is a picture of a particularly awesome fortune I got from a fortune cookie.