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Treadmill and Trainer Blues: How to Stay Focused and Fight the Boredom of Indoor Training

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of USA Triathlon Life.

By Elaine Vescio

In many parts of the country, winter's limited daylight hours, frigid temperatures and icy roads bring uncomfortable and sometimes unsafe conditions for outdoor training. Some triathletes suffer the treadmill and trainer blues when trapped indoors, while others welcome the shift in training because they know that when done correctly, indoor training can be fun and even more effective than trying to train outdoors year-round.

This article covers four tried and true ways to fight the boredom of indoor training: structure your winter training, register for a late winter race, measure your progress and use cool indoor training tools.

Structure Your Winter Training

Give meaning to your daily, weekly, and monthly workouts by structuring your winter training so that it helps you prepare for your upcoming race season. Begin by setting your overall goals for the season and then list your winter training objectives to help meet those goals. Here is an example:

Goal: Qualify for USAT Age Group Nationals at an Olympic distance event.

Winter Training Objectives: By March 1, improve average watts during a 20-minute time trial by 15 percent; complete a winter half marathon in 85 minutes.

Next, plan a series of progressive workouts to help you reach your training objectives. For cycling, you could schedule two big gear cycling workouts each week - one with shorter intervals, the other with longer intervals. In December, one workout could include 3 x 5 minutes in a big gear with a cadence of 50-60 RPM and a 5 minute easy spin recovery between efforts, while the other workout could include 2 x 12 minutes in a big gear with a cadence of 50-60 RPM and a 5 minute easy spin recovery. Throughout the winter, gradually increase the difficulty of the workouts. By February, the first workout of the week could include 6 x 5 minutes in a big gear, while the other workout could include 2 x 20 minutes in a big gear.

Weekly workouts to prepare for the half marathon might include a long run and a target pace run. Early winter, the long run could be 50 minutes at a conversation pace, while the last long run prior to the half marathon could be 100 minutes. Mentally break your long runs into shorter stages to make them more palatable on the treadmill. For a 90-minute run, consider focusing on cadence during the first 30 minutes, hills during the second 30-minute segment, and a fartlek run (speed play) during the final 30.

The target pace run is easier to keep fresh - just spend time near your target pace for the half marathon while varying your approach from week to week. Ease your body into the target pace work by performing some fartlek runs early in the winter, then gradually add workouts that include more time spent near the target pace. Some weeks, do longer work intervals, such as 3 x 2 miles at your target pace, with 0.5 mile jog recovery. For other weeks, do shorter work intervals such as 10 x 400 meters at your target pace with a 400-meter jog recovery.

Remember to frequently change the incline and/or speed on the treadmill to lessen the likelihood of an overuse injury caused by the repetitive pounding. And be sure to have some good tunes or downloadable books on your music player! 

Register for a Late Winter Race

Having a winter race on your schedule provides motivation and focus for your winter training. Pick one or more that match your training objectives. Each year, New Englanders flock to the Hyannis Half Marathon, an event held in February on Cape Cod. Others, preferring a more temperate climate, choose a destination race such as the Arizona Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in January.

Measure Your Progress

Measure your progress to make sure your training is working. For more reliable results when repeating the test, replicate conditions by using the same treadmill or ergometer and the same warm up routine.

The 1-mile aerobic time trial test is a simple way to measure your aerobic ability for running. Warm up for 10 minutes. Then run one mile keeping your heart rate at 9-11 beats below your lactate threshold. With improved fitness, the time to complete the mile should decrease. If you don't know your lactate threshold, then run one mile at conversation pace and note your average heart rate at that pace. In future tests, run at that heart rate for one mile. The distance covered should increase from month to month.

Use Cool Indoor Training Tools

CompuTrainer and PowerCranks are two cool training tools for your triathlete wish list.

CompuTrainer, the leading electronic ergometer, offers interactive course videos that allow you to "train" on famous triathlon courses.

PowerCranks is an innovative crankset based on crank arms that move independent of each other. At the bottom of each pedal stroke, you need to pull the pedal up to keep the cranks at a 180 degree angle from each other. PowerCranks force you to use muscles (hip flexors and hamstrings) not typically engaged during a bike ride. This improves muscle imbalances and pedaling efficiency.

This winter, use the tips from this article to beat the treadmill and trainer blues, and join the athletes who have learned how to make indoor training fun and effective.

Elaine Vescio is a USA Triathlon Level I certified coach with Vescio Multisport Performance Services (, a member of the 2010 Kestrel Triathlon Team, and the head mentor for Danskin New England. You can reach Elaine at