Dread This: An Open Letter To Runners From Your Treadmill


This little gem from 2015 seems worth revisiting given the winter weather we’re experiencing in New England!



Dear Runner,

I know what you say about me.  I know you smirk when your twitter “friends” use the #dreadmill hashtag.  I know you’d rather be outside, in all that gorgeous fresh air, “actually going somewhere”.

You’d just love to be out there spraining your ankle on the ice while your eyes burn and your cheeks get frostbitten and cars swerve around you hoping their tires don’t lose traction.  That does sound like more fun than “going nowhere” staring at a black screen.

Why don’t you pay a baby-sitter for that honor, and go in the afternoon for the added adrenaline of hoping rush hour traffic sees your reflective gear in the dark.

Here’s the thing.

It’s not my fault you’re staring at a black screen.  You’re the one who knows how to turn it on.  TURN IT ON.  Or listen to music, or pod-casts, or audio books.  You could be staring at a travel documentary showing you the Caribbean for all I care, it’s not my problem you’re bored.

It’s one degree out, with a wind-chill below zero, and you’re cranky and cooped up and haven’t run in days, and you’re referring to ME as the “dread mill”?  Really?  REALLY?

Me, who has your back right now, who lets you run in warmth and safety less than 100 feet from your children who are cuddled up in cozy harmony watching Curious George?

Me, who helps you keep pace with a revolving belt that doesn’t slow down when you lose focus?

Me, who has a giant pause button and no “elapsed time” feature like Garmin that calls you out for cheating?

Me, who lets you avoid hills with a zero percent incline, or work your calves at more of an angle, all with the push of a button?

Me, who makes sure you can run safely, any time of day, any degree of weather, keeping YOU in enough running shape so that come April you can prance around giddily on your five mile loop past the windy river and the budding trees, conveniently forgetting who kept you in shape all freaking winter so you didn’t have to start over again at ground zero?

I am not the dreadmill.  I am the treadmill, and you ought to tread more lightly when you talk about the piece of machinery that has your back when it’s dark, icy and below zero in the winter, and when it’s 90 degrees and sunny in the summer.  I get you high on exercise endorphins and keep you ready to get outside when the weather’s better.

Until then, put a freaking television show on and stop complaining.

-Your Treadmill




Thinking of Running Your First Marathon? Ask Yourself These Questions First

A fellow half-marathoner and blog reader recently e-mailed me to ask the big question: do I ever think I’ll step up to the full 26.2?

My brilliant answer: um, maybe… definitely NOT soon.

If you’ve achieved half marathon status and are thinking of doubling that distance, here are some questions to ask yourself first.  They’ve helped me decide to table the marathon question until a later point in my life, when I don’t have two preschoolers and barely enough time to meal plan.  (Ahhh, elementary school… what freedoms you promise me!)

Questions Every First Time Marathoner Should Ask Themselves:

Why would I do this?  What feeling am I chasing, and is there a more efficient way to achieve a similar level of satisfaction?

How many miles a week would I need to run, for how many weeks, to safely complete my first marathon?

Do I have time for that type of training?

Is that what I want to do with my free time?

Will I feel accomplished if I need to walk/jog in order to complete the distance, and if not, how much will I need to add to my training to be relatively certain I can run the entire thing?

How long would my 15, 18 and 20 mile training runs take me at my current long run pace, and am I willing to commit that amount of time once a week for several months (depending on the training plan selected)?

When I finish a 2 hour run, do I ever really wish I could keep going?

Can / will my family support me in this time commitment?

Am I doing this for internal joy and personal satisfaction, rather than street creds?

Is this the best time in my life to do this?

Am I risking my health or injury?

How do I feel when someone tells me they’ve run a marathon?  What does that tell me?

Is this a logical next step in my running, or should I consider an intermediate goal first?


One of the things I’ve learned from observing experienced runners is that there’s always the next goal.  There’s always further, there’s always faster.  Look at me: I went from being happy just to finish my first 5k without a walking break to shooting for time goals in the half marathon.  It’s important to recognize what an achievement even the half marathon is – it’s a big deal to run that far, and most Americans will never do it. I’m proud that I’ve run for over 2 hours without stopping, I think that’s incredible.

I’m not sure I need to ever run for over 4 hours.  Half of me worries that I’d consider the marathon to be the ultimate running challenge, the final hurdle into the in-crowd of runners, only to have someone raise an eyebrow at my finishing time or move into a conversation about how the real test is whether someone can qualify for Boston.  I will never have that kind of time, energy, and experience.  I can guarantee that, because I love too many things besides running.  I am not a talented enough runner to manage life balance and shoot for time goals in the marathon.

I love that I have run 5 half marathons, and it never bothers me that many of my acquaintances have also run them, and run them faster, than me.  But there’s something about the marathon, the insanity of actually running 26.2 miles, that might make it harder to accept when you learn that several people you know have also run them… and faster… than you.  I think if I were to run that freaking far, I would want it to be unique, and the first time I rubbed elbows with an ultra runner at a cocktail party I would be like “NOOOOO!!!!!! NO!!! NO ONE HAS EVER RUN FARTHER THAN I DID I ALMOST DIED HOW COULD YOU!!! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD THAT WAS!!! AHHH!!!!!!” and Greg would have to usher me out the back door discreetly while blaming the Dark and Stormys.

But that’s not to say the marathon is not for you.

Maybe your kids are older, or you don’t have kids, or you run twice as fast as I do so you can put in 40 miles a week in the time it takes me to do 25.  Maybe you live for the open road, the meditative qualities of foot to pavement, foot to pavement, breathe, breathe.  Maybe you find your best self in hour 2-3 of your long run.  Maybe you do have time, you would enjoy the extra training, and the satisfaction of having achieved 26.2 would stay with you, the way 13.1 stays with me.

When I hear someone talk about running their most recent marathon, my overwhelming emotion is relief that I stop at 13.1. I don’t feel awe as much as I used to, because I understand how 26.2 is possible with persistent training.  Marathon runners don’t seem like aliens anymore.  I’m incredibly impressed, and I applaud their dedication and determination and the drive that gets them to that finish line after mile 20.  I also know, deep down, that I could join them.  I’m just not sure I want to.

Best wishes as you decide for yourself how running can serve you!


Choosing your position at the start line of a race

Figuring out where to line up on race day can be tricky.  It’s helpful for everyone if runners self-seed, ie, place themselves according to how fast they expect to run with the fastest runners in the front, and the slowest towards the back.  Many large races have signs to help runners group themselves correctly, or even corrals and different starting times for different pace groups to prevent over-crowding.

I always find it tricky to self-seed correctly at the start line.  I’ve self-seeded over-cautiously at most of my 5ks in the past year and a half, and it’s frustrating to spend the first half mile zig-zagging around people and running on the sidewalk.  Seed too far front, and lots of people have to get around you.  Seed too far back, and you’re trying not to run people over.  Neither is good for you or the runners around you!

I’ve gotten better at figuring out where to start with some experience.  Check out this photo Greg took right near the start line of the Needham New Year’s 5k.  I used the bib numbers in the photo to find the finishing times of runners near me at the starting line, to see how well I self-seeded.  5 of the 7 example runners have finishing times starting with 26 or 27 minutes.  That includes me, leading me to believe we were in a pretty good starting position and that the outliers, a 24 minute and 21 minute finisher, probably should have been further forward.  Perhaps they lined up a little late or a little cautiously and could have been more towards the front.  This isn’t their fault, but deciding that I was closer to average than they were helps me decide whether I should have started further back.  I think I was in about the right starting position, based on the number of runners I felt passed me vs. number I passed during the first half mile.


Greg’s tip: My favorite strategy for choosing a place in the start line is one Greg shared with me.  Look up last year’s results for the same race, and see what percentile you’d be in for finishers if you run your goal pace.  Try to have about the right number of people in front of you and behind you as you would if you finished at your goal pace with the previous year’s runners.  This is a MUCH better strategy than trying to stand near people who look like they run a similar pace.  You can’t tell by looking at someone how long they’ve been running, how they’ve been training, how many waffles they ate for breakfast… It’s much better to gauge what percentage of runners you should have in front of or behind you and just hope for the best.

Looking up last year’s race results is useful because the size of the race, location, how friendly it is to beginners and walkers, etc., can make can make a huge difference in where you should start.

Examples: If a 5k has a walking division with awards, all runners will start further forward percentage wise than they would otherwise.  I start further towards the front in all women’s events than I do in co-ed events.  I have a larger percentage of runners behind me in a 5k than I do in a half marathon.  Half marathons later in the fall when weather can be an issue aren’t as appealing for beginners, and I tend to have fewer people finish behind me.

Why choosing the right starting position is great: Except in the few races that don’t have timing chips on the bibs (the occasional local 5k) you don’t loose those extra seconds it takes you to get to the starting line once the clock starts.  That means that starting further back doesn’t matter, provided the people in front of you are actually running faster than you are so you won’t need to dodge around them.

It can be tempting to start ambitiously far forward so you have a clear path ahead of you, but it’s demoralizing and potentially dangerous to have people flying by you on either side and possibly bumping into you.  The closer you can get to starting near similarly paced runners, the better your racing experience will be.  I find that I’m getting better and better at figuring out where to start, and it makes for much nicer running 🙂

Happy racing!

When your race pace becomes your training pace



I had a nice casual treadmill run the other day.  It’d been a busy day, and I wasn’t handling the stress as well as normal.  At one point, I almost burst into tears because I arrived at the mailbox outside the post office in time at 5:02, just in time to see the mail collector departing with all the mail.  I was mailing get-well cards.  This wasn’t a late mortgage payment or college application.  IT DIDN’T MATTER.

At that point I knew I needed a run, so I plopped Will and Andrew down in front of The Cat in the Hat Christmas, and put in a few miles on the treadmill.  Afterwards I grabbed water and made them a picnic dinner, which was so exciting I figured they would actually eat the peanut butter & jelly with raspberries and carrots rather than maiming each other while I showered.

This was about 90% effective… no one got hurt, but there were some carrots creatively distributed throughout the upholstery when I came down later.  The nice thing about running, however, is you no longer care that much about picking up a couple carrots off the couch.

A few carrots should never be a big deal, but when they’re at the end of a long day of cajoling your preschool age children not to overflow sinks, steal the scissors, or otherwise give in to their 2 and 4 year old male preference for utter mayhem…. a carrot on the couch can feel like the last straw.

Running changes all of that.  It felt like my giant chalk-board of resiliency was suddenly a blank slate.  Carrots were a small price to pay for my shower, a short holiday tv special a small price to pay for 3.1 uninterrupted miles on the treadmill.  I had regained my sanity and perspective, with just a short workout.  Having 30 minutes away from the kids to run, and 15 to shower, may have helped almost as much as the exercise endorphins.

Not only did I feel better, I also got a taste of how much I’ve improved with my running over the past few years.  I ran at a comfortable pace, and clocked in 3.1 miles in under 30 minutes.  Two years ago, running a 5k in under 30 minutes was my race pace… and I could JUST barely make it.  Now, it’s a casual pace for a short run.

Feels pretty good.


Serial yoga/spin/barre/whatever quitter? Why it shouldn’t get you down.


I’ve done yoga, barre class, and spinning.  I’ve tried exercise videos for kick-boxing, yoga, core workouts, and T-25.  Back when we had a wii, I even gave wii fit a shot.  (Not the best way to get a challenging workout, trust me.)

Sometimes it feels like the only exercise I’ve ever stuck with as an adult is running.

I remember feeling some trepidation when I got online and ordered a pair of spin shoes and bike shorts.  After all, I didn’t stick with barre classes or yoga, but at least I hadn’t invested in gear for either of those misadventures.

Then I realized something – I might not still be doing barre, and I never signed up for another intro to yoga class after my first set got cancelled 2 classes in, but I’m still exercising and I’m still trying new things.  I’ve even got a yoga video on hold at the library right now because I’d like to take it back up again so I can really stretch my muscles a few times a month.

I’m not a serial quitter, I’m a serial beginner.  I’m regularly trying new things, and supplementing my running with whatever type of exercise I currently enjoy most.  For a while, that was barre classes.  Recently it’s spinning… and I’ve actually dusted off those T-25 videos and been doing them with Will on occasion.

The great thing about running outdoors is that it doesn’t require a gym membership.  That makes it easier to justify a 3 class pass to a great yoga studio near by, or a 10 class pass to carry my spin habit through the holidays.

I can mix it up, and I’m not stuck finding classes at the gym that work with my schedule.  I can pick from any of the places around that work with my preschool schedule and let you pay per class or buy small packages of classes.  I love that, because paying per time is a much better deal than a monthly subscription if you’re incorporating a class for variety and not going regularly.  I go to spin about 3 times a month – I love being able to pay for a few classes at a time and use them when I feel like it.

So go ahead and try something new, and don’t worry about “sticking with it”.  Maybe what you’re sticking with is a rotating set of “plus this” exercises that complement your running.  It’s nice to have a few indoor, group exercise classes you enjoy that you can do when it gets cold, dark and icy!  You don’t need to stick with it for it to do something positive for you – it’s enough that you tried it for a while, moved on to the next new thing, and can circle back if you like.

So dust off that old workout video and do it once this month.  Call your local spinning or yoga studio and ask if they have an introductory price for first time clients.  Ask if they’ll give you that price if you haven’t been in over a year but are hoping to start again!

Don’t feel like a quitter if you take up yoga hoping to go once a week and it doesn’t work out.  Quitters are sedentary.  You’re just moving on to something else to add variety, stay mentally energized, and increase your repertoire of things you can do to stay active.  And that’s awesome.