Conquering Boredom on the Treadmill

As a running mom I turn to the treadmill more often than I would really like to get my runs in. Why? Because I just don't feel running on streets solo at 4:00 am is the safest move. I try to get my runs in before work. Yes, I used to run with darling daughter in the jogging stroller but don't feel I should make this a daily thing for her when she can do something active while I am running. Why should I turn her into a stroller potato? And now at almost 7 years old, she just doesn't fit!

But running on the treadmill is tough mentally. I have learned to not compare treadmill pace to road pace (or to jogging stroller pace for that matter). I have learned to create equivalent workouts (think RPE or rate of perceived exertion) not totally dependent on pace. This was a tough one for me because paces can be a huge focus in a training plan. Run your tempo at this pace. Run your speed intervals at this pace.

Even with all that aside, you still have an uphill battle because come on, you are running in place. Going no where no matter how fast you are going. It can become quite discouraging. So how do I get up so early and get back on?

Determination. I love to run. Running is a huge part of me. I truly feel my spirit is meant to run. And running makes me happy and more patient. And if I don't run I am only cheating myself (and perhaps exposing my family to a grumpier mommy). And I know you have heard this a thousand times but it is true....I never regret putting on my running shoes and going out for a run. And no, I don't always jump for joy at the thought of lacing up. Some days I just don't feel like it. But I do. And I am glad I did.

So how do I overcome becoming tremendously bored on the treadmill when I run for one hour, two hours, or even three hours?

I play games.

No, not Words with Friends.

Mental games. I trick myself. I distract myself. And my distractions aren't always the same because if they were, that would become boring.

A list of my tricks:
  • Have a good playlist selection and change it up. My current playlists are: 1/2 Marathon, 10K, 5K, Marathon, Purchased, Running .75, Running 1, Running 1.5, Running 2, Running 2.5 plus I can select randomly play whole library. Therefore, I never really know what tune will be up next and that is good. Plus I tend to keep my race distance playlists just for races. FYI Running xxx indicates the length of the playlist in hours.
  • Change it up some more. I often do intervals either with speed or subtle incline changes, either pre-determined or determined along my run. It could even be pace/incline changes with each new song. And the change doesn't have to be huge. Just something to make it less monotonous. 
  • I have a training plan. Yep, I do. And it says easy, tempo, or speed. I try to stick to that in a very informal, flexible way. That keeps things different.
  • Sometimes I just opt to run for time not distance. Yep, takes some of the pressure off.
  • I visualize. This is a big one. I can be in "competition" or "running with" the fellow runners on other treadmills. I can be running on my favorite path, at a past race, or in a future race. 
  • I have "do something" milestones in replacement of running to the next tree, light post, etc. You know, drink every 15 minutes. Take a gel at x-miles for those longer runs. And today, my goal was to run 7 miles with 4 miles at tempo so I could check in on my distance at 10 minute intervals during the tempo even though I knew my 4-mile tempo would take about 32 minutes. Yep, just gives me a way to break up the run into smaller pieces.
  • I allow myself to skip a song if it is bugging me. For road runs, I just pull the earphones out or keep going. On the treadmill I let myself indulge.
  • I tell myself to "push your limits" and "find your strong". 
  • I think of others, in particular my Dad. Often this leads into visualization and I can imagine him running by my side. This works for other people too. I run solo a lot and rely on this technique for treadmill runs, road runs, and races. It is great running with your supporters and yes, you can be my supporters during one or more runs.
  • I think of blog posts. What I have read. What I can write. What I plan to write. Many things don't ever make it to the blog though.
  • I pick up the pace. Often this works if I am feeling down and lethargic. Pick it up for bit then ease back into what I am supposed to be running. This trick tends to make it easier overall and helps get my mind out of a boring lull.

Today I am grateful for:
  • No rain as I drove to the gym this morning
  • Foam rollers
  • Massaging pillow at my work at my desk for that nagging ache
  • Your blog posts
  • You taking the time to read this blog post today when there is so much more you could have been doing....really, thank you!


  1. Treadmill running takes dedication, but I think it also bolsters running confidence. I appreciate that I know I can run at a particular pace, or that I can run a particular distance. When I was a new runner, this was really important for me to know before I ran outside. I agree that music selection definitely helps keep the pace - but be sure to exclude little kid books on tape on your ipod (turn the page now). I keep forgetting to delete them, and they really aren't running friendly.

  2. Thanks for the treadmill ideas. Have a great weekend.

  3. thanks for these awesome tips...I often find myself thinking only of how bored I am, how much my knee hurts, etc...My visualization skills need to be revamped!

  4. I used to turn on the tv to a movie when I ran on the TM for more than a mile or two.. and I need a fan! That is my big beef with the TM.. too hot and sweaty.

    I am glad you got it done.. good for you.

    Stroller potato... we see a young woman here out every day pulling two fat little toddlers in a wagon. She is thin and small and working HARD and they are riding... wonder which came first, the riding or the chubbiness.

  5. I'm one of those freaks that enjoy the treadmill. True I like running outdoors better but On the treadmill I can truly zone out and have a more zen like motion. Also since it's a consistent surface I can feel for any discomfort or unusual pain. :)

  6. Great ideas!! Thanks for the post!!

  7. Great tips! I really hate running on the treadmill with a passion, I have only done it 5 or 6 times in the 11 months I have been running, and I play the same games with myself (let's be honest I play the same games outside too!)

    Unlike another person who commented, I feel like I CAN'T zone out on the treadmill, but outside I can. I have to really give myself something to do (like drink some water, etc.) on a treadmill.

  8. Thanks for sharing these, Erica! I, too, depend a lot on my tunes for the treadmill--I tend not to take them outside as much anymore, largely because I have running buddies and we like to gab as we go. I also try visualization--things I wish I could be doing (I'm rollerblading along the Pacific, for example).

  9. I can see your burning passion for running. You love running so much that you've put up a list of ideas to help people enjoy their usually-boring treadmill run. I also experienced being bored on my treadmill run when I was starting. Like you, all I do is I keep in mind that my treadmill run is as good as any of the runs I make. It's all in the mind.

  10. Karen N7:52 AM

    Thanks again for linking me from HBBC to your treadmill posts. Really like the ideas on this one!

  11. This is good when I get more time I will re-read this post. I glad your on my twitter and instagram, you understand being a mom and fitness. I started a blog as well check it out when you get time inthemiddlegirl.com I am a early riser too.

    1. Thanks for introducing yourself! It is always nice to meet new early risers!

  12. No one mentioned video! Surprising. I play games with watching all kinds of things. I'll pace way up for commercial breaks. I'll use segments or scenes of a show like a new channel to vary my pace or incline settings. Or just use the length of a show as my run. Also, there are some great on-demand videos or DVDs that are made just for treadmills and stationary bikes that are scenic and even have terrain you can follow.


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