Since moving to Colorado three years ago, my appreciation for treadmills has gone way up. Although I still reserve them for specific purposes—obscene wind gusts, dicey surfaces, and hilly course simulations, for instance—the Colorado winter drives a disproportionate amount of my running indoors. Key to enduring the monotony and maximizing the circumstances, I’ve learned, is showing up prepared.
Here’s what’s in my treadmill toolkit:
Without the same air flow, indoor workouts can feel like they generate a lot more sweat than outside runs. For that reason, breathable athletic clothes are vital. Avoid cotton and go for light, sweat-wicking materials that you might also choose for a muggy summer run. Most sportswear companies have plenty of options that fit the bill, but a few of my favorite items are the First Place Shorts by Rabbit, any of the Outdoor Voices tank tops, and Ultralight No Show Running Socks by Balega. My husband also wears hats inside, to tame his flowing locks.
A small towel serves double duty when I’m on a machine: Whisking off sweat, and, hiding the screen in front of me so the seconds can’t pass by in a cruel slow-mo parade. The towels given out in swag bags and finish chutes are typically a nice size.
Despite what many brands advertise, headphones rarely execute that one-size-fits-all claim. I live in my Apple AirPods while on the treadmill (and appreciate their long battery life), but I know plenty of runners who swear they’ll bounce right out. Popular alternatives, more tailored to running and other sports, include Jaybird, AfterShokz, and Jabra. Finding the right pair for you is just a matter of trial and error.
Water bottle (+ fluids)
For workouts longer than an hour, water bottles are a good idea. They remind you to stay hydrated and prevent unnecessary breaks to find the nearest water fountain. For marathoners and other people running long, indoor workouts are also great opportunities to finetune fueling plans, something that’s harder to do with the same degree of precision outside. If you know where the water stations will be in your next race (every 5K is a good guess for marathons), you can practice hydrating the same way that you plan to in competition. Just remember to pack your sports drink, gels, or chews as well.
I deliberately save new episodes of my favorite podcasts for easy treadmill runs. Popular running-focused ones include Keeping Track; Work, Play, Love; Run Free Podcast; C Tolle Runs; The Morning Shakeout; Ali on the Run Show; I’ll Have Another with Lindsey Hein; and the Citius Mag Podcast. For a break from running talk, I like to mix it up with podcasts like Ear Hustle, This American Life, Peter Attia’s The Drive, and anything crime-related. They help the time pass and—if they’re good—also teach or inspire.
On some days—especially when hard efforts are on tap—I find music to be more appealing than podcasts. For major workouts, I usually curate a playlist of new and old pump-up songs, often saving the ones I’m most into for the toughest segments. When I don’t have time to make a new one or when I’m craving some variety, I turn to apps like Spotify, which has an arsenal dedicated to Working Out as well as playlists built around BPM (beats per minute) ranges. Google Play offers dozens of workout playlists too.
If you know you’ll have to trek through snow or ice to reach the gym entrance, wearing shoes that you won’t be running in (ideally that are water-proof) is a smart move. You can then change into your trainers inside and avoid slipping on the treadmill as a result of wet soles. Additionally, if you have a hard workout planned and are used to working out in flats, don’t forget to pack those too.
There’s no getting around the fact that treadmill workouts lack the social charge of a traditional group run. If running serves as an important social outlet for you, or if you have a hard time getting out the door on your own, plan to meet up with a friend or two at the gym. While you won’t technically be running together, the accountability is clutch and, like sharing a track, it’s encouraging to know that you’re not the only one grinding out a tough run. Plus, treadmills let you run beside someone whose comfortable training pace is significantly different, without anyone getting dropped or compromising their workout.
Becky Wade, 2:30 marathoner, is the author of the memoir, Run the World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe.