When the new COVID-19 pandemic caused race cancellations across the globe, professional runner Tyler Andrews, 30, started brainstorming ideas: He wanted to bring recreational and elite runners together.
Andrews had just launched his online coaching company, Chaski Endurance Collective, in May. To promote it and to spark some competition when there was none, he organized the Chaski Challenge, which included virtual 5K, 50K, and relay options. Runners could complete their races outside or on the treadmill, with the chance to win up to $6,000 in prizes. On the pro side, Andrews sought out several big names in running to break as many treadmill world records as possible. The event, if successful, would show that the treadmill isn’t something to dread and that all runners, whether they’re avoiding the elements or simply have nowhere else to run, can reap physical and mental benefits from going long indoors.
Here are some takeaways.
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Stay inspired with a challenge
Andrews says he knew that many standing treadmill world records were a bit “soft.” This helped him recruit high-level athletes like top U.S. marathoner Sara Hall, ultrarunners Max King and Michael Wardian, and many others.
“It was a special and unique circumstance in that a lot of races were canceled, so a lot of elite athletes were still pretty fit,” Andrews says. Collectively, eight world records were streamed live on June 6 during the Chaski Challenge, through the company’s app. Hall ran 1:09:03 on a Landice treadmill in Phoenix, taking 11 minutes off the existing women’s treadmill half marathon world record. It was her first race effort since the Olympic Marathon Trials in February, and she finished within five seconds of her half marathon PR of 1:08:58.
“The beauty of the treadmill is you can just keep notching the pace down as you feel good,” Hall says. After starting at a 5:25 pace, she cranked her speed up to 5:07 for the second half of her 13.1 miles. “This event was just running hard for the pure joy of seeing how fast I could go, and it gave me the confidence to keep shooting for big goals.”
Other record setters included John Raneri in the men’s half marathon (1:03:08), Renee Metivier in the 50K (3:11:38), and Mario Mendoza in the 100K (6:39:25). Regina Lopez, 29, who also last competed at the Trials, had never logged more than six miles on a treadmill. But she used the challenge to push her limits in an attempt to set the 50-mile record.
She finished—and set the record despite some setbacks—in 8:41:37 at Run Republic, a running store in Walnut, California, on a Life Fitness treadmill.
“This event motivated me to keep going through the challenges I faced, and made me appreciate the power of community,” Lopez says.
Find great distractions
Once you’ve committed to covering a long distance on the treadmill—whether you’re virtually racing or just training—keeping your mind and body occupied is key.
When Ramon Bermo’s upcoming ultras were canceled, he put his newly purchased treadmill to use by taking on three virtual challenges in May, including the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee—a 1,000K to be completed between May 1 and August 31. Bermo, 53, who lives in Plainfield, New Jersey, ran up to four times a day to hit different goals for the events. Physically, covering uphill miles for a vertical challenge ultra was easier on the treadmill than outdoors. Mentally, though, it was taxing.
“In addition to distracting myself with shows on Netflix, I also managed to take a few morning work calls, which helped take my mind off my running progress,” Bermo says. He also posted updates and photos on social media to stay accountable and to let his friends follow along.
Jacky Hunt-Broersma, 44, from Cary, North Carolina, is a cancer survivor and amputee. The longest distance she had ever covered on a treadmill was 10 miles, so preparing herself for the mental challenge of a 100-mile virtual race in April seemed daunting.
She approached it by splitting up the miles in her head into small goals—like striving for the 50K mark—before taking a quick break to swap out gear. Her husband also coordinated a surprise visit from friends (socially distanced, of course) to cheer her on. Hunt-Broersma finished in 23 hours and 38 minutes, becoming the first amputee to cover the distance on a treadmill in less than 24 hours.
“After completing 100 miles on it, I have a totally different relationship with the treadmill and don’t expect to mentally struggle with it as much,” she says.
Staying cool and hydrated is just as important when you’re indoors. Some runners, in fact, sweat even more on the treadmill than they do when they’re outside.
“When you’re on the treadmill, you don’t have the breeze of being outside and moving through the air,” says Chaski coach Ashley Brasovan on the collective’s blog. She recommends using a fan to have the most productive workout. You can also set up a mini aid station to practice fueling for future races.
Rest up for hard sessions
One of the most critical elements of avoiding injury when pursuing endurance challenges—or just longer efforts—is proper recovery.
“I like to make sure I get enough sleep, and I plan recovery days strategically after some of my hardest sessions so that I can be as certain as possible I will not overreach to the extent I get hurt,” says Zach Bitter, who set a new 100-mile treadmill record in May. “I also focus on mobility and strength work for areas that had traditionally been a weakness for me earlier in my career.”
AMP IT UP
You need a balance of easy and faster-paced workouts on the treadmill. Try this hill interval session from Chaski coach Calum Neff.
“With this workout, you can progress over a number of weeks by either adding time, intervals, or incline, eventually building up to 10x3 minutes at a 10% incline,” Neff says.
- Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes with a jog. • Keep your pace the same (easy) while raising the incline to 4% for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Keep the pace the same and lower the incline back down to 0% for 2 minutes.
- Repeat the interval, but gradually increase the incline as much as you want; then back it down to 0 for recovery.
- Do 4 total intervals.