Running through the weather

ST. LOUIS — Icy roads and sub-zero weather, torrential spring rains and gusty wind — none of them can force distance runner Les Myers onto a treadmill.

He'll pile on layers of clothing and drive from his home in Ladue to Webster Groves, Mo., where he knows the streets will be plowed and salted, to get his miles in. Or, he'll just stay home.

"I'm not comfortable on treadmills. It's hard to get a good workout on them," said Myers, 55, of Ladue, Mo. He won the Third Olympiad Memorial Marathon in St. Louis in 1983, before treadmills were commonplace.

Weather and shorter daylight hours can make running and cycling outdoors uncomfortable and even risky this time of year — just as a lot of people are training for spring races.

Some gut it out and train outside anyway. Others find themselves chugging away on a treadmill, stationary bike or, in the case of Dennis Lilly, skating in circles at the Rock-O-Rena in Arnold, Mo.

"That gets pretty doggone boring going the same way 'round and 'round," said Lilly, 55, of St. Louis, who skates competitively with Gateway Inline Speed Team. "Plus there's nothing like being outside with the air in your face."

Runners and cyclists will tell you that hitting the weights and the elliptical trainer are fine. But the only way to excel at their sports is to do it and to do it year round. That can mean spending mind-numbing hours sweating it out indoors, watching fractions of miles tick by on a digital readout.

John Hamblin, 50, of St. Louis runs three times a week with several other runners, and they do it outdoors no matter the weather.

"The last time I was on a treadmill was 2009 when I had ACL surgery," he says.

He got through his runs by imagining he was somewhere else, some place tropical where he could run outdoors.

Sara Davis, 31, of St. Louis has been running with the same group, since moving here from Kansas City a few years ago.

"These people are special," Davis says, smirking at Hamblin. In Kansas City when the weather was bad, she ran on an indoor track with other runners. That seemed sensible to her. She still hits the treadmill on her lunch hour for speed work. But she hates it.

"You feel like a hamster on a wheel," she says. "But I do feel like you get faster."

Kalei Lowes agrees.

"I actually have better race times in the spring after training on the treadmill than I do in the fall after running outdoors all summer," said Lowes, 24, of University City, Mo. "I don't keep pace as well outside whereas indoors it's staring me in the face."

So there are some benefits. We talked to several runners, cyclists and an athletic trainer who's also an avid cyclist to find out what they like and dislike about running and cycling indoors, and what they do to mentally get through the boredom.

Wear a heart rate monitor: This is a favorite training tool of Mark F. Reinking, chairman of the department of physical therapy and athletic training at St. Louis University. He also is an avid cyclist.

"I know what my heart rate does outside on my bike so if I use the heart rate monitor inside, I can better simulate the intensity of my outdoor training," he says.

This can work on treadmills, elliptical trainers, stair machines and all sorts of cardio equipment, he says.

Do interval training: Jill Texier, 34, St. Louis, ran the GO! St. Louis half-marathon in 1:27 last year, placing 10th among women finishers. She mixes things up on the treadmill by sprinting 1/4 mile, then jogging to recover for another 1/4 mile. She repeats this several times during a workout once a week or every other week.

Split up your mileage: Texier and her husband, Matt Texier, ran the New Orleans half marathon last month. They divided a 12-mile training run on a treadmill beforehand into two six-mile runs. They stopped for less than a minute in between but it was enough of a break to provide a mental marker.

Adjust the incline and resistance: On medium-range runs, Texier would alternate running for one minute on zero grade followed by a minute at 3.5 grade then back to grade zero and so on. The same can be done by changing resistance on a stationary bike.

Focus on form: Reinking uses riding on his indoor trainer as an opportunity to work on his form. "I can work on my technique better inside than out," he says. "Outside, I have to pay attention to traffic and road surface, but inside I can concentrate on form."

Listen to your foot steps on treadmills: "You can listen to how your feet hit the belt and ask, 'Am I landing soft?' " Reinking says. "With treadmill training, we can train people to run softer. The louder and harder they hit, the more likely they'll sustain stress to bones and get injured."

Invest in a virtual reality cycling trainer: A virtual reality trainer is a sophisticated cycling simulator. You insert your rear tire into a motorized roller and your front wheel into a frame that has a steering sensor. The system is wired to a computer programmed with software that shows a video of a bike route and controls pedal resistance to simulate hills and wind resistance on the course. A lot of cyclists say it makes time and miles go by faster.

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