I know it’s cliché to hate on the
dreadmill treadmill, but I try to avoid it at pretty much all cost. There was a time early in my running career when treadmill running was pretty much all I did. It was the first winter after I started running. I’d hit up the gym three or four times a week and just run it out on the ‘mill. I actually started to enjoy it and it was during that time when I fell in love with running.
However, as my running progressed and I moved back outside the following spring, my feelings towards the treadmill changed. It felt like a shackle that forced a pace on me with none of the minor variations natural to running. The stuffy gym air with everyone’s sweat in the air. The unchanging view of yourself in the mirror or some bro getting his lift on. Locker rooms. Ugh. our relationship soured hard. The treadmill became a miserable last resort for bad weather. Eventually, my treadmilling was reduced solely to days when it was too icy to safely run outside.
So when I first heard about Mile High Run Club in NYC a couple years ago, I was skeptical. Why would I want to pay money to run on a treadmill? At $32/class, it’s in the range of most boutique fitness studios in the city, but it’s not cheap. Back when I used to have ClassPass, I kept meaning to at least see what it was all about, but it never happened.
Finally, today, I gave it a try! I didn’t really know what to expect. I figured it’d be a lot like a spin class, except on a treadmill. I actually somewhat like spin. I don’t love it, but it’s a form of cross-training that I’m willing to do. It sure beats the heck out of a stationary bike on your own.
Mile High Run Club has a few different types of classes. We did the High 45 which is an interval class that has you on the treadmill for the entire 45 minutes. They also have a Dash 28 class which includes dome strength training with kettle bells, a 30-minute class, and a 60-minute “distance” class.
When I walked into Mile High, it felt just like FlyWheel or SoulCycle (fyi, I loathe SoulCycle). There was some merch up front, a check-in counter, and then locker rooms. The women’s locker room has four showers and plenty of counter space and mirrors. Not bad! Other than that, the layout seemed like it could cause some cramped quarters if one full class is letting out while another full one is about to start. While we were there, it was totally fine, though.
When you walk into the studio itself, it’s again laid out just like a spin studio. The biggest difference, besides the treadmills replacing the bikes, is there’s no instructor treadmill in the front of the room. The treadmills aren’t your standard gym-grade treadmills, they’re Woodway 4Front treadmills. High-quality treadmills with a great feel to them. If you’re going to have to run on a treadmill, a Woodway is the way to go!
We were on treadmills in the front row which put us right up against a mirror. I hate watching myself run in a mirror. Not because I look gross or my form is bad—I actually think I look pretty good running!—but because it feels weird to be staring myself in the eyes for miles and miles.
Normally, when you get on your bike at spin class, you just start getting your legs going to warm them up before class officially starts. I wasn’t sure what to do at Mile High so I started walking for a couple minutes and then got going into a light jog. I was having issues getting my right shoe tied comfortably. First it was too loose, then too tight, then too loose again, then too different from my left one. Ugh. I started and stopped a good five times before I got situated. Anyway, the instructor came over and asked if it was our first time and then explained how the class would work.
Each treadmill has a little card on it that gives two sets of speeds. One for beginners and intermediates and one for advanced and “elite.” And each set has four different levels on it that the class will go through. The ranges for each level were pretty big so they should accommodate almost anyone. The base incline for their classes is 1% and it doesn’t drop below that.
Class started off with a light warmup and then a quick trip up to level 3 to figure out where your tempo pace would be for the run. As seasoned runner, I already knew about where I’d be, but it was nice to just feel it out on a treadmill.
During the class, the instructor is moving around the room, rather than also doing the workout themselves. This makes a lot of sense, honestly. I would imagine running for each class you’re instructing would be much harder than it is for a spin instructor. I also think it’s a little less necessary in a running class. Often times in spin, I have to look up at the instructor to sync my legs up (I’m terrible staying on rhythm myself). Not something I have to do while running. Anyway, the instructors at Mile High are more like coaches, so it makes sense that they even call ’em coaches. It’s almost like having a personal trainer at the gym.
The class went through a couple of sets of incline and speed intervals. The first set was twelve minutes getting us up to a level 4 speed with a two-minute recovery in the middle. The second set was nine minutes and more hill-focused. We increased the incline up to 4% and then dropped it back down and picked up the pace on the “downhill.” Between these two sets was a recovery of like two minutes.
Throughout these two sets, I gave it a pretty good effort. I held back a little because it was my first class and because I did a long run yesterday and am not in optimal shape at the moment, but I wanted to still experience the class as it was meant to be experienced. Those first two sets were a solid workout, however, I was beat. My level 3 and 4 paces were in 7:00 to 7:30 range and level 2 was 8:00 to 8:30. Fairly in line with what I’d run on my own during marathon training.
For the third and final set, the coach took us through a bit of a marathon simulation thing. This was kinda cool. He had chosen the Minneapolis Marathon for the class and kept likening the training we were doing with that which would prepare you for that particular race—a flatter, but windier race along a lake. Through the first two sets, he’d connect what we were doing to how it would help for that race. The third set was like a quick tour of the course. He started from the start line and worked us through the whole 26.2 miles over the span of 4:41. Yes, he was very exact about that time! It was pretty rad to run a marathon in under five minutes! Certainly a feat among feats!
Finally, the class ended with a quick cool-down jog and some stretching. I opted to walk it out a bit rather than do the stretching.
Overall, I hated the class way less than I expected. It was certainly a solid workout, for sure, and I was impressed with the level it pushed me at. I totaled 4.7 miles (in 41 minutes of “running”) so it was a short run—in terms of how many miles I typically do on a run—but I was tired. That said, it’s still a little weird of an experience. As far as treadmill runs go, it wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t a game-changer. The frequent speed/incline changes helped keep things interesting and alleviate some of that annoyingness of running the exact. same. speed. with. no. minor. variation. for. miles. thing that I hate. Still, you’re sorta just staring at yourself bouncing up and down in a mirror for 45 minutes. And I’m not a big fan of running with music. I haven’t worn headphones to run outside in nearly six years. I do wear them on treadmills, but only because I need some sort of distraction.
The biggest annoyance to me, was the changing of speed and incline on the treadmill. In spin, you have a knob to easily turn for resistance and speed is just up to your legs. On the treadmill, you have to press up or down buttons for each the incline and the speed. Both go at tenth intervals so jumping between 1% and 4% incline is either 30 clicks or a press-hold-and-pray-your-timing-is-good-when-you-let-go deal.
I do think a treadmill class can be a useful part of training for some runners, though. For more beginner runners, it can be a good way to push some paces you wouldn’t do on your own. I certainly pushed myself much harder than I would on a treadmill on my own—though, not nearly as hard as I can do outside on my own. It can teach you how to do intervals and keep you honest. And for more intermediate and advanced runners who typically only have flat areas to run outside, it can be a good way to get some hill training in. For us in Jersey City, we don’t get much in the way of hills. My typical routes are flatter than my chest—seriously, we’re talking 20 mile long runs with elevation changes under 10ft. If we want to run hills, our best option is to head into Manhattan and run in Central Park. So something like Mile High Run Club could be a good option to vary up your training a bit.
Would I do another Mile High class? Yeah, definitely. Am I planning to go out of my way to do one any time soon? Nah. Running is something different to everyone and, for me, a treadmill class takes away one of my favorite and most important parts of running, the solitude. I like the alone time. I like pushing myself and being in my own world and in control of what I’m doing. A treadmill class is the opposite of that. That doesn’t mean it’s without a place, it just means its place is very infrequent.