DIY High Elevation Treadmill

(or what to do with a busted treadmill)

During the last year of so whilst setting up my home gym I’ve dabbled in repair of exercise bikes and treadmills and had some fun in the process.

I picked up an old Reebok i-run treadmill recently and it’s been the first one I’ve been unable to fix. The motor was completely blown and the cost for a replacement is excessive for a cheap treadmill. It cost me only £10 so I was able to recoup costs by selling the safety key for £10 and the control board for £45.

Unaware it was about to become a high elevation unit!

This left me with a motorless treadmill fit for the bin so I decided to see if I could turn it into a manual treadmill but with some proper elevation to use for hill training – Milton Keynes isn’t exactly known for hills.

Testing the theory with some steps and random wood.

Step 1 – add some vert!

This was done with a simple wooden frame as I wasn’t sure how much time or effort to invest into a possibly pointless endeavour – it might not work after all.

I had two offcuts of sturdy wood, cut them down to equal length added cross braces for strength, then secured to the frame with anchor bolts. It was sturdy and at about 40 degrees. Most treadmills go to about 10%, some 20% and a few beyond that.

I did say it was a temporary wooden bodge.
Looks classy – if you saw this in a gym you’d know it was a luxury establishment!

Step 2 – handle issues

Given the elevation and the current ‘lashed together’ nature of the treadmill I wanted something to hold on to so I didn’t die.

The existing handles are at roughly 90degrees to the running deck which is fine on the flat – when elevated it’s completely in the way.

The easiest way to sort this was to take the handles off, remove all the useless wiring and display, and then re-install rotated around, with two large bolts to hold it vertical.

My thinking is for very steep hills I’d almost certainly be using cheat sticks (walking poles) so having the handle is relatively similar. Ideally I might swap them for two vertical bars with hand grips to give a more realistic feel.

Step 3 – add resistance

Normal treadmills have motors, you adjust the speed, and run fast enough not to fall off the back.

For manual units the propulsion is entirely by your legs.

When elevated like this your own body weight (in my case, a lot) is able to turn the belt too easily so you need something to add resistance.

I pondered a few option, maybe fitting a small brake disc or flywheel to the shaft and having either disc brakes from a road bike to add resistance, or the usual felt pads like on a spin bike.

Given I’d spend some time repairing exercise bikes and had seen how hard they are to use if you over tension the belt I decided to try to use the existing drive belt on the treadmill. As I’m cheap.

Slightly rubbish picture but I used a couple of bearing from a broken kids scooter in a U section of metal channel I had spare in junk pile. This gave a nice smooth motion. Then I used a large bolt through this to the external treadmill frame and fixed with a bolt. By tightening this bolt I could tension the belt and add sufficient resistance that the belt held still with my weight on.

It needs a spanner to adjust so would not be ideal if you planned for a lot of different weight people to use this, but as it’s only me it is fine to set and forget.

Then reassembled and moved to a location in garage so I had some more head height. I stuck a couple of screws into the fixed plastic sections on side of belt as they were prone to sliding down.

It seems to work well and only a few minutes of climbing raises the heart rate and begins to get your ankles and legs working. In my case I’m as flexible as a fence post so even just 10 minutes of climbing and forcing my ankles into a stretched position, climbing on tip-toes is a workout and hopefully will gradually improve my mobility and climbing skills. If I find I use it a lot I can neaten the design up, make the legs foldable, have a better means to adjust resistance etc but for now it works and has saved the item from the tip.

Running a marathon on a Cruise Ship – because why not?

Ever had an internal conversation with your body?

“Do you think we should run a marathon today?”

“Maybe. When?”

“Well now.”

“But we’re just digesting a large lunch of meat loaf and three beers from the cruise buffet?”

“True but it’s starting to drizzle a little so the running track will be quiet.”

“But we did a spin class this morning in the gym. The man shouted at us. It hurt. We sweated so much a mop was needed.”

“True. But there’s only a couple of days left, and one is in port, so it won’t be as amusing on Garmin as doing it out at sea and this boat is a week old so likely we’d be the first.”

“OK then. We’ll do it. But we demand coke and beer.”

“Naturally.”

Background

Running a marathon on a cruise ship is quite a thing. There are geeky clubs of people (often American it seems) who compete to run the most marathons on cruise ships, or one on every ship in a given company etc. Even for someone as run obsessed as me that is just a bit stupid, but I did want to try one.

My only other time on a cruise ship was in my pre-running, so-fat-my-blood-type-was-Dolmio phase. So this year was my first time back on a ship with legs able to run.

The MSC cruise company had launched a new ship, the MSC Virtuoso and running UK sailings out from Southampton and back over 5 days, as a luxury hotel on the sea, unaffected by Covid issues or amber/green/purple/pink-with-spots list countries. We were booked on the second ever sailing of the ship so there was a good chance I could be the first person to attempt a marathon on board. I tried contacting MSC Media team for confirmation of this but they were unresponsive.

So I did it anyway.

The onboard track is marked as 0.2 miles. I walked a lap of this before we set sail from Southampton and GPS on the Garmin also recorded 0.2 miles, or 0.33k, so a little less than a usual 400m athletic track.

I knew from other mates that had run or walked on ships that the GPS would be useless when at sea so decided to use the lap feature of the Garmin – press the button every lap for 132 laps. Easy.

On a random Thursday afternoon (3rd June 2021 if it sets a record) I took advantage of a downturn in weather and whilst kids were in teen club and wife was enjoying the spa I strapped on my trainers and went for a bimble.

Slow down, duck and dive.

The Track

Knowing it would likely be a hard surface I had packed a new pair of Adidas Supernova as very cushioned. I’m not sure what the technical name for the track surface is, but it’s basically a poured and set levelling compound. Very smooth but also as soft as concrete.

What I hadn’t really noticed on the walking lap was two chicane points on the straights that forced the dedicated walking and running lanes to merge and twist between two glass screens. Whether for weather/wind protection or to intentionally slow idiots trying to run a fast pace on a track I’m not sure but the affect is the same of forcing you to slow and stumble awkwardly through. I’m sure a slight and supple runner could make it look less like a double decker bus negotiating a width restriction.

The Attempt

I started well, remembered to press lap every time I passed the start line and tried not to think of the laps to come.

Accompanied by podcasts the laps ticked away. After 150+ marathon or ultra events, and maybe another 20-30 training runs or pacing gigs of over marathon distance I can be pretty confident when asked to do stupid things my body will generally cooperate.

The first 1/3 of the laps passed in a little over an hour and I felt strong, confident of my usual sub 4 hour finish.

At periods other passengers would come out for some running or walking laps, and gradually have their fill of getting dizzy and go do something more worthwhile.

The kids took turns to pop up and deliver water or Coke, and another delivery from the wife.

20 mile aid stop

The chicane became increasing tough on the knees and ankles from the sudden changes of directions. I could feel the discomfort building and made a conscious decision to take these even slower to minimise the strain as I really wanted to finish. I did debate stopping at halfway but having recently given up on the Thames Path 100 miler for no real reason I couldn’t start to make a habit of quitting. The track corners are also relatively sharp and blind, so it was safer for all to take these steady and avoid any collisions.

Darling daughter was walking with a new friend from the teen lounge. Said friend commented that ‘the weird running man’ was approaching them. She was forced to reluctantly admit to being my offspring as I greeted her when we ran past. Being a source of embarrassment to your offspring is basically the role of a dad.

As expected the GPS tracking was well off, and my instantaneous pace on the screen switched from 4:20min/miles to closer to 20min/miles.

Then the sun came out again, the deck got busier and I got sweatier and slower.

Who needs a medal when beer exists?

The advantage of the laps is they don’t easily covert to miles so the usual ‘oh god here comes the 18 mile slump’ is less obvious but somewhere around 20 miles I really started to struggle. The family were getting ready for dinner so I was on my own and diverted to the bar for a beer. The barman praised me for finishing my run and I sadly advised I had another 30 laps left, or at least an hour.

The beer hit the spot and I perked up and got some pace again.

A woman dressed for dinner burst out onto deck in front of me and I was planning to divert around her before she congratulated me on running and asked how many laps I had left for the marathon. Her family had been watching me all afternoon it seemed. Which was lovely. And surprising. I’d mentioned to a few runners what I was up to and it seems the word had spread a little.

A couple of other people popped up on their way to dinner to also add some support and finally the remaining laps were in single digits and eventually all done at 132 laps in 4h33, measuring as 35.5 miles on the Garmin. I was left to jog back to the bar where the staff saw me ascend the steps and shouted out their congratulations and began to pour the beer. Best marathon finish line ever.

Advice For Anyone Else

  • Don’t do it. It hurts.
  • If you ignore that, have some very cushioned shoes. Or decent running form. Try not to run with the grace of a rhino.
  • If able take some tools and remove the chicanes (you may get thrown overboard for this).
  • Use the lap function, not the GPS and run to feel.
  • If the running track is right outside the gym, and the spin instructor sees you running he will still beast you the next day. Then he will comment how ‘loud and slappy’ your feet were as you tired in the later miles and remind you to keep good form.
  • A spin class the next day is actually not a bad way to work the legs loose.
This will hurt…..