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Treadmill Training: Is It OK to Train for a Race on a Treadmill?

The treadmill is not my favorite place to run, but it is an important tool in my toolbox of running…things.

If you are able to get outside for all your runs, that’s AMAZING and I cheer you on.

If you’re like me, running in the dark sounds awful or you get lots of miles during naptime or while the kids are still sleeping, then this blog is for you! I’m going to share some of my favorite reasons to use the treadmill and give you some of the science behind why a treadmill can support your running!

Weather Woes? No Problem!

One of the most significant advantages of using a treadmill in your training is that it's always there for you, rain or shine. We all know how unpredictable the weather can be. Training for a race on a treadmill means you never have to worry about the rain pouring down on your long run day or the scorching sun making your midday jog unbearable. It's a lifesaver for maintaining consistency in your training plan.

Scheduling Conflicts

Like I mentioned before, most of my treadmill miles happen when my kids are still asleep. It allows me to get in my training even if my husband needs to leave for work early. The convenience factor is HUGE for me in using a treadmill. I have used it at home every since my girls were babies.

Precise Pacing

When it comes to race preparation, pacing is crucial. Treadmills allow you to set a specific pace and stick to it, helping you avoid the temptation to start too fast or too slow. You can program the treadmill to mimic your goal race pace, ensuring you get the feel for it and build the endurance you need. Plus, it's easy to monitor your speed and adjust it as needed during your run.

Hill Training Made Easy

Do you live in an area where the terrain is as flat as a pancake? Or are you prepping for a hilly race, but the hills are nowhere to be found? No worries! Most treadmills come with an incline feature, which lets you simulate those uphill and downhill sections of your race. It's like bringing the race course to your doorstep without leaving home. I really liked using the decline section for tempo work when I was training for Revel Big Bear in fall 2022!

Safety First

For those who are concerned about running in the dark, on busy roads, or in less-than-safe areas, the treadmill provides a secure and controlled environment. You can run without constantly worrying about traffic, potholes, or uneven pavement. It's a great option for early morning or late-night workouts when you want to stay safe. Again, this is me! I don’t like running by myself in the dark, so when I need to run at 5 or 6 am, this is where you’ll find me.

Mental Toughness

Running on a treadmill can also help you develop mental toughness. Staring at the same view, even if it's just the gym wall, can be monotonous. But pushing through that monotony can be a mental training exercise in itself. It can help you build resilience and teach you to stay focused, which can come in handy on race day.

Treadmill Training:

Why does the tread feel harder than outside? Why does running outside feel harder than the tread?

This is a lot to do with your personal preference rather than any true physical or biomechanical differences. Studies have shown that running on a treadmill and running outside are almost the same biomechanically. There are a few differences with things such as weather, incline change, etc. that will affect your running on the treadmill versus outside, but the biggest reason why you feel like one is harder than the other comes down to where you run more often and your mental view of it.

Think the tread is going to be harder? It will be. Think outside is easier? It is. Simply because you think it is.

How to Run on a Treadmill

  1. Warm-up before (or include a walking warm-up with some drills at the beginning)

  2. Find a great playlist or show that is just for the treadmill. The mental distraction is great.

  3. Even on steady state runs (runs where the pace is the same for the whole run) play around with the incline and pace just a little. It helps break things up over the course of the run and mentally makes it easier. For example, start at a 5.0mph and then add 0.1mph every minute for 5 minutes then come back down and repeat. Or add 0.5% incline every 5 minutes for 15 minutes and then take it off. These won’t change the workout from that steady state run but it is enough for your brain to chunk the workout.

  4. Focus on good form – running in the middle of the tread, not choking up on the control board, lean forward from your ankles, don’t cross your feet over one another.

  5. Start small and build up.

A lot of people or articles will tell you to set the tread at 1% incline to mimic outside conditions, but studies have shown that’s only true if you’re running a 7:10 minute mile or faster…and let’s be honest, most people aren’t. So there’s no reason to do that.

So, there you have it! Using a treadmill in your race training toolbox can be a game-changer. It's not just for beginners; even seasoned runners can benefit from the versatility and consistency it offers. Of course, nothing can replace outdoor running entirely, but incorporating some treadmill workouts can help you become a stronger, more resilient, and better-prepared racer. I try to get at least half my runs outside, but don’t stress if one week ends up tread heavy.

A mile is a mile is a mile. Whether it’s a 13 minute mile, a 6 minute mile, a treadmill mile, or an outdoor mile. So celebrate finishing everyone regardless of how you did it.

Remember, it's all about balance. Mix up your training routine with outdoor runs and treadmill sessions to get the best of both worlds. Embrace the treadmill, and watch your race day performance soar! Happy running!

Discover the benefits of treadmill training for race preparation and elevate your running game with our expert insights.

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