Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill

Treadmill training can be an ideal alternative especially when presented with unappealing or treacherous conditions outside. You wouldn’t really want to train for a marathon solely using a treadmill, after all, your race will usually be outside, but the treadmill can still be a really useful method of training. Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill

When you are planning on running a marathon or half marathon in the spring, the weather can make it difficult to do your training runs outdoors over the winter. Likewise, those in hot climates may want to avoid long, hot miles outdoors when training for an autumn race. You may wonder whether you can do most of your training on the treadmill and if that will prepare you adequately for the race.

While there are some differences between outdoor and treadmill running, there are lots of benefits of treadmill running. Running indoors is still an effective (and safe) way to train for races during the winter. But it is important to log some mile outdoors on roads to fully prepare for the race.

Limitations of Training for Distance Runs on a Treadmill



Gyms often limit the time each client can spend on a treadmill, so you may not be able to put in more than 30 or 60 minutes for a treadmill workout. That would be no more than a 3-mile or 6-mile training distance. That may be a good amount of time early in your training cycle or for your within-week shorter training sessions, but too short for your long training day.

If you have a home treadmill, you may not have the time restrictions. A long training day is necessary to build endurance and it will get progressively longer in the weeks leading up to your race. It also toughens your feet so you will be less likely to get blisters on longer runs.

Many treadmills only have incline and level settings, with fewer having decline settings. That means that your training may help you prepare to go uphill, but not downhill, which will use different muscles and rub your feet differently in your shoes. You also aren’t challenging your balance and form with different surfaces, curves, and maneuvering around obstructions as you do when running outdoors.

Combining Treadmill and Outdoor Training in the Winter

Look at the weather forecast for the week and then plan your outside runs for the best possible weather conditions. They may still be less than ideal, but then again, so may be the weather on race day. If you can only handle one outdoor, frigid run per week, try to make it your long run, so your body gets used to road running for long distances.

You can even combine the workout by doing some of the mileage on a treadmill and then suiting up and doing more of it outdoors. Running outside for long runs also means that you won’t have to deal with getting bored doing double-digit miles on the treadmill.

Treadmill Running Can Be Beneficial for Marathoners-in-Training

In some respects, your training on the treadmill may better prepare you for race conditions than outdoor running because your marathon will most likely be in warmer weather. Running at room temperature will help you get acclimated to race-like conditions.

It’s also a good opportunity to test out some race day outfits since you most likely won’t be wearing your cold weather running clothes during the marathon. Working through the boredom you feel when running on the treadmill also helps you prepare for some of the marathon’s mental challenges.

Use your treadmill time to practice good running form and be sure you aren’t gripping the handrails. Mix up your treadmill workouts to better simulate real-world running conditions. Change the incline and use decline features if your treadmill has them.

Mixed Treadmill/Indoor Exercise Long Workout

If your gym has time limits on the treadmill, put in the full amount of time allowed and then take a break to do other cardio exercises, which could include indoor or outdoor running or walking, elliptical, or rowing machine. Return when appropriate to put in another block to time running on the treadmill. If your break didn’t maintain your heart rate, be sure to do a warm-up at an easy pace before increasing the speed and incline.

Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill

Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill

Starting in treadmill training

When getting started in treadmill training, ensure you do the following:

Wear lightweight breathable gear. Indoor training will make you sweat bucketloads. Wear lightweight, breathable kit to help keep you cool. Hydrate well. Ensure that you have a ready supply of water and/or a sports drink to keep you hydrated through all that sweating you are doing. Get a fan.

Mount a fan in front of your treadmill so that you get a constant flow of cooling air. Set 1 per cent incline for standard runs. If your treadmill has a gradient feature, to more closely replicate an outdoor running action, set the gradient to a 1 per cent incline. You can set other gradients when trying to replicate hill sessions.

Emergency stop. Many treadmills have a safety emergency stop cord. A cord clips to your clothing, but should you slip, the clip becomes unattached and the emergency stop function is activated. If your treadmill doesn’t have that feature, ensure you can reach the emergency stop button.

Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill – Treadmill session ideas

There’s no reason to have to depart from a regular training plan just because you are training indoors on a treadmill. A good marathon schedule should include a balanced mix of long runs, recovery runs, speed-work, hills – all of which can be completed on a treadmill. Combine your plan with some of the following treadmill tweaks to help keep your focus and maximise your training.

Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill – Long runs

The long run is essential to any marathon training programme. Running for up to three hours or more during peak weeks can be challenging outdoors, nevermind on a treadmill, so to help keep you on track, try some of the following:

Vary speed or gradient – running at a constant pace for a long period of time is key to marathon training, but to add interest to your sessions, try altering the speed, or gradient every ten minutes or so, just for a couple of minutes. It need only be a small change but it will help add variety and replicate the challenges of running outdoors.

Run with a training partner – try and find a training partner to help those long runs fly by. Your partner can use the treadmill next to yours and you can even chat as your run. If you can’t comfortably hold a conversation during your long run, this probably means you are running too fast, so turn the speed down a touch.

Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill – Speedwork

Speedwork helps make you a faster and more efficient runner. However, speed training alone can be tough, so try the following session ideas to keep you motivated:

Race a friend – train stride-for-stride with someone who is either faster or slower than you by setting speed and gradient that is suitable to your respective abilities. If you are both of similar running ability, then do the same session as a competition.

Race the treadmill – most treadmills have in-built programmes for hill training, fartlek and time-trials. Use the programme as your motivator.

Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill – Recovery runs

Recovery runs should be easy sessions, intended obviously to aid your recovery. However, as the session is purely recovery, it can be a little boring as there is no specific focus. This is the time to to use the TV or some music to break the boredom. Here are a few tips that will help you combat boredom when training on a marathon.

Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill – Music for motivation

Music can be a great motivator, whether it’s running to a particular beat or just feeling uplifted by your favourite songs, so investing in a good player or using your phone will help you beat the boredom when pounding out the miles on a treadmill.

Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill – Television

If you need another distraction or motivator while on the treadmill, then TV can be just the ticket. Most modern gyms feature a TV, often showing the latest music channels, while some of the very latest treadmills incorporate on board screens. If training at home, position your treadmill in front of the TV, but be mindful not to get too distracted so you end up missing your step.

Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill – Vary your workout

Let’s face it, treadmill training can be boring. One solution is to continually vary your workout. Experiment with different programmes, inclines, interval sessions and recoveries to add some variety to some of your sessions and also mimic the varying terrains of running outdoors. Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill

Can you do the treadmill challenge?

Marathon training on a treadmill is genuinely achievable if you employ some or all of these session ideas to help keep you fresh and motivated. The further the race distance, the more mental strength is required when treadmill training. If you’ve completed months of training on a small strip of moving rubber indoors, then you must have a good mental focus. This means that when you are eventually let loose on the roads for your event, it should feel almost like being liberated and therefore easier than your long runs on the treadmill. Good luck.


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