In Stride

3 Ways the Treadmill Will Make You a Better Runner

Don’t ditch it entirely when the weather gets nice. That human conveyor belt still deserves a spot in your training regimen.

3 Ways the Treadmill Will Make You a Better Runner

If you're planning for a race with elevation gains, but live at sea level, a treadmill is a great way to simulate that. Photo: webphotographeer/iStock

Seventy and sunny, the snow is finally gone—buh-bye treadmill, right? Not so fast, Bambi. The fast tread to nowhere still has a place in your training schedule. Yes, get out there and enjoy the unpredictable outdoors, but once a week—maybe once every two weeks—let your inner control freak take over and hit the treadmill. Bonus: you’ll probably have the gym to yourself.

Elite runner turned coach, Antonio Vega, did the majority of his Minnesota winter training on the treadmill, but doesn’t completely ditch the treadmill in nice weather. (How elite? He ran a 2:13 at the 2010 Boston Marathon and won the 2010 U.S. Half Marathon Championship.) Part of the raison d’être for the treadmill is that it controls every detail—pace, temperature, incline, precipitation, footing—so it allows you to isolate and work on one specific aspect of your next race.

Course simulation is a great reason to run on the treadmill in the summer months,” said Vega.

So you’re signed up for a 50K trail race with 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, and you live in central Illinois?  Hello treadmill.  “I used to run on the treadmill with a course elevation map of my next race on the dashboard so I could change the incline to match the race course exactly,” said Vega.

Mile repeats are the staple of any distance training program, awful as they are. Not going to lie; this tip will not make them hurt less, but Vega points out, you can get an extra bang for your buck on the treadmill rather than at the track: “Runners forget running downhill is just as important as running up. I’d alternate the incline slightly on mile repeats, up and down.” 

Running up and downhill uses different muscles and makes the workout a bit more interesting, he said. And the treadmill is a forgiving surface, so that downhill should take less out of your joints than running it on the road. Here’s the mile repeat workout Vega recommends:

  • 1 mile warm-up
  • 4 x 1 mile at race pace alternating a mile at incline and a mile at decline with 1 minute recovery jog in between each mile
  • 1 mile cool down

Summer months serve as the training period for many fall marathons or ultras. As such, it’s helpful to practice drinking and eating on the fly, and a treadmill dashboard keeps a variety of fuel handy—fuel you're not sure you'd like to be stuck with out on a training run. 

If you’re gunning for a 50K, Vega suggests a 13-mile treadmill run at marathon goal pace with fluids taken every other mile, and gels or other nutrition on the schedule you plan to use during the race. (Going for a shorter distance? Practice your fueling the same way with a shorter treadmill run at or below goal pace.) You can practice hitting the moving target of your mouth, and can monitor exactly how your chosen fueling strategy is going to affect your dynamic digestive system. Heaven forbid there are problems, you’re not far from a decent bathroom. Plus one for the treadmill.

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