The treadmill is an important part of training for many elite runners, especially in northern climates. For example, according to Coach Dave Scott-Thomas, the Speed River Track & Field Club here in Guelph (including several Olympians) use the treadmill regularly. A U.S. Olympic marathoner from Alaska trained almost exclusively on the treadmill.
For myself, I have run 3 sub-2:40 marathons while training on a treadmill almost exclusively from the end of October to the beginning of April. Even during the warmer months I still use the treadmill for my Threshold Run (essentially a weekly time trial) since the conditions and speeds are so precise and consistent.
Advantages of treadmill running
It provides a great way to gauge your fitness regularly while eliminating most of the variables. Treadmill running can be easier on your legs, especially if you increase the incline, and you constantly focus on good running form. It allows you to benefit from the form-improving effects of running uphill while eliminating the pounding of running downhill; the old saying, “What goes up, must come down” is not true on the treadmill.
One huge advantage the treadmill has over the roads, is that if something doesn’t feel quite right, you can immediately switch over to another cardio-machine and resume an almost identical workout. On the roads you tend to hobble home and aggravate the oncoming injury.
Running on the treadmill allows me to run alongside other running friends regardless of their ability. I have done speedwork, threshold runs and even 3 hour long runs with one or more runners on the treadmill. The camaraderie definitely helps to complete the tough workouts.
Of course, I didn’t mention the biggest advantage: the weather is always the same in the gym – shorts and t-shirt weather. When the roads are slippery, your workout isn’t affected at all.
Taking the “dread” out of “treadmill”
If you haven’t been taking advantage of the treadmill, the most likely reason is that you miss the variety of scenery that you get when running the roads or trails. Every dedicated treadmill runner will tell you that the boredom is alleviated in their own mind – it’s about tinternal stimulus, not external stimulus.
There are so many ways to do this. One important technique is visualization. You create scenarios in your mind and imagine running through them. This is an example of dissociative thinking, a physiological tool that is very important to runners whether on the treadmill or not.
Another critical technique is to break the time up into distinct segments. For example, you could spend the first 20 minutes thinking through your current work day and planning out your upcoming tasks. Then you could spend 20 minutes on associative thinking in which you focus on your rhythm and running form. From there you could occupy the next 30 minutes by memorizing a mantra, verse, poem or anything else you would like to memorize. Print up the words in large font and set them in front of you on the treadmill.
Plan and execute
The main thing to remember when using a treadmill for training is to have a defined purpose for each workout. You want to avoid the generic 30 minute easy runs while watching TV that so many people do. Those workouts don’t accomplish much.
If you are running an interval workout or speedwork on the treadmill, the key to success is to have a detailed plan of interval durations, speeds and inclines. An example of a detailed interval workout, that also incorporates a visualization of a race course, is the Around the Bay Treadmill Workout. This online spreadsheet allows a runner to enter their own estimated 10K ability and generate a workout that is personalized to their own ability with appropriate speeds. Since the interval durations are the same regardless of speed, several runners can execute the workout side-by-side and run at their own pace.
About David Brooks
David has provided personalized treadmill workouts for hundreds of runners in the Guelph, Ontario area. Since 2007, David has led over 1,500 group fitness classes attended by over 500 runners through the Guelph Victors Runner’s Boot Camp as well as group cycling classes at local gyms. David also leads structured track workouts with the Guelph Victors running club. As founder of RoadRaceResults.com, David offers the only complete race calendar and results website for Ontario runners. Using the results database of RoadRaceResults.com, David has created Road Warrior Running, which tracks the improvement of Ontario runners and rewards the most improved runners, and the Ontario Road Race Rankings, which rank every Ontario runner in the 5K, 8K, 10K, Half and Marathon distances.