Can I Train for a Race on a Treadmill?

runner on treadmill
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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.

A Word From Verywell

With these tactics, you can make the most of your treadmill time and use it effectively in training for a marathon or half marathon.

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