It’s not easy to run outdoors during the winter in Anchorage, Alaska. So when Christine Clark trained at home in Anchorage for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (which was held in early March in South Carolina), Clark did almost all of her running inside on a treadmill. She was not considered a strong contender to make the Olympic team but Clark surprised everyone by winning the trials and becoming the only woman to represent the U.S. in the Olympic Marathon in Sydney.
If running on a treadmill can prepare an unheralded elite runner to make an Olympic team, it can prepare you for your next outdoor running event as well. Use these tips to get the most out of your treadmill training for 5K’s, 10K’s, half-marathons and even marathons.
Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Running is running. Being indoors on a treadmill doesn’t require you to train differently for running events than you normally would train outdoors on the roads. In fact, you should try to duplicate the proven methods of outdoor run training as closely as possible on your machine.
What are the proven methods? First of all, to run well you need to run often—at least every other day. You’ll want to allow plenty of time to get in shape for the distance you’re planning to run, allowing at least eight weeks for a 5K and at least 18 weeks for a marathon.
Start with a few weeks devoted to gradually increasing the total amount of running you do each week. Then turn your focus toward challenging yourself with a couple of higher-intensity runs each week. One of these workouts can be a Strength Builder or Speed Booster. The other can be an Aerobic Maximizer. Finally, cut back on your running to let your body regenerate so you can run your event on fresh legs. In the final week before an event aim to run about 50 percent less than you did the week before.
Let’s face it: Boredom can be a problem on the treadmill. Distractions such as watching television and listening to music (or, if you have equipment with iFit Live technology, running virtually using street view) can help. Another way to keep things interesting is to introduce subtle variations into workouts.
While a 45-minute run at a steady, moderate pace in a beautiful park on a warm spring day is unlikely to be boring, the same run on a treadmill might be. A simple way to make the time go by faster is to break those 45 minutes into one-minute segments and change your speed or the incline at the end of each minute. These changes should be small so that you’re still getting basically the same workout. For example, at the end of the first minute you might decrease your speed from 6.2 mph to 6.1 mph; at the end of the second minute you might increase the incline from 1 percent to 2 percent.
Even though the changes are small, they make a big difference in how you experience the run because you’re never looking farther ahead then one minute. Your mind is given something practical to focus on, which makes the time pass faster.
Exploit the advantages.
There are some advantages to training on a treadmill for outdoor running events. Exploit them! One advantage is that on a treadmill you can run at very precise speeds. If you have a time goal in mind for your event, you can do some runs at the exact pace associated with your time goal to get your body and mind used to it.
A second advantage of running indoors is climate control. Not only can you avoid extremes in temperature that are unavoidable outdoors, but you can also manipulate your indoor climate to prepare for anticipated conditions in your event. One of the theories as to how Christine Clark won the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon was that this event took place on a warm day. Since Clark had done most of her training indoors in a warm room, she was prepared for it, whereas her rivals who had trained outdoors over the winter were not.
Don’t lose your “road feel”.
Running on a treadmill is not exactly the same as running outdoors. First of all, there are subtle differences in movement patterns. For this reason runners who train exclusively on a treadmill for a while tend to feel somewhat awkward when they run outdoors.
Surfaces are also different. Impact forces are greater on asphalt than they are on the belt of a treadmill. If you run exclusively indoors your legs will probably get beat up a lot more in an outdoor running event than they would if you did some training outside.
The treadmill is a great training tool for outdoor running events, but its best not to rely on it too heavily. Doing just enough outdoor running to maintain your “road feel” will set you up for a better experience in your next event.
Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance and serves as a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports.