Ultrarunning: Training on Treadmills

September 26, 2011

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Training on Treadmills”, please leave it below in the comments section…

Runners don’t always have the time or opportunity to practice their craft on the roads, trails and other outdoor courses. The weather is not something that’s going to conform to your training schedule after all. If it’s zero degrees out and winds are blowing upwards of 25 mph, you might want to just run indoors on the treadmill. Some ultrarunners say the machine is a poor substitute while others actually use it as an integrated part of their training. The following is a brief discussion of the treadmill’s particular characteristics in order to help you judge for yourself.

Monotony

This is the one complaint you’re often going to hear about the treadmill. The typical ways to compensate for this are putting a television in front or playing a radio or other music audio device. At home, treadmills are often preferred to be placed in a room with a good window view.

For someone who often does sessions on trails, nothing of course beats the natural beauty of the outdoors. This quality of experience is in fact one of the weightier motivations of ultrarunners with a more recreational perspective to the sport. There is also a sort of psychological comfort derived from actually travelling from point A to B as opposed to just moving in place. Depending on how you look at it, this monotony can also be a way to prepare yourself mentally for an ultramarathon.

Accuracy

The treadmill may be boring but if properly calibrated can be a useful and precise tool. Particularly in more professional and heavy duty models, you can adjust the inclination for example to simulate hill training, both uphill and downhill. The ability to set time and speed accurately on the machine makes it a good implement for tempo runs, intervals, and hill repeats. Thus in the context of your training plan, besides just being an indoor running solution to bad weather, the treadmill can fit in well in the strength and speed build up stages.

Cushioning and wind resistance

Another comment frequently said about treadmills is that they’re softer than asphalt and lack the natural wind resistance you face when running outdoors. On the first issue, the cushioning actually depends on the make and model. Some ultrarunners who heavily use treadmills report that there is no significant difference given the amount of smoothness and other hardware underneath. As for wind resistance, usually setting the machine at a 1% incline will be enough to simulate a flat outdoor run and its wind resistance aspect.

Summary

Do you have questions about training on treadmills, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.

One Comment

  • Mark says:

    …I have trained for and competed in a number of full and half IM's. I do 100% of my training on a treadmill. I can dial it in, to exactly the pace that needs to be attained to meet my target time. The slight bounce, softer surface, and lack of needing to corner, cuts down on joint stress, and allows me to put in the miles without as much wear, tear, and injury. Not to mention the fact that it can be done anytime without worrying about the weather or traffic. On a lighter note, you do have to pay attention to the fact that your on an unforgiving machine that will throw you off of the back if you are not focused. …not that it has happened to me…ok yes it did! A little embarrassing when you're surrounded by others.


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