Training for a marathon almost entirely on a treadmill likely sounds extremely unappealing — if not nearly unfathomable — to many runners. After all, the treadmill has earned its now-familiar nickname, the “dreadmill.”
Even if this tongue-in-cheek moniker is said mostly in jest, the undeniable fact is that many runners find running on the treadmill to be painfully boring.
Multiply that boredom by the day in, day out repetition of a 16-20 week marathon training program and the length of marathon training long runs, and it becomes clear why marathon training on a treadmill can sound like a near impossibility.
That said, training for a marathon on a treadmill is feasible. Plenty of runners who have done 100% of their marathon training on a treadmill has had a completely successful race.
So, whether it’s the weather and climate where you train, the safety or logistics of running outdoors, your schedule, or simply your personal preferences that have you considering doing all of your marathon training on a treadmill, keep reading for our tips to ensure you have the most successful race prep and get to the start and finish lines feeling fit and strong.
In this guide, we’ll discuss:
- Can You Train For a Marathon On a Treadmill?
- Advantages of Marathon Training On a Treadmill
- Disadvantages of Marathon Training On a Treadmill
- 9 Tips For Marathon Training On a Treadmill
Let’s jump in!
Can You Train for a Marathon On a Treadmill?
Given the choice, most runners would not choose to do all of their marathon training on a treadmill, but as mentioned, yes, it’s absolutely possible to do so and still have a solid race performance, whether it’s your first marathon, you’re trying to get a Boston Marathon qualifying time, or smash your PB.
Advantages of Marathon Training On a Treadmill
It’s natural to think of only the challenges and potential downsides of training for a marathon on a treadmill, but there are also a lot of potential advantages, including the following:
- Convenience: train anytime, day or night
- Weather Conditions: no need to worry about heat, snow, sleet, or wind
- Access to the bathroom, fluids, and fuel at all times
- Safety in dangerous areas
- Consistency with your workouts
- Easier to compare one workout to the next and chart progress without confounding factors like weather, different courses, traffic and pacing issues
- Easier to hit your pace in workouts and long runs
- Easier to practice and get comfortable at your race pace
- More cushioned running surface than cement, concrete, or asphalt, which may reduce joint pain or stress injuries
- Easier to multitask and catch up on TV shows, watch your kids, or even take business calls
- Easier to train on an incline for mountain races or hilly courses if you live on flat land
- Builds mental toughness
- Can train side by side with a running buddy at very different speeds without compromising your training paces
Disadvantages of Marathon Training On a Treadmill
Naturally, there are a few disadvantages to training for a marathon on a treadmill. That said, most of these downsides should be viewed as mere obstacles that can be overcome with a bit of planning and effort.
Potential disadvantages to marathon training on a treadmill include:
- Boredom, especially during long runs
- Increased potential for overuse injuries, such as shin splints, from the repetitive motion and lack of variety in terrain
- Lack of opportunity to enjoy fresh air, sunshine, and vitamin D
- Can’t train alongside running mates or buddies unless you’re in a gym with multiple treadmills or own two at home
- Belt can pull you along rather than you generating all the propulsive power to maintain the pace yourself
- Doesn’t prepare you for wind or weather challenges
- Usually can’t run downhill
- Uses slightly different muscles than running outside
- May lead to overtraining and burnout
9 Tips for Marathon Training On a Treadmill
The following are some useful tips to help overcome some of these aforementioned challenges of marathon training on a treadmill to help get you to the starting line ready physically and mentally in shape for a successful race:
#1: Use an Incline
Running on a treadmill reduces the relative energetic cost of running outside in air resistance, and the belt pulls you along rather than your own body generating 100% of the energy required to move forward.
While this may not accumulate to a significant difference in energy requirements for shorter runs, if you’re training for a marathon on a treadmill and doing all your mileage, including all your long runs there, what may seem like minute differences can really add up.
Research suggests that setting the treadmill to a 1-2% incline best replicates the energy and metabolic demands of running outside.
Therefore, marathon training on a treadmill set at 1-3% grade is the best way to minimize the easier metabolic cost of running on a treadmill versus outside. Overshooting is recommended by some coaches as a way to prepare you, even more, to crush it on race day.
#2: Always Warm Up
As with running outside, don’t go from 0-60 (or 0-8mph on the treadmill!) for your run. Warm-up with a few minutes of brisk walking or slow jogging before getting into the meat of your workout.
#3: Follow a Marathon Training Plan
No matter if you run outside or do all of your marathon training on the treadmill, following an appropriate training program is advisable to help you prepare for the race. Workouts will also break up the monotony of the machine and improve your fitness.
Once you have a training program, you should be able to replicate all the workouts on your treadmill. Of course, listen to your body. If you need a rest day, take it. If you can’t hit your paces, don’t sweat it.
#4: Don’t Race Yourself, Pace Yourself
Because every step of every run on a treadmill is recorded with the pace right in front of you, it’s natural to have a tendency to always race yourself and try to beat your previous performances.
However, recovery is a crucial component of marathon training, and not every run should be at race pace. Focus on effort or heart rate, rather than pace, if you have a tendency to push yourself too hard or compete with your stats.
#5: Fight Boredom During Long Runs
Arguably, the hardest part about marathon training on a treadmill is fighting the boredom of the monotony of mile after mile on the same machine. Getting through long runs can be especially arduous. Check out our tips for long runs on a treadmill here.
#6: Use Good Form
Even if you’re hunkering down for a long run on the treadmill and planning to binge-watch Schitt’s Creek on your iPad for 18 miles, it’s important to always run with good form.
Make sure that any entertainment you’re looking at is at eye level so that your head is level and your gaze is forward, rather than hunched down at the console (especially if you are tall).
Keep your chest up, shoulders down and relaxed, core engaged, and torso upright. Do not hold onto the handrails and swing your arms naturally along your sides. Most importantly, use the safety strap in case you lose stride, catch your foot, or veer off the belt.
#7: Quicken Your Cadence
A treadmill is a good tool to improve your running cadence and stride because you can see and hear yourself run with the use of mirrors and awareness.
Listen to your footfalls. If it’s more like a “slap, slap, slap” than a light and quick “tap, tap, tap,” work on quickening your running cadence to increase your turnover and land on your midfoot rather than heel. You should aim to be light on your feet.
- Related: How To Increase Your Running Cadence
#8: Use the Incline
Don’t just set the incline to 1-3% to compensate for air resistance and leave it there eternally; mixing up the incline during marathon training on the treadmill adds variety, prepares you for hills, strengthens your glutes, calves, and hamstrings, boosts your cardiovascular fitness, and reduces the risk of overuse high-impact injuries like shin splints and patellofemoral pain.
#9: Befriend Your Machine
Sometimes it’s all in your attitude. If you want to train for a marathon and a treadmill is your only option, do your best to embrace the treadmill as your training buddy and enjoy the journey.
As you can see, it is possible to train for your marathon on a treadmill. If you are looking for marathon training plans, look no further, as we’ve got what you need:
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