You can train for a marathon on a treadmill! If you do so, you need to make running on a treadmill as similar as to running outside by adding resistance with a fan and varying incline. As a running coach, I tell my athletes they need to prep for indoor runs the same as they would for outdoor runs with fueling and a proper warm-up. Read all the tips for training for a marathon on a treadmill below.
You want to talk about something almost as polarizing in the running community as the Boston Qualifying standard—discuss whether treadmill running is real running….and whether you can train for a marathon on a treadmill.
To be completely honest, I don’t quite understand the debate. Treadmill running is real running, and it’s easier and harder than running outdoors for different reasons. If you don’t think treadmill running is real running, do a 20-mile run on a treadmill, then come talk to me. It takes serious mental fortitude to do a long run or run for a long time on a treadmill.
I learned that this fall while dealing with an injury while doing several longer runs (16-20 miles) on the alter-G treadmill with no TV, and no easy access to a bathroom (because you are zipped in). It felt like my mental toughness meter went up a few notches those days.
Table of contents
- How is indoor running different than running outside?
- Pros of Training on a Treadmill:
- Cons of Training on a Treadmill.
- Top 10 Treadmill Training Tips for the Marathon
Marathon Treadmill Training is Possible!
Listen, most of the athletes I coach are moms who rely on treadmills as a tool to get their training in—including training for a marathon on a treadmill. In no way has training on a treadmill hindered them from achieving their goals—including running PRs and BQs.
In fact, treadmill runs helped them stay consistent so they can get those goals. Even my runners who don’t have small kids at home preventing them from running outside, relied on treadmill running when the air quality was high, weather was bad (including electrical storms, snowstorms, frigid cold temperatures, and a high heat index), and for safety reasons (not feeling comfortable running alone in the dark). Many of my athletes do most of their runs on a treadmill in the winter months.
Frankly, training for a marathon on a treadmill is likely better than trying to train on a treadmill for a 5k, as doing speedwork on the treadmill, particularly VO2 Max efforts can be tricky.
Still, training for a marathon on a treadmill does require some intentional training changes to ensure you are prepared for race day. If you plan to do the bulk of your marathon training on the treadmill, I hope these tips will set you up for race day success!
In this article, I will cover:
- How treadmill running is different than running outside
- The pros and cons of training on a treadmill for a marathon
- Plus, treadmill tips for marathon runners!
How is indoor running different than running outside?
Treadmill running lacks the variety running outside does. It’s a controlled environment where the elevation, pace, temperature, and sights can all stay the same.
This means treadmill running doesn’t provide the mental distraction of running outside, the health benefits of being in nature, and the forces of the wind and ground resistance. It also puts you in danger of overworking muscles if you don’t vary the speeds and incline or are running on a low-quality or old treadmill.
Pros of Training on a Treadmill:
1. No excuses!
A treadmill is an invaluable tool to have in a runner’s toolbox. With a treadmill you can train at any time with most any sort of workout including easy runs, long runs, interval training sessions, hill repeat workouts, speed workouts, threshold runs, and steady runs. Bad weather conditions, safety concerns about running in the dark, kids at home, air quality issues, etc. can’t stand in your way of marathon training when you have a treadmill! Consistency is the bedrock of successful running. With a treadmill, you have every reason to stay consistent with your training.
2. Mental toughness.
There’s a reason why people call it a “dreadmill.” Running on a treadmill is hard work, especially mentally. Treadmill running can feel like you’re on there for a lifetime. Yet, it empowers you to hone mental strength skills. For example, treadmill running allows you to work on how to stay one mile at a time, learn how to beat boredom (because running a marathon can be BORING, even at a fast pace on race day!), and learn how to “chunk” your runs. Chunking means you break it up into different segments to make it more manageable.
Training on a treadmill can ensure you get the perfect distance you are training for—no need to try to map out a route or find a track to do speedwork. A treadmill gives you ease of training.
4. Perfect pacing.
Running on a treadmill allows you to know what a certain pace feels like. If you think your marathon race pace is a 7-minute-mile pace, running on a treadmill will help you calibrate what that pace feels like. A treadmill is especially great for tempo runs and half marathon pace workouts that are done over longer distances at a moderate pace.
5. Mimic race day terrain.
If you are running a marathon that has hilly terrain, running on a treadmill can allow you to alter the incline to mimic the marathon elevation (unless there are a lot of downhills). Again, there is no need to try to find hills in your area. Merely press a button and get what you need.
Related: How to Pace Yourself When Running
Cons of Training on a Treadmill.
1. Treadmill running is not the same as running outside.
Running on a treadmill is in a controlled environment. You won’t encounter weather issues, terrain undulations, or wind resistance, for example. You simply set a pace and go. Without intention, your training will lack the variety and resistance that outside running provides. This can make outside running feel harder and also lead to injury.
2. Inaccurate data.
Some treadmills are not calibrated right, or your watch doesn’t calibrate well with the treadmill. Therefore, your pacing and splits can be off.
3. No downhill running.
If you are training for a hilly marathon or downhill marathon, the treadmill won’t be much of help for the declines since standard treadmills won’t allow you to have net elevation loss.
4. Intense speed training is hard to do.
High-intensity workouts like short sprints, strides, and VO2 Max efforts need to be adjusted for the gradual pace increase. Also, for really fast runners, the treadmill may not go fast enough!
5. Increase risk of injury.
If you hop on your home treadmill, set the pace and incline, and go—then you are putting yourself at risk for injury. You need to vary the pace and incline and keep up your warm-up and cool-down routine to stay healthy. Otherwise, you risk overuse injuries. Running outside will work different muscle groups as your pace varies and so does the elevation. Treadmills lack that, so some muscles, tissues, and bones can get overworked.
Related: 6 Treadmill Workouts for Runners
Here’s the good news! With all these cons of treadmill running, there are solutions! Below are my quick tips for treadmill marathon training!
Top 10 Treadmill Training Tips for the Marathon
Get the right equipment.
Ensure you do your homework and find the best treadmill for you and your goals and body. Invest in a high-end treadmill so you don’t wind up injured. Also, a foot pod will help you ensure your data is accurate.
Variety is the spice of life.
Alter the inclines and speed to work different muscles so you don’t overwork or over-stress certain parts of your body.
Run with your treadmill at a slight incline of a half or full percent to mimic ground resistance. A fan can also make up for the lack of wind resistance.
Work on mental skills.
Being in your home can make it tempting to stop to take care of a chore, use the bathroom, or get extra fuel or drinks. Try to prepare for your run as you would for an outdoor run. Stay committed when you’re on there and avoid distractions. Hone mental skills to help you get through the distance. I like to hide the screen and reward myself with looking after x many songs.
Mimic outdoor training runs.
Prepare for a long run on a treadmill the same as you would for a long run outside. For example, use anti-chaffing balm. Keep your fuel and hydration handy. And pace it similarly as you would an outdoor run.
Change your running shoes.
Many of us don’t train in the same running shoes every day. If you have specific running shoes for specific workouts or use different daily trainers, keep up this habit. This will help protect you from overuse injuries. Also, keep track of mileage. Shoes still wear out running on a treadmill.
Related: When to Replace Your Running Shoes
Don’t skip the warm-up and cool-down.
Never has there been a runner who said they regretted spending time to warm up or cool down. Just because you may be running in the comfort of your own home, doesn’t mean you can’t get injured. Do your dynamic warm-up and ease into your run. The best way to do this is to start with a brisk walk, and gradually increase the pace over the first 1, 2, or 3 miles. Again, try to mimic your outdoor running habits as much as possible.
Try to get outdoors sometimes.
When you can, try to include outdoor runs in your training so that your body and mind are not in shock on race day!
This is especially for those running a downhill marathon! You need to strength train to mimic downhill running and ensure muscle groups are strong and balanced.
Finally, it’s totally okay to help pass the time with music, podcasts, audiobooks, shows, and movies. There are also tons of apps with treadmill workouts to help motivate you and keep you consistent.
A treadmill is a useful tool to get after your marathon goals and get you to your marathon finish line. Embrace it!
If you want guidance with your running goals, including a customized marathon training plan on a treadmill, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
- 5k Training Plans
- 10k Training Plans
- Half Marathon Training Plans
- Marathon Training Plans
- Strength Training Plan