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Digital Running Club » Ask the Experts, Columns » Ask the Experts: Treadmill Running

Ask the Experts: Treadmill Running

It looks like I will be racing the Princess Half Marathon (eeeek!) – which means I will be training during a Michigan winter. Do you have any advice on training on a treadmill (since running in the snow doesn’t sound ideal…or safe…)?
-Megan B., Michigan

The main thing to know about running on a treadmill is that you need to put a little incline on it to make your effort equal to what you’d experience outside. Generally, a 1.5% incline is considered equivalent to running on flat terrain. I like to put it on 2% just so my outside runs feel even easier. Of course, if you’re training for a hilly race course, then it’s not a bad idea to vary the incline throughout your training runs on the treadmill.

Actually, varying the incline might be a good idea anyway just to break up the monotony. Let’s face it, the big challenge of training on the treadmill is that it’s a whole lot like staring at a wall for extended periods of time. Here are few things that will help you survive your runs on the “dreadmill”:
1) Entertainment: The treadmill is probably the one place it’s completely safe to wear headphones. So, make yourself an inspiring playlist and get going. Most gyms also have TV’s within view of the treadmills and many people are able to read on a treadmill. (Some even use a large hair clip to keep their book open while running, but I don’t know much about hair clips!)
2) Daydream: Since you’re probably staring at a fixed point on the wall anyway, why not just zone out? Imagine yourself running in your next race and doing a great job, or see if you remember the twists and turns of your last race. Visualization is a key part of mentally training yourself for a race, so why not kill two birds with one stone? You can even imagine yourself passing the professionals to win the race! It’s your fantasy, do what you want. If you’re also listening to music, it’ll be like the soundtrack to your very own movie!
3) Use a fan: If it’s an option, point a fan at the treadmill. Otherwise it’ll be a very hot run. When you run, you radiate body heat to the surrounding environment. Outside, you continuously run away from this heated air (unless there’s a tailwind blowing it back on you). On the treadmill, you’re stuck running in a bubble of your own body heat unless there’s a fan to blow it away. A ceiling fan is ideal because it will circulate the air without giving you a gait changing sustained wind on one side of your body.

Training on a treadmill will make you mentally tougher, and it likely won’t hurt your chances in your race. Many people have run PR performances primarily with treadmill training. So if conditions aren’t safe outside, don’t worry about running the race to nowhere.

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Brian Darrow is a running coach in St. Petersburg, FL who specializes in online coaching for beginners. Follow him at

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