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Marathon Training on a Treadmill: 8 Tips for Success

Marathon training on a treadmill might not be any runner’s first choice, yet it is surprisingly common. The time commitment required for marathon training often means that fitting in each run outdoors is not realistic.

Yet, most runners still desire to train and choose to continue to pursue their goals. So what’s the solution? Treadmill marathon training.

Can you train for a marathon on a treadmill?

Yes, you can absolutely complete marathon training on a treadmill. Many runners have found success completing some or even all of their training runs indoors. Fitting in long runs on the treadmill might be a bit less exciting, but is a great option when you’re stuck inside.

The most important aspect of a successful treadmill marathon training season is adjusting the settings properly to mimic an outdoor run. Not only will this help prepare your body for an outdoor race, but it will help prevent injuries during training.

Marathon Training Treadmill Settings

Most experts agree that the best treadmill setting to mimic outdoor running is a 1% incline. This slight degree of incline most closely represents the differences in outdoor terrain. A 0% incline is unrealistically flat, and might lead to a lack of preparedness come race day.

While it might seem like you’re running on a flat surface when you run outside, even the smallest, seemingly unnoticeable elevation changes can make a bit difference. The varying surfaces in addition to bumps, cracks, rocks or sticks makes even the flattest trail different than the treadmill.

Some coaches take things a step further, suggesting runners complete treadmill marathon training runs at a 2 – 3% incline. The idea behind this added incline is that it helps runners prepare for an outdoor race, boosting strength and setting them up for success on race day.

Regardless of whether it’s your first marathon or you’re training for a PR, treadmill training is entirely possible. Here are 8 tips to make marathon training on a treadmill successful.

Marathon training on a treadmill might not be ideal, but it is possible. Here are 8 tips to make treadmill marathon training a success!

8 Tips for Marathon Training on a Treadmill

Whether you’re stuck on the treadmill by choice or circumstance, you’ll gain both physical and mental strength during training. Here are 8 tips to keep you healthy, strong and make the most of your treadmill runs.

Include a warm up

When running outside, most runners take a minute or two to accelerate to their regular pace. However, the treadmill greatly minimizes this natural acceleration. To avoid your body having to go from 0 to 100 in seconds, be sure to include a warm up for every run.

Whether you plan a full mile, or just a minute or two, making a point to spend the first portion of your run running at a slightly slower pace will allow time for your muscles to loosen, joints to lubricate and blood to get pumping.

Adjust the settings

The most important thing to remember if you are planning your marathon training on a treadmill is to adjust the settings properly. Be sure to avoid sticking to a 0% incline. Rather, bump it up to 1 – 3% to best mimic outdoor terrain and strengthen those muscles you’ll need to race outside.

Maintain natural form

Many runners adjust their form when running on the treadmill – without even realizing it. The different setting can be enough to make running feel different; before we know it, our form or stride has changed.

Be especially conscious of your form when treadmill marathon training. Pay attention to your cadence, your lean, foot strike and stride length. Avoid any excess arm swing or inadvertently adjusting your stride. Maintaining a natural form will help avoid injuries and keep you strong for race day.

Keep yourself busy

Treadmill running can often feel more challenging – which is especially frustrating when running at our usual, easy pace. So what makes it feel harder? The mind game. Staring at a treadmill screen for hours is significantly less exciting than running in even the dreariest setting outside.

To avoid getting bored on the treadmill, keep yourself busy with things to watch, listen to, or do. Treadmill marathon training is the perfect excuse to binge watch your favorite shows, catch up on podcasts, chat with a friend, or even read an e-book.

Incorporate miles at race pace

A great advantage about marathon training on a treadmill is that you’re always able to find and know your exact pace. Throwing in some intervals and speed work is easier than ever – there’s no guess work.

To help your body (and mind) prepare for race day, try throwing in a few race pace miles during some long runs. Something as simple as just 1 – 5 miles completed at race pace in the middle of a treadmill long run can be an incredibly effective way to practice for race day.

Find the right gear

Treadmill running can be especially taxing on the body – which means that finding the right gear is essential for success. Many runners find that they’re body responds differently to running gear when on the treadmill versus outside.

Take the time to find the right gear – especially running shoes. If something feels off in your usual shoe, it might be time to go get fitted for specific treadmill shoes. Similarly, finding clothes that are breathable and lightweight will be the best bet for marathon training indoors.

Perfect your cadence

Treadmill running can often cause runners to inadvertently change their cadence. It’s important to stick to a quick cadence with a short stride length, even when stuck inside. The treadmill is a great place to work on running cadence, as runners are able to adjust their stride without changing the pace.

If you’ve been struggling with a slow running cadence, try using a metronome during easy runs to see how well you match up. Focusing on cadence for even just one run each week can have a big impact on the final race.

Listen to your body

Although listening to your body is important during any training place, it is especially important when training for a marathon on a treadmill. The high mileage with lack of variety can often put runners at increased risk for injury or burnout.

If you experience any dull aches, minor pains, or consistent irritation, be sure to address it immediately. Stay aware of your mental health as well, and don’t be afraid to take a day or two off to reset.

Advantages of Treadmill Running for Marathon Training

While treadmill running certainly isn’t the number one choice for most runners during marathon training, it has a surprising number of advantages. Here are some of the benefits you’ll experience when marathon training on a treadmill.

  • Easier to hit interval speeds
  • Makes practicing race pace convenient
  • Runs can be completed at any time of day
  • Easier to fuel and hydrate during long runs
  • Convenient way to catch up on TV shows or podcasts
  • Build mental strength for race day

Disadvantages of Training for a Marathon on a Treadmill

Similarly, there are of course a few disadvantages to training on a treadmill. While these disadvantages can create a few extra obstacles for runners, overcoming them is often worth the effort. Here are some issues runners might experience when training for a marathon on the treadmill.

  • Can work slightly different muscles than outdoor running
  • More likely to develop shin splints and other minor injuries due to lack of variety
  • Difficult to avoid boredom – runs can feel especially long
  • Don’t get to enjoy the seasons or fresh air

Training for a marathon is no easy task – whether on the treadmill or outside. However, regardless of where the training is completed, fitting in the mileage and workouts will leave you prepared for race day.

The treadmill is incredibly convenient when circumstances are tight. When time is tight, daylight is scarce or the weather is gross, treadmill running is an excellent way to stay consistent with your training.

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