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Treadmill workouts for when the snow slows you down: A great way to improve your running while reducing injury.


As I’m dreading a 10 mile tempo running tomorrow morning because we are still getting hit with snow, I came across this outstanding article published on Runner’s World website. It’s a great read that gives some wonderful ideas for treadmill workouts. I’ve come to the conclusion that running 10 miles fast at 5am in a 3oz pair of New Balance RC5000s on snow covered roads is not going to happen!!

How Real Runners Train on Treadmills
Treadmill workouts for any occasion

By Phil Latter

Published December 13, 2011
Everyone has their winter war stories. There’s the day your goatee froze before you made it down the driveway. The time you broke through an icy creek but finished your 15-miler anyway. And who can forget the Blizzard of (insert year here), when you tackled the pelting corn snow and zero visibility to get in that precious hour run. Each and every winter tale ends with a storybook conclusion: “It’ll make me tougher on race day.”

Yet what if that resolve to fight the elements is actually lessening your ability to compete when it matters most? Specificity is, after all, a tricky beast to tame when the wind chill is minus 25 and you’re skating your way down Main Street in four layers of tights. The solution to your winter woes? The thing your “tough gal” persona uses as a coat rack in the basement: a treadmill.

The perception of the treadmill as the domain of beginners is outdated. Its ability to simulate courses and produce exact paces in a controlled environment gives it a decided advantage over outdoor junk miles. It’s why Olympic runners and their coaches have embraced the machine for years.

I spoke with five elite runners and coaches to find their favorite treadmill workouts and the purpose behind them. With everything from tempos to hills to long runs, you’re certain to find something to keep you inside during the long months ahead.


Advocate: Kara Goucher, 2008 Olympian at 5,000m and 10,000m

The Workout: 6-mile tempo run starting at threshold pace and finishing close to 10K pace

It’s pragmatics, not passion, that drives Kara Goucher to the treadmill. “I would absolutely prefer to be outside,” she says, despite having the luxury of an AlterG treadmill in her home. But the early sunsets of Portland winters can make outdoor running dangerous at times. Which isn’t to say that Goucher doesn’t recognize treadmill running has its own set of perks. “Sometimes workouts go by quicker because the treadmill does the thinking for you,” Goucher says. “For instance, in a tempo run, you don’t have to think, ‘I need to pick it up now’ or ‘I need to hold this pace.‘ You just set the treadmill and zone out because you’re just trying to stay on it.”

That thinking framed one of Goucher’s key workouts before heading to South Korea for this year’s world championships. Setting the machine at her current anaerobic threshold pace, Goucher ran a solid tempo run before finishing at her current 10K pace. The workout taxed her just as coach Alberto Salazar hoped, but also ensured that Goucher’s competitive juices were kept in line.

Your Turn: Simple but effective, this traditional (3-to 6-mile) tempo run adds the element of a faster (but not all-out) last mile into the mix. Whereas the allure of sprinting down the backstretch might sneak up on you outdoors, here you know the workout won’t be sabotaged by over-eager legs (as long as you don’t play too much with the speed buttons). “There are times where you might push too hard outside,” Goucher says. “On the treadmill you can control that.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Other Great Treadmill Workouts


Advocate: Marius Bakken, Norwegian record-holder in the 3,000m and 5,000m, coach at marathon-training-schedule.com

The Workout: 30 minutes to 2 hours of varying pace with quick recoveries

There are those who use treadmills. Then there’s Marius Bakken. During his prime, the two-time Olympian with a 5,000m PR of 13:06 ran every single hard workout from October through April on a treadmill, except when he was training in Kenya. During summers he continued to do half of his sessions running in place. “I was never really forced to run on the treadmill,” he says. “Despite cold winters in Norway it is always possible to find some stretches with bare asphalt.”

If such treadmill devotion seems a bit extreme, such is the nature of Bakken. He performed more than 5,000 lactate threshold tests during his career, adjusting workout paces on the fly to match his blood results. Ever the scientist, Bakken had one favorite workout that combined elements of all the energy systems in one treadmill-specific session.

Using his current lactate threshold as a starting point (roughly 25K race pace in his case), Bakken would float up and down in speed at predetermined intervals, going as fast as 4-mile race pace while recovering no slower than his marathon pace plus 10 seconds per mile (MP + :10). While the workout teaches pace control and works muscles in a number of ways, Bakken believes the biggest gain comes from keeping the recovery portions of the run up-tempo.

“You get a flushing effect of the lactate [system] when you go somewhat down but not all the way down to recovery pace,” he says.

Your Turn: Taking your most recent race results as a starting point, use a pace calculator such as the ones found at runningtimes.com or mcmillanrunning.com to get an estimate of your paces for a variety of races; then translate those to miles per hour on the treadmill. From there, start close to your 25K race pace and weave your way up and down in speed, making sure never to recover too slowly.

Bakken gives this example: 3 minutes at 25K pace; 2 minutes at MP + :10; 1 minute at 10K pace; 2 minutes at MP + :10; 2 minutes at marathon pace; 2 minutes at 25K pace; 2 minutes at 15K pace; 2 minutes at MP + :10; 1 minute at 4-mile pace; and so on. A 5K runner might do this session for 30 minutes, a marathoner for upwards of 2 hours. “You can of course make this much simpler and have some workouts with longer periods at one pace,” Bakken says. “You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll handle this type of work after two to three workouts.” Bakken advises doing it only once per month.


Advocate: Pete Pfitzinger, two-time Olympic marathoner, chief executive of the New Zealand Academy of Sport

The Workout: 60 minutes or longer at a 4-to 8-percent grade

Of all the advantages a treadmill can confer on its user, perhaps the biggest is eliminating the limitations of their geographic location. This is most obvious when it comes to simulating epic climbs. Living in a part of the country where mountains are scarce can make signing up for events like the Mount Washington Road Race or Pikes Peak Ascent daunting. And even where torturously long climbs exist, the logistics (“Will someone pick me up at the top?”) can make it impractical. Today, technology can help you overcome those obstacles. “If you are running Mount Washington and live somewhere flat, you can prepare reasonably well on the treadmill,” says Pete Pfitzinger. “The key decision at Mount Washington is to ‘find your gear’ [i.e., the highest effort you can maintain] early in the race and stick to it. There is little room for error because if you go too hard there is nowhere to recover.”

Finding that gear is much more feasible on a treadmill, where all the other variables are controlled. Even then, Pfitzinger cautions trying to simulate scaling an actual mountain. “At 4 to 8 percent [grade] the stride is relatively normal,” he says, “but above that it starts to be different than overground running.”

Your Turn: Ready. Set. Climb. After setting the treadmill’s incline somewhere between 4 and 8 percent, prepare to climb long and steady for the next hour. While specifically mimicking a race course’s profile may be helpful if you’re preparing for an uphill race, make sure never to set the treadmill’s gradient to such an extreme that your form breaks down. “From my own trial and error, anything over 8 percent feels more like climbing [than running] and is hard to sustain,” says Pfitzinger.

Sorry, but this workout isn’t only for those prepping for grinds like Mount Washington. Kenyan Moses Tanui included a 22K constant climb during his training for his two Boston Marathon wins. By swapping some speed for incline, you increase the number and type of muscle fibers recruited and, therefore, improve more over the same effort on the flat.


Advocate: Dennis Barker, coach of Team USA Minnesota

The Workout: Marathon-simulation run lasting 20 to 30 minutes longer than finishing time goal

Despite coaching full-time in the frequently arctic state of Minnesota, Dennis Barker doesn’t have his runners on the treadmill all that frequently. “One would think that I would have a lot of treadmill workouts living up here,” he says, “but the snow removal here is pretty good.” Access to indoor tracks, football practice facilities and even the 3-laps-to-the-mile Metrodome concourse give his athletes a multitude of options during the colder months.

Still, there are certain workouts that Barker finds just go better on the treadmill. Chief among these is a long run. A really, really long run. “We go 2 and a half to 3 hours,” Barker says. “Not so much at marathon pace, but they’re on the treadmill for 20 to 30 minutes longer than they would be out there in the marathon.” The simulation doesn’t end there.

“Every 15 minutes they’ll drink just like they would in the marathon,” he says. “We also try to simulate the course by putting in hills. We don’t vary the pace there; it’s just a harder effort.”

Your Turn: Thanks to sites like mapmyrun.com, the topography of almost any race course is readily available. Print out the elevation chart (which shows gradient), grab your fluids and gels, and perform one of your long runs on the treadmill, matching the race course’s terrain with your run mile for mile. Keep the pace comfortable but steady, and don’t change speeds even when elevating the treadmill bed. The course replication will have more than just physical benefits. “I think treadmill running does simulate a marathon quite well,” Barker says, “just because it’s so monotonous.”


Advocate: Magdalena Lewy Boulet, 2008 Olympic marathoner, 2011 Falmouth Road Race champion

The Workout: 20 x 30 seconds hard climbing (with 30-second stationary rest) at the maximal gradient equivalent to mile race pace

At the Stockholm DN Galan meet in August, Magdalena Lewy Boulet ran a personal best of 15:14 in the 5,000m. If setting a 49-second PR at the age of 38 wasn’t surprising enough for the veteran marathoner, consider her training heading up to that magical day in Sweden. “All of my running was slower than 10K pace [plus] a really hard session doing hills on the treadmill,” Lewy Boulet says of her time altitude training near Lake Tahoe. “Based on that I PRed in the 5K. It obviously translates, but you’re not really running anything at that pace.”

Translating workouts to the treadmill has been a weekly staple of Lewy Boulet’s training since 2007. During the year preceding the Olympic marathon trials, she found her body incapable of handling the stress associated with speed work. “I realized if I want to compete at this level, I need to do speed work, and I can’t get it on the track,” she says. “[Coach] Jack [Daniels] said, ‘We’re going to try something different. We’re going to get a hard effort going up a hill, and we’re going to do it on the treadmill so you don’t have to come downhill.'” The end result: a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.

Since that time Lewy Boulet has become a full-blooded treadmill convert. “It’s a huge factor in terms of recovery and injury prevention,” she says. “It allows me to really stay healthy for a huge chunk of the year. It just doesn’t beat me up as much as cranking out really intense work on the track.”

Your Turn: Without a degree in physics, it might seem daunting to match your current pace with its associated effort at a higher gradient. Luckily, resources such as the book Daniels’ Running Formula and the website hillrunner.com offer charts that approximate this well.

For instance, using the Daniels’ Running Formula chart, a 5:00 miler whose treadmill goes up to 10 percent gradient would set the treadmill at 7.5 mph to achieve the desired workout. Alternate 30 seconds of hard running with 30 seconds recovery on steady ground. Use the treadmill’s side rails to swing your body off the machine during the recovery period (“That’s how I get my upper body strength work,” Lewy Boulet jokes) and to pull yourself back on during the hill portion. Don’t let go until you’re confident you’re up to speed.

The hills may be steep, but the pace is forgiving on the body, says Lewy Boulet. “It’s a good way to walk away from a workout saying, ‘Oh, my God, that was easy on my legs, but wow my lungs were working really hard.'”

The 1% Debate

Run on a treadmill long enough and you’re sure to hear some well-meaning fellow runner tell you to raise your machine to a 1-percent grade. Why?

To offset the lack of wind resistance. Run on the flattest setting, they’ll say, and you’ll be cheating yourself.

It may sound like solid advice in the gym, but is the all-encompassing 1 percent rule an old wives’ tale for mechanized running or a truism backed by scientific fact? Researchers at the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom wondered the same thing 15 years ago, so they tested a group of trained runners on treadmills and an outdoor track, measuring their signs of exertion. “The energy cost of running outdoors is always greater than running indoors whatever the pace,” says Jonathan Doust, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors. “The faster you run the greater the effect.”

This is most clearly seen in the tactics of races like the Tour de France, where the peloton saves energy by sharing the cost of breaking the wind. “At the slower speeds of running the effect of air resistance is much less, but still measureable,” Doust says. For instance, running at a pace of 6:00/mile outdoors will add 5 percent to the total energy cost due to wind resistance. This would show up as roughly five extra beats per minute on that runner’s heart rate.

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