Marathon Training on a Treadmill?

Doing your marathon training on a treadmill might be something you see as a disadvantage, but there are actually many great training benefits to be had! If you plan on doing your marathon training on a treadmill you do realize that of course this means you will be spending a big part of your life training indoors on a machine. Perhaps this training strategy is your personal preference as you like running on the treadmill with all of its amenities. Or perhaps you don't have much choice but to run on a treadmill due to convenient access to a treadmill because of your schedule, or even for safety reasons due to the environment in which you live.

The fact is, it is completely natural that in addition to your marathon goal, you also need to balance and juggle a busy family and work life. Many runners find that access to a gym with treadmills can fit nicely into their schedule early in the morning or later in the evening. Not to mention having a treadmill in your basement to use any time you’re around the house allowing for family to pop in and visit. This can make it so easy to get your training runs in.

In any case, you'll see that doing big miles, such as those required if you perform all or most of your marathon training on a treadmill, will actually provide you with many unexpected training benefits.


You might have noticed some 'TREADFLIX' promotion here and for good reason. We were fortunate enough to help with the development of the training videos and this has definitely been the coolest project we've ever been involved in!

'TREADFLIX' are movies designed to run to while you're on the treadmill that take you through the actual marathon courses like Boston, New York and Chicago as if you were the lead runner in the marathon. Check out the commercial below...

It really doesn't get more fun and relevant that doing actual marathon courses on your own machine! The only things missing are the smells and crowds but you'll have to try and earn your way to experience those bonus bits :)

You can actually buy the just soundtrack of running music by itself to load and run to anywhere which is cool too! There are 22 tracks that amount to just under 2 hours of driving beats starting at 90 bpm and working up to 96 bpm.

The MP3s from the album are available for download for $5 right here:

Running Music

There was a period of 6 years where 75% or more of my weekly training miles were on the treadmill. Sometimes this added up to 75 miles when there were 100 mile weeks so I’ll be the first to admit that I had to learn how to amuse myself to survive this training strategy! That is actually the first key benefit to doing your marathon training on a treadmill . Running marathons will require patience, control and inward focus - all things that training on a treadmill can provide you with. So many times you hear someone say ‘I HATE treadmills, they are sooooo damn boring!” Yes, they sure can be, and for that very reason – there is little better training to develop mental toughness for marathon day.

Many treadmills today, particularly commercial gym units, are strong, smooth, quiet and provide for an entertaining atmosphere.

Treadmills provide the following benefits for marathoners:

  • Good practice for running cadence
  • Create a hill workout at the touch of a button
  • Convenient and safe environment
  • Can be an entertaining environment if access to media
  • Easy access to fuel
  • Consistent pacing for intervals and tempo runs
  • Great mental training for focus and heart rate control
  • Specificity if training for a treadmill event (they do exist)
  • Forgiving running surface
  • Excellent tool for the safe and gradual transition to barefoot running

Treadmills have the following cons:

  • They are mentally challenging (if you consider this a con)
  • Lack of variety – risk of repetitive strain - manage by varying incline
  • Less core and stabilizer engagement required when compared to trail running
  • You are in a controlled environment – it can be windy and/or raining on marathon day
  • Lack of specificity – if your event is on a road or trail

With this in mind, while the majority of your training runs can be completed on the treadmill, try your best to get at least every other long run done outside, especially if your event presents drastically different weather conditions. Otherwise, you will be accustomed to running in shorts and a singlet or sports bra when you show up for the race with running tights and a long sleeve shirt that you’re not used to.

Not to mention your legs and lungs will receive quite a shock when you hit the pavement outside and expect your body to do well without that controlled air and belt turning under your feet.

Marathon Training on a Treadmill Tips

  1. Set your treadmill at 1%, and leave it there - while there is some debate among experts regarding the equivalent effort required on a treadmill to mimic outdoor conditions, 1% is a good compromise and you will easily adapt to this minor shift in incline without putting much extra strain on the calves and hamstrings. Don't expect this adaptation to take place overnight however, but more likely over several weeks
  2. Practice mental games - a great way to pass the time and amaze yourself with the power of your mind over body, is to think your heart rate down! Yes, this works. You'll need to wear a heart rate belt of course that either displays on the machine or on your wrist so that you can relax and focus on steady breathing and bringing your heart rate down
  3. Do quick-feet drills - as elaborated on my running cadence page, counting how many times your right foot hits the treadmill in any given minute provides you with your cadence. Work on squeezing a few more steps into every minute
  4. Don't let your ego ruin your workout - some of you will know exactly what I'm talking about if you train regularly on a treadmill at the gym. A runner gets on the treadmill beside you and cranks it up, tempting you to crank up your treadmill. Resist the temptation to let your ego take over your workout. When you are marathon training on a treadmill, you may be in the middle of a 60 mile training week, and Jo fitness beside you might run a total of 2 5ks a week at a blistering pace to get his 'cardio' in. Focus on your goals and forget the rest!

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