How to train for a marathon while using a treadmill

No matter where you are, if you have made the unfortunate decision to train for a spring marathon, then the jokes on you you are already aware that to actually GET to spring—you must survive the winter. YUP. I’ve written a LOT lately about running outside throughout the winter running because i’m trying to psych myself up… but really, i DO have to do a couple days of week on the dreadmill. Whether i like it or not, sometimes the weather is NOT my friend. Tuesday it was dangerously snowing/raining/sleeting and i decided i like my odds of survival much better on the ‘mill than on the roads…Wednesday, i had limited time AND it was pouring out…treadmill=2, Running Outside=0. BUT THURSDAY! This was going to be MY DAY to run outside! When i got out of work, it was lightly snowing. And by the time i got home, it was heavily snowing. So….Treadmill=3, Nicole/Running Outside=0. (((SIGH))) The life of the winter runner is a struggle. Three for Three…. UGH. Its going to be a long winter…

Now that my tale of woe is complete, I must tell you that the purpose of this post it to add my 2 cents in about how to train for a marathon while also running on a treadmill…

Buy a treadmill.
Or, ….join a gym, use your complex’s treadmill, work out in your office gym that has a treadmill…or, worst case scenario? Break into your next door neighbor’s house that has a treadmill. Just kidding…

Turn Treadmill on.
It’s pretty hard to run on a treadmill that’s off. #justsaying!

You have a phone, or some sort of electronic device, right?
Good. Because Kindle/Nook Books, Music, podcats, Netflix, XFinity Go, NETFLIX…They are your new friends and will help entertain you, like… A LOT. I love all of these things… figure out how to use them, and use them well. Now is the time to ask your friends which shows/books/movies you have been missing from your life. You + Treadmill+ Electronics? You might as well tattoo “NETFLIX” on your arm, my treadmill running friend because you just fell in loooove!

Have a plan.
What type of run are you doing today? Sprints? Easy? Tempo? Yassos? Progression? Knowing ahead of time what you are going to be doing helps alleviate the helplessness! As much as i hate being forced inside on my treadmill, knowing what my planned outdoors run was going to be for that day helps me figure out my treadmill running plan.

Set a goal finishing time.
This has helped me A LOT. If i don’t limit myself on the time i can spend on the treadmill, i am likely to take 84,000 breaks, check my cell phone, answer phone calls, respond to texts, comment on blogs… Are you getting the picture? Don’t let distractions get in the way, or before you know it, your spouse will be telling you its 2 hours from bedtime and you haven’t started dinner yet. (thats only partially a true story…ok, LIES, its 100%true)

Step 6:
Use your treadmill for harder workouts that are difficult for you to accomplish outdoors.
Use nature’s obstacles as your easy runs and if you have to, use your treadmill for your more difficult runs. I had wanted to hit the track this week, but that trick b*tch M Nature sure had other plans. I had to adjust…that’s life though! I have learned that Adjustment is just one part of being a runner. If the outside terrain is too unsafe to run on, I will use my treadmill all winter long for all of my tough workouts.


Step 7:
I’m already sorry that i have to include this part because you all are my friends…
Set your treadmill to a 1% incline. (If you’re feeling frisky…put it higher.)
Are you training for Boston or another hilly marathon? Well then, you need to get a good hill workout on there too!!
Running outside presents you with uneven pavement, uphills, wind resistance, downhills, and other crazy situations. Setting your treadmill on an incline will help you prepare for these real life situations that you WILL encounter as soon as it is safe to do so without falling down stairs or under your car. (both of these unfortunate things happened to my poor friend the other day)

Don’t be afraid to hop on the treadmill.
Sometimes, you’ve just GOT to do it. I’ve met VERY few runners who love the treadmill…most runners will openly tell you it just ain’t their bag. I am one of those runners. Give me rain, cold, and even my least favorite element-WIND, and i will STILL choose roads over mill every time. But, this week? That choice was out of my control so i sucked it up and just DID what i had to do, and i didn’t complain even once!! I know you don’t love it. But i promise you, you will survive. And if you want, you can email me after and tell me how much you hated it. With the advancement of today’s treadmills, they mimic the outdoors SO well, it’s crazy. You can simulate your exact courses, and even put lifts under your treadmill for simulation purposes! (I have never done this… I have lots of hills in my ‘hood that beg me to run up them!)
Remember that ALL of your runs shouldn’t be done on a treadmill.
We winter runners training for that beautiful, seemingly intangible, spring marathon know this:
At some point (or two) during the week-we absolutely MUST venture outside for some running. You still need to keep your body used to running outside. By running on pavement, you are naturally setting your paces and your body is instinctively learning what certain paces feel like. This is imperative to marathon training! I plan to do Saturday and Sunday’s runs outside because its going to be lovely out! And by lovely…I mean NO precipitation!

How often do you hit the treadmill?
How many days a week? Give me the ratio!


39 thoughts on “How to train for a marathon while using a treadmill

  1. Because of my kids, I typically have to do two of my workouts on the treadmill, usually speed and tempo. But, this year I may be facing my long run on the treadmill as well. I have been dealing with bronchitis and it really flares up with the cold weather making it difficult to breathe. I hope it doesn’t stick around for long, but it’s been a month already. I’ve already missed the first two weeks of marathon training because of it. It’s not looking good.

  2. Great tips, especially #6! During winter where I live there’s too much snow and/or ice to safely do speedwork outside so I head to the treadmill for those workouts. I actually get a better workout than outside because I’m not slowing down to avoid ice and other elements.

  3. #3 and #7 are the best! Treadmill inclines/hill workouts are the worst (no downhills!), but they’re totally necessary if you have an outdoor race coming up. I try to do a long run outdoors once a week in the winter, but sometimes I completely switch over to the mill, and reintroduce outside running a few weeks before the race. Right now, I’m lucky to still be 100% outside.

  4. I definitely wound up on the treadmill at least one day per week last winter while training for Boston, and I really did hate it! For me to have gotten on it though means I was really desperate. Running always feels 3 times harder on the treadmill!

  5. I definitely prefer running outdoors, like most, however I have to use the treadmill when I can’t leave the kid at home or I have to be at work early. Treadmill is more of a time saver for me. I generally run 3-4x outdoors 2-3x on the mill. Depending on work schedule. I always have it set to 1-1.5% for standard runs. Great post! I love your humor lol

  6. LOVE LOVE LOVE my treadmill! Almost all my runs are on it (99+ % easy). If you know someone who’s done the thing where you set boards under the back to make decline, could you put us in touch? I need to do that for Boston training and would love more specific info than I have seen online about how to do it and make it work well while being safe – especially as I expect the boards to be there for months.

  7. This is great advice!! I bought myself a treadmill before training for my first marathon (so I would never have an excuse to skip a run lol!) and then used it for the majority of my runs through last year’s FREEZING COLD TEMPERATURES AND STORMS! Right now, I do still use the treadmill a lot, but that’s more because I hate running in the dark alone and by the time I’m home from work, it’s dark :/ I usually do 2-3 treadmill runs a week and 2-3 outdoor runs. I especially like doing hills and intervals on the treadmill though because it makes me feel like I’m actually DOING SOMETHING! Easy runs on the treadmill are the worst because time just doesn’t seem to move. Also, running on the treadmill means I don’t have to wear #allthelayers so getting ready is much quicker 🙂

  8. i HATE HATE HATE the treadmill but for my shorter easy runs, hill repeats, or speed workouts during the week (4 miles or so), i hit up the treadmill at the gym in my work building. i cannot mentally run any more than 5 miles on a treadmill. and why is it that i feel like im working so much harder on the tready than i am outside….and im not even on an incline?!?!!?

  9. Now that it’s winter in Wisconsin, the ‘mill and I are getting to know each other again. I only use it once a week though, and only for speed interval work that I can’t do outside anymore. I actually almost prefer the treadmill for speed intervals – I can control the pace and make sure I hold it for the whole interval! I can’t do treadmill for regular runs though. I once did 7 miles on a mill at the gym….never again.

    I’m joining a new gym in January that has an indoor track, so I suspect once that happens my ‘mill usage will go back to nearly nonexistent.

  10. I run on the treadmill about three days a week typically. So when I have 6 day run week cycles my ratio is 50/50. And I’ll usually use the treadmill for intervals and progression runs

  11. I have a very complicated history with treadmills:) I didn’t run on one ever until college. I had this one day after I had been using the treadmill for a few months where I got dizzy on it and thought I was gonna fall off. I stopped using it for a few years. I got brave and eventually stared using them again for awhile. At one point it was my primary way of running because of my schedule/location and I think I learned to prefer it. Then after I had hip surgery 3 years ago I started to find it felt really weird to run on there…so I avoid it as much as possible. Not only do I get bored but I also feel like my form is different. I decided lately to start getting on there once in a while just so I get more comfortable in case of really bad weather this winter. Part of me thinks that if I had my own treadmill I would be much more likely to use it, but who knows! I don’t think I could do more than an hour on there without going crazy. A long time ago I did 12 miles at a gym while studying for a grad school exam. Crazy to think about that!

    • I have also noticed differences in my form on it. And then if I don’t go outside for a while, it feels weird to run on pavement again. I bet you would use it more-you can’t beat the convenience of it! And when we have no school, I don’t have to skip a run which is a bonus and I’m sure you would feel the same!:) 12 miles on a treadmill IS a lot. I try not to do long runs on it but sometimes I have no choice, bla!

  12. I have no access to a threadmill nor do I have the place to place one indoors and I can honestly say I’m happy about it 🙂 This way it’s outside or nothing, which pushes me out the door no matter what weather. (But I must admit: snow is not a common thing around here, wind is…)

  13. Sorry to hear about the weather, but I’m sure you’re still getting some great runs in on the treadmill. Great dedication! Honestly, I have run 0 times on a treadmill. It scares me a little bit. When it snows here, I run on an inside track. Happy Friday!! Have a wonderful weekend!! 🙂

  14. I have been doing mainly the treadmill lately..although considering I have a half on the 28th of this month, I have forced myself to get back outside this week…and hopefully for the next few weeks…even though it’s!

    The treadmill definitely helps a lot for getting in training in the winter, but I still can’t stand it. Although, I can stand it better than freezing cold weather…lol..

  15. I have been so bad with the treadmill lately because I do not like my school’s gym (way too hot!). But like you, I won’t be able to run outside whenever I want this winter. I’m looking forward to catching up with some Netflix. I plan to hit the treadmill 2 days a week and run outside another 2 days, at least while I’m not in school!

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