Can I Train For A Race On A Treadmill?

Woman training for a race on a treadmill

Branislav Nenin/

By Simon Gould

The aim for most runners is that at some point they will enter a race. Even beginners will look at the TV of people entering their local marathon and want to have a go. There are people in costumes running it and everyone seems like they’re having a good time. These races often happen annually and are oversubscribed.

The aim of a race

Sure you want to enjoy it. You want to be another runner that’s taking part in the race. To experience the camaraderie with all the other runners. Maybe you’re running for charity and you’ve been sponsored to run. Maybe it’s a cause that’s really close to you and it will mean a lot to you to complete the run. But what is the aim of most runners when thy enter a race?

The aim is usually to run in the quickest time possible. Maybe a quick time for you is 5 hours for a marathon and to be that quick would be a great achievement. Everyone has their own times that they want to run in. For some even completing a marathon would be an achievement.

Even if finishing is the aim you would still want to know the time it took you. You may want to do better the next time you run the race. It’s human nature to want to do better than before. The competitive streak in us all is something we’re born with. But how do you train for a race on a treadmill when it takes place outside.

Training on a treadmill

There are many advantages of training on a treadmill over running outside. However when you’re training for a race that occurs outside in the open air. Then it should be a percentage of your training that should be on a treadmill. Some very experienced athletes will use a treadmill for speed training.

Speed training is something the normal runner can try if they’re looking to beat a time and treadmills are a great way of doing that. For some runners training on a treadmill might be a necessity due to weather conditions or other circumstances. A treadmill can almost replicate any hill with it’s incline levels so that part of training is taken care of.

With a treadmill you can even simulate a race and it’s hills. A treadmill can help you determine your race pace which will help you achieve a goal time you may have. You wouldn’t use race pace much on a treadmill but it all helps you prepare for the race distance. Here I give you a guide to training for some different distances using a treadmill:

Those pages are written for experienced runners who need to train for a specific distance. If you’re new to running and you have a 5k race then I have a couch to 5k treadmill plan you can follow. This will build you up to the race distance in 9 weeks. It’s been designed for the treadmill but can be done outside if needed.

Start training well before the race

The workouts I’ve linked to above are a good guide to when you should start training for your race. But generally if you’re new to running you should begin long before your race. For a 5k race I recommend at least 6 weeks. You could do 5 minutes on your treadmill on your first week and increase it by 5 minutes every week. Do this till you reach 30 minutes and you’ll have covered the right distance if you run at 6 mph.

The treadmill is useful because it tells you the distance covered. Make sure to check if your treadmill is reading in miles or kilometers. If your race is a 5k then you don’t want to train on a treadmill that’s measured in miles. 5 miles is a lot longer than 5k. Use the table below if your treadmill will only show miles or kilometers to give you an idea of the distance you’ll need to see on the console.

RaceMilesKilometers (km)
Half marathon13.121

If you’re training for a marathon, I recommend you start 6 months before the race. This helps you build up to what is a long distance. It’s a grueling and energy sapping race. You need to give your body plenty of preparation, especially if you don’t normally exercise. You build up slowly to prevent getting any injuries as you train as well as in the race itself.

RacePreparation time
5k6 weeks
10k10 weeks
Half marathon3 months
Marathon6 months

Try some speed workouts on your treadmill

Speed training is definitely something to try and easily done on a treadmill. They have two benefits. They make your normal runs quicken and they make them feel easier. One of the most popular speed workouts at the moment is high intensity interval training. However, all speed workouts you see will have you alternate between running fast briefly followed by a slower recovery speed.

Speed workouts are hard on the body so I recommend you only do them once a week at the most. It may take some practice to run fast or sprint on a treadmill, but you’ll get used to it. You’ll be pressing the speed button on the console a lot doing one of these. Below are some speed workouts on this site you could try:

Make sure to at least cover the distance of your race

In order to fully prepare for the race, you need to be able cover the distance. There’s no better way than doing it in your training runs. I don’t recommend you go at race pace as you risk over training if you do. Also don’t do it on every training run. You need to vary the distances and maintain your fitness.

This is especially true of the marathon. In your 6 month training and preparation, I recommend you only ever approach the full distance once, and take it easy when you do. This is the way elite runners train for long distances. They rarely train at race pace and rarely cover the whole distance. Set a training schedule in advance, rather than just getting on the treadmill with no plan of what you’ll be doing.

Simulating race conditions on a treadmill

If there are hills then you can easily practise those on a treadmill using the incline. Running outside is supposed to be the equivalent of running at a 1% incline on a treadmill. However we wouldn’t recommend running with that setting as part of your training. Stick to no incline for your treadmill runs.

You can practise taking some liquid in while treadmill running if your race has water stations. This will keep you from slowing down if you’re worried about your time being affected. Simulating actual race conditions on a treadmill is not really possible, that’s why we recommend doing almost 25%+ training runs outside. Where that’s difficult try doing 1 a week if possible.

Final thoughts

You can be very successful training for a race on a treadmill. Let’s face it, you’re doing the same exercise indoors instead of out. If you own a treadmill or are a member of a gym then it’s good to get use out of your equipment rather than leave it idle.

One of the most important parts of entering a race is to enjoy it. Whether you are a beginner or not if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stick at it and keep running. Whatever race you have entered make sure you plan well in advance especially for the longer races. And your training will give you your best time possible.

Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked.

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