Some runners find treadmill running boring and tedious. They argue that there's nothing to look at, that the indoor air is stale and that real runners do it outdoors.
Perhaps. But treadmill running has its converts and its benefits. In fact, the predictability of treadmill running may also be its greatest virtue. The reliable roll of the belt, the comfortable indoor temperature and the safety and security of a well-lit surface certainly beat icy roads, arctic blasts and dark, treacherous footing.
Plus, "predictable" doesn't have to mean boring. With a little imagination, you can design treadmill workouts more variable and more precise than those you do on a road or track. Lastly, a modern, motorized treadmill lets you control pace and hills, and you can use this control to create workouts specifically targeted to improving your running.
Below are four treadmill workouts that will make you a stronger, faster runner. Each of them takes less than an hour, so they're easy to fit into your schedule. When running these treadmill workouts, keep two points in mind: (1) don't do more than two of the workouts per week (the rest of the time, just run easily); and (2) set your treadmill's elevation at 1 degree. This compensates for the lack of air resistance in treadmill running and makes your speeds roughly equivalent to similar speeds outdoors.
1. The Speed Demon
Run easily for 10 minutes, then set the treadmill at a speed about 20 seconds per mile faster than your best recent 5-K pace. Run three 3-minute repeats at this speed, alternating with 3 minutes of very slow jogging. After completing a set of three repeats and recovery jogs, rest for 5 minutes by jogging. Then run a second set of three repeats and recovery jogs. When finished, run easily for 5 minutes to cool down.
2. The Progression
Begin with a 10-minute warmup, and then set your treadmill at a speed about 15 seconds per mile faster than your best recent 5-K pace (this new pace becomes your 5-K goal pace). For your first treadmill workout at this pace, run continuously for 5 minutes. Finish the workout with 10 to 20 minutes of easy cool-down running. For each of the next 10 weeks, run the same workout but increase the time you spend at your goal pace by 1 minute per week. At the end of 10 weeks, you should be able to run a 5-K race at your goal pace.
3. Indoor Hills
Warm up for 10 minutes, then set the treadmill at your approximate marathon pace. (If you've never run a marathon, estimate your marathon time by multiplying your typical 10-K time by 4.65.) With the treadmill elevated 1 degree, run for 2 minutes at marathon pace, then elevate the incline to 2 degrees and run for 2 minutes. Next return to 1 degree for 2 minutes, but then climb to 3 degrees for 2 minutes.
Continue in this manner, raising the grade on every other 2-minute repeat until you've reached 7 degrees (the inclination pattern is 1-2-1-3-1-4-1-5-1-6-1-7). If you feel exhausted before you reach 7 degrees, stop, and don't let it worry you. Try the workout several more times and you'll develop the ability to handle the hills. Finish the workout by running an easy 8- to 10-minute cooldown.
4. The Broderick Crawford
This workout gets its name from its "10-4" pattern, a familiar phrase to fans of the old Highway Patrol TV series. Begin by warming up for 10 minutes, then run for 10 minutes at your current 10-K race pace. Jog very easily for 4 minutes to recover, then surge again for 10 minutes at your 10-K tempo. Recover for 4 minutes, and complete the workout with 10 minutes of easy cool-down running.
By regularly running treadmill workouts like these, you can develop a better sense of pace, increase your running economy and learn to deal with hills more efficiently. Best of all, come spring, you'll be ready to set some new PRs.