Using the Treadmill to Build Stamina and Pacing Precision

A few years ago while training for the 2007 Half Marathon World Championships in Budapest, Hungary my coach, Jack Daniels, prescribed a series of LONG Lactate Threshold (Steady State) runs each week. My Half Marathon race pace at the time was about 5:45 per mile so these runs were to start just over 6:00/mile pace and gradually progress to my Half Marathon race pace of 5:45/mile. The bulk of my training took place during the summer months as the World Champs were in October. The Steady State runs started out around 4 miles (not including the warm up and cool down) and by the end of my training cycle (12 weeks) would be 10 miles long. I managed the 4 mile Steady States OK but once I attempted 6 miles and over in the heat I could not hold the pace and my heart rate would soar to over 90% rather quickly. I was getting very frustrated. I talked to Jack about it and he had an easy, simple answer: “Use the treadmill for those runs. It will keep you on pace consistently and allow your heart rate to be in the appropriate zone over the entire workout which is the most important factor during a Lactate Threshold run.” I was worried the work I put in on the treadmill would not transfer over onto the roads in a regular climate but Jack assured me this would not be the case. I trusted his over 50 years of world renown coaching experience and logged many miles on the treadmill that summer for both the tempo runs and the fast finish long runs. The result was my best performance ever at the New Haven 20K in September (the qualifying event for Worlds) with a top 10 finish. I felt SO strong…like I could go forever at that steady state pace. I still use that premise today during the summer months to get in the long Steady State runs or even finish up the last few miles of my long runs so I can finish strong vs. dying slowly from the heat.

Many of you may feel that the treadmill is boring and you can hardly stand a 20:00 run on this “path to nowhere” much less 10-12 miles. I assure you I was of the same mindset before experiencing the benefits of being held to a certain pace for intervals of time in a controlled climate. Time mysteriously goes by very quickly as you focus on form and efficiency & of course awaiting the next rest period or water break! Your body gets into a soothing (even if tiring) rhythm and you don’t feel as drained from the heat and impact had you attempted the same workout outside. An important rule of thumb when using the treadmill for quality work or pacing purposes: You must set the incline to 1-2% if you are running faster than 7:00 per mile pace. This is to replicate the same “effort” as a run performed outside. This is due the lack of air resistance inside.

Another tip is to use a treadmill that has “Quick Key Selection” on their console such as the Star Trac LCD Console.

As you can see from the picture a console with these features is much more user friendly when performing intervals of varying paces or doing hill repeats. Instead of having to continually jab at an up or down arrow key 20 times and almost injure yourself in the process you can simply push one button to the mph speed or the incline % you desire and the treadmill responds immediately.

Here are a few examples of how you can incorporate the Treadmill for your Tempos and Steady States:

Scenario A: “Smooth & Steady”
After an easy 10:00 warm up walk/jog and light stretch set the TM speed to a pace that is approximately 30 seconds slower per mile than your most recent 5k race pace. For example, if you ran your last 5k in 21:45 that is approximately a 7:00 pace per mile, which is 8.5 mph on the treadmill. So your target pace for this workout would be 7:30 per mile pace. If you prefer to run by heart rate set the speed at an effort that will keep you around 85% of your max HR. Run at this speed focusing on smooth running form, relaxed breathing and practice visualization techniques for your next race. Novice runners should start with about 20:00 of this Steady State effort while more advanced runners could start with 30:00 and gradually increase it to 45:00 or more over the weeks to come. Finish with a 5-10:00 easy cool down jog/walk and stretch.

Scenario B: “Progression Run”
This is a great run to do on a Treadmill because you can be very precise with your incremental increases in speed. (Another great reason to select a treadmill with the Quick Key Selection console option. Start with an easy 10:00 warm up walk/jog and light stretch. Once back on the Treadmill set a goal of how long your Progression Run will be that day. Novice runners should start with a 15:00 time goal while more advanced runners could choose anything up to 60:00. Set the speed at your average comfortable running pace and then every 3:00 increase that pace by 2 mph. Your last 3:00 completed should be at your current 5k race pace or just faster. Finish with a 5-10:00 cool down jog/walk and stretch. It is important to note for these longer runs on treadmills that the deck you are running on should be supportive. By that I mean it should have some bounce and flexibility to it – but not too much! The key is the system used to “suspend” the deck when your foot strike and full body weight land on it every time. Too hard of a deck and you risk the same pounding injuries you may encounter on the roads. Too soft and bouncy and it affects your pace (slower) and although a soft deck causes less impact on your joints, it also takes the energy out of your legs. Your best option is to choose a treadmill with a “Flex Deck” meaning it will adjust it’s suspension/cushioning according to the weight/height of the person using it.

Scenario C: “Cruise Intervals”
These are long intervals of running (5:00 – 15:00 in duration) that are performed at a pace that is about 20 seconds slower per mile than your current 5k race pace (for many people this is their 10k race pace) , OR at approximately 90% of your max heart rate. Warm up with a walk/jog for 15:00 and then stretch. Set the speed to the level appropriate for you and then structure the intervals in one of the following ways:

– 4-6 x 5:00 at Cruise Interval Pace with 1:00 rests after each.
– 3 x 10:00 at Cruise Interval Pace with 2:00 rests after each.
– 15:00 at Cruise Interval Pace followed by a 3:00 rest + 10:00 at Cruise Interval Pace followed by a 2:00 rest + 2 sets of 5:00 at Cruise Interval Pace with a 1:00 rest between.
– 2 x 20:00 at Cruise Interval Pace with a 4:00 rest in between.

Finish with a 5-10:00 cool down jog/walk and stretch.

If you have trouble finding workouts that you haven’t done before or that are challenging enough for you the treadmill can come in handy here as well. Many manufacturers such as Star Trac (Core Heath & Fitness) offer an embedded Coaching program within their elite models. Star Trac Coach for example is a program that offers over 100 different workout protocols! It will ask you basic questions to set up your program such as max speed and incline, minimum speed and incline, rest interval durations, work interval durations, etc. Once you have selected your goals for the workout the algorithm in the treadmill computer randomly selects a workout that fits your protocol and a video of a true running coach appears to take you through the entire run ,beginning with active stretches on the treadmill, instruction on proper form, breathing, etc. It even offers different languages!

Perform one of the above workouts once every 7-10 days for at least 10 weeks during your Half Marathon or Marathon training cycle and you will develop a better sense of pace, a higher lactate threshold and the ability to concentrate and control your mind better than ever. When you can’t beat the heat you have to outsmart it…your body and your race times this winter will thank you!

Looking for more information on specific treadmill programming? Contact us today to connect with a cardio specialist.

Contact a Treadmill Specialist


Sonja is a world-class athlete who has trained people of all ages and abilities for nearly twenty years. She is also a skilled fitness programmer, holding Personal Training Certifications with ACSM, AFAA, and AFAA specialty certifications in Youth, Senior, and Pre-Natal Fitness. She is a certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, a Schwinn Power Cycling Instructor, a BoxMaster Master Trainer and an ACE Health Coach, which enables her to work with those in the allied health field in regards to high risk or specialized clientele.

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