How to Train for a Half Marathon on a Treadmill

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Treadmills are amazing tools for runners. No matter what level of runner you are, a treadmill can help you train for and reach your goals.

Beginners can learn how to pace themselves, intermediate runners can get in their mileage regardless of weather, and advanced runners can tailor their training to exact parameters.

But if you’re busy training for an upcoming race, you may be wondering. Can you train entirely on a treadmill?

This article is for runners wondering how to train for a half marathon on a treadmill.

Is it possible? Can it be better than the road? Keep reading to find out!

Is It Okay To Train For a Half Marathon On a Treadmill?

The good news is that you can train for a half marathon on a treadmill. However, you’d need to ensure that the treadmill you invest in can support the long miles and intensity of the runs you’ll be doing.

You won’t be able to train well if your treadmill doesn’t reach the speeds you need or doesn’t incline. These are essential features for mimicking real-world conditions, so you can get close to equivalent training on the treadmill as you would outdoors.

For example, if your treadmill is geared towards walking rather than running, it’s not likely to be able to handle the heavy use of a half marathon training schedule.

So the first thing to consider is whether or not your treadmill can handle it. If you want to buy a treadmill, keep this in mind when shopping.

Benefits of Training On a Treadmill

There are many benefits to training on a treadmill rather than outside. Now the caveat is that your half marathon will be outdoors so common sense says you should train outdoors as well.

But if you can’t get out the door for whatever reason and you’re stuck with a treadmill, then don’t worry! There are trade-offs when you run on a treadmill, but it does have some real advantages.

Convenience at Home

This is probably the biggest reason people get a home treadmill in the first place. Having one in your house makes training much more convenient, as you can get ahead of many of the usual culprits that disrupt good training runs.

For example, getting out of bed and heading out the door is difficult when it’s still dark – even harder if it’s cold or wet. But getting up and hitting the treadmill in the same conditions? Much easier!

Aside from the weather, having your treadmill accessible at all hours means you can train early in the morning or late at night, working around your own hours. Or if you can’t sleep, get up and get in a training run!

There’s also the added convenience of being close to more fluids, nutrition, and a bathroom at all times. And, of course, not having to leave the house to run means you can also watch the kids, wait for deliveries, or catch up on your favorite shows!

Safety

As much as we may not like to think about it, the reality is that we live in a dangerous world. Many runners worry about safety while on a run.

While you can carry pepper spray, learn self-defense, and wear reflective clothing, you don’t have to worry about these things on a treadmill. You’re in the comfort of your own home, without the threat of drivers or would-be thieves.

Injury Prevention

The treadmill provides a more cushioned surface than the road or the trail. While running on an outdoor track or grass may be equivalent, many runners won’t be close to a track, so the treadmill is the best surface for your joints.

You still need to wear good running shoes, but running on the softer treadmill surface can make a big difference for those struggling with joint pain or foot conditions.

Thanks to the safety features built into a treadmill, you’re also less likely to get seriously hurt if you fall or get tripped up.

Performance

One of the biggest advantages of using a treadmill for your training is the ability to customize your workouts and keep a consistent pace.

Pacing will become more natural since you have no choice but to keep the speed the treadmill is moving. This is particularly great for recovery runs where many runners overshoot their pace!

Second, you can tweak settings to mimic real-world conditions and get a great workout. For example, if you want to do hill training, you can set the incline to whatever works for you.

It’s easier to develop a consistent streak throughout your workouts. Another nice thing is that it’s easier to compare your workouts to one another without needing to factor in things like traffic, weather, etc. It’s just you against you!

download A FREE half marathon TRAINING PLAN

Are There Disadvantages to Training On a Treadmill?

Just like there are disadvantages to running on the road, there are some downsides to running on a treadmill.

One of the biggest disadvantages is boredam thanks to a lack of scenery (although if you run with the TV on, you may not notice this as much).

Another common disadvantage is that training on a treadmill doesn’t prepare you for real-world conditions. So if race day is cold, windy, or rainy, you may not be prepared for running in that kind of weather.

The lack of preparedness for real-world conditions can also extend to running on pavement. Concrete, asphalt, and even sand feels extra hard when you’ve done all your training on the treadmill.

Pacing yourself may also be difficult when you aren’t on a treadmill. It’s much harder to gt a feel of an outside pace when you’ve run on a treadmill.

Other practical considerations include most treadmills don’t decline, which means you can’t practice running downhill.

You also won’t be able to train with a friend unless you do it virtually!

How to Train for a Half Marathon On a Treadmill

If you want to train for a half on a treadmill, here are our suggestions.

Don’t Forget to Warm Up!

Just because you aren’t outdoors doesn’t mean you can neglect your warm-up! Take 5 to 10 minutes to get your muscles warm before getting into the workout; otherwise, you’ll be more at risk of an injury.

Do some dynamic stretching and then an easy 5-minute walk or jog on the treadmill before getting into your real workout.

Learn About Pacing

Pacing can be tricky, but knowing what settings will work best for you when training on a treadmill is important. Many training plans are based on pace specifically, so you’ll need to work out your average mile pace at least.

You’ll want to work up to your half marathon pace. While it may seem counterintuitive, you should incorporate runs of different paces in your training schedule.

For example, a common problem is that many less experienced runners tend to go too fast on their long runs.

It can take time and practice to run your long runs or easy runs at the right pace. But understanding your ideal pace for each distance can help you choose the right pace for each training run, which will boost your performance.

Remember, pacing is about the pace you can maintain for the duration of the race you’re running. This means as the races increase in distance, the pace naturally drops.

Vary Your Runs

When training for a half marathon, you’ll need to incorporate various training runs into your training. Longer distances are essential—you’ll need to work your way up to running the full half marathon distance at a good pace.

But it’s also important to incorporate shorter runs at faster paces, which builds your speed, and even sprints, which improves your explosive power. Speedwork and hill training are important for power and endurance, so make sure to do these kinds of runs on your treadmill as well.

Tempo runs—at your 5K or 10K pace—build your running efficiency. And there are recovery runs, which are done at a slow pace, designed to keep you moving but stop you from overtraining.

Mimic Real-World Conditions With Incline

On the treadmill, there’s no wind resistance as you run. This can make it feel easier than running on the road.

It’s a good idea to add a bit of incline, so you’ve got some resistance to work against.

1 percent is a good incline to start. If it feels too easy, you can increase it to 3 percent. This slightly changes how you utilize your leg muscles, better simulating an outdoor run. You can also reduce your speed slightly if you add an incline to keep it balanced.

Find Ways to Alleviate Boredom

If the thought of training on a treadmill is boring to you, there are several ways to make it more interesting.

You can opt for a treadmill with a screen that includes interactive workouts, like iFit. This will give you access to endless workouts, trainer-led sessions, and even scenic runs, but be aware that you’ll have to pay a monthly fee.

Alternatively, you could choose one that doesn’t have interactive sessions but features a sizable screen that allows you to watch your favorite TV shows or YouTube videos. You could also just place your treadmill in a room with a television.

If watching a show doesn’t work for you, we highly recommend putting together a playlist of your favorite upbeat tunes and playing them through your earphones or a speaker. Loud music can help you run faster!

Otherwise, listen to an audiobook or podcast, or do virtual runs with friends through an app like Strava.

Allow Space For Stride & Arm Swing

Don’t forget that you must position yourself on the treadmill to reap the benefits of your full stride. Running too close to a treadmill console will mess up your form since you won’t be able to swing your arms naturally.

This can lead to stiff shoulders and increases your chances of accidentally hitting your hands on the console. Try to run a little further back so you can have the space you need to run naturally.

Half marathon Training Tips

If you’ve decided to start training for a half marathon, congratulations! Here are some extra tips you should consider regardless of whether you’re training on the road or a treadmill.

Start Training At the Right Time

Make sure you start training with enough time to get through a full training plan. You should begin at least 12 weeks before your race.

If you haven’t yet decided on a race but want to start training, check the race calendar and pick a race from 12 to 16 weeks away. That’s close enough to be good motivation but far enough to allow you to train properly.

Keep in mind that your experience and skill level also matter. Beginners would be better off aiming for 16 weeks, while more experienced runners can go for 10 to 12 weeks.

Consider The Location of the Race

If you have your heart set on a race-cation, far from where you live, remember that the weather and humidity conditions could be different from what you trained in.

If you know your race will be in a colder area, it could be a good idea to try and make the room as cold as possible while training. Using an air conditioner set to the lowest setting could help prepare you for the cold.

On the other hand, if the area you’re headed for is hot, you may want to warm up the room to help your body get used to training in the heat.

Add Strength Training to Your Routine

Strength training is an excellent way to do “active recovery” from running. It builds muscle that can help you become a more efficient runner and burns plenty of fat over a longer period than cardio.

We recommend going to the gym outside your regular running routine once or twice a week. Focus on compound movements, and dedicate a day to legs and core, the more important muscle groups in running.

Cross-Train

You can also incorporate cardio cross-training when you aren’t running or doing strength training. These will build endurance and burn calories while giving your regular “running muscles” a break.

Swimming, rowing, cycling, elliptical, and jumping rope are all good options. You want something low-impact but scalable that you can do steady-state or HIIT if necessary.

Don’t Forget Rest Days

You need at least one full rest day each week between running and cross-training. That means a day on which you do no form of training whatsoever—just focus on rest and recovery.

On this day, you can foam roll your muscles, do some yoga, or take an ice bath. The idea is to rest your body as much as possible while taking recovery measures to rest and be ready for your next day of working out.

Get Enough Sleep

Don’t neglect the importance of getting enough sleep! Of course, the quality of your sleep is as important as quantity, so make sure the temperature is comfortable, the noise is minimal, and it’s dark in your room.

Research suggests that not getting enough sleep can contribute to overtraining, disrupt the immune system, and dull the reflexes, leading to impaired athletic performance.

You’ll be right on track if you can get 8 to 10 hours a night. It’s also a good idea to avoid eating within 4 hours before bed, and avoid caffeine within 6 hours to ensure that your sleep isn’t disturbed.

Focus On Nutrition

Eating junk while training for a half marathon will negatively affect your performance. On the other hand, nourishing your body with wholesome foods can contribute to good performance.

Eat a balanced diet of protein—which will help to build muscle—and healthy carbohydrates, which will replenish blood glycogen levels that help to provide energy when you’re running.

It’s also a good idea to test some mid-run nutrition options during training. The beauty of training on a treadmill is that you can try new things without worrying about your stomach reacting badly, as there’s a bathroom just a few steps away.

This is the best time to figure out which nutrition items work for you. Try different brands, different flavors, and different types—energy gels, energy chews, sports drinks, energy bars, etc—to figure out which one really works well so you don’t have stomach troubles on race day.

download A FREE half marathon TRAINING PLAN

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.