Treadmill Tip of the Week: Teach Yourself How to Pace

treadmill is an awesome pacing toolWe’ve talked about workouts, long runs, strength training, and even ways to use the treadmill to become mentally stronger. Our basic philosophy when it comes to the treadmill is that it’s a useful tool and nothing more. In that light, it’s easier not to hate the darn thing, anyway!

But this brings me to my point with this post. The treadmill is a tool with many uses, and the one that has been most impactful in my life is using the treadmill to learn pacing. The treadmill is the perfect tool to teach you to get the pace right, whether it’s of the easy-run or goal-marathon variety. 

Pace Control on Easy Days

We know WHY we should run slower, but finding the right easy pace is easier said than done. I know. I used to really struggle with slowing down on easy days. The treadmill has been key to controlling myself so I can reap the benefits of the easy run even when my ego doesn’t want me to.

It’s great, because with the pace set exactly where it should be, you’re not worrying if you’re going too fast. You can see right in front of you. Even better, you’re not wasting mental energy stressing about it.

Pro Tip: This is where “set it and forget it” can be really helpful. Set the ‘mill within, preferably at the slow end of your target easy range, cover up the display, start the entertainment, and go!

Ingrain Negative Splits in Your Legs and Brain

A few years ago when I really started using the treadmill for more training, I started playing games with myself in order to pass the time and get used to being inside. Let’s be real! I didn’t always love the ‘mill like I do now. Back then, I’d start really slow and increase the pace every time the song changed. By the end my pace was considerably faster than it was when I started, but I didn’t tire as easily because I started slower. After a few weeks of this, I got outside during a break in the weather and noticed that finishing runs faster than I started was now natural to my body and mind.

Whether in races or training, the benefits of negative splitting are many. As I mentioned, starting slower and easing the pace down generally makes most runs more pleasant than starting off at a faster pace. And most experts agree that slight negative splits in races yield better results than trying to go out at goal pace from the gun. Plus, knowing your body is capable of running its fastest when you’re tired is an invaluable confidence booster on race day. When everyone else is fading, you know you still have that negative turbo-booster you’ve trained ready to unleash!

Pro Tip: You can easily practice negative splits on every type of treadmill run. For easy runs, simply start at the very slowest end of your easy range and gradually increase the pace until you get to the fast end of the range without exceeding it.

During tempo runs and other speedier runs, after a proper warm-up you can start a little slower than the prescribed pace and work your way to a point where you are a little faster than the prescribed pace. Over the course of the workout, the paces should average out to your goal pace or close to it.

For long runs, you can break the run up into larger chunks of time increasing the pace for each block, allowing you to practice holding pace and speeding up towards the end instead of fading! For example, if you have 16 miles on tap, starting at an easy pace, run each of the four mile segments 15-20 seconds per mile than the one before it.

Stay Patient and Steady

While negative splits are an incredibly valuable skill to hone, being able to find a pace and hold it for extended periods of time can be extremely beneficial as well. Being able to hold a pace that is not 100-percent comfortable for an extended period of time is essential for racing your best – that basically sums up what racing is!

Holding a hard-ish pace on the treadmill for long stretches of time can prepare you for every monotonous boring mile, or the middle portions of the 5k when you’re not quite close enough to the finish to feel the relief is near, or miles eight through twenty-five of your next marathon. Maintaining a steady state on the treadmill is challenging, more mentally than anything, but if you can train yourself to do it, you’ll be a mental beast on race day.

Pro Tip: Much like your easy runs, this is a great time for “set it and forget it” on the treadmill, but this is better for tempo runs or race-pace portions of long runs. After a warm-up at easy pace, run the entire tempo or race-pace section at the same pace, then cool down or continue on with your workout as prescribed.

Snail Race Pace

While this is more or less a sub-genre of the steady run, the treadmill is great for learning what goal pace feels like. This can be done for all sorts of race distance goals and other goal paces, giving you the time and experience to train your body to be able to dial into it and what to expect at that pace.

Pro tip: I hope it’s obvious, but don’t plan to run race distance at goal pace on the treadmill! Dial into race pace for relatively short bursts. Think quarter miles at 5k goal pace, miles at goal half marathon pace, or 5ks at goal marathon pace. The treadmill is great for any goal pace workout in your training plan!

Nothing like the satisfaction of finishing a great pace workout on the ‘mill.

One Important Caveat

Speaking of nailing a specific pace, one thing to consider is treadmill calibration. Is the machine you’re running on actually going the speed the display says it is? It’s hard to know. If you have a home machine you can calibrate it yourself (we’ll get to that soon!) or pay a technician to come do it for you. If you’re at the gym, you’re at their mercy. But, more likely than not, the treadmill will be somewhat close to the pace you need, and in my experience and my fellow Salties’ experiences, we’ve never felt like the treadmill was so far off that we trained ourselves at the wrong pace.

Do you use your treadmill as a training tool? How?

A new mom and Upstate, NY resident who loves the marathon, a good beer, and all of the numbers/nerdy things. I write about my journey to a sub-3:00 marathon, training tweaks for improvement, and finding that "running/life balance" unicorn. On tap Next: Maneuvering through motherhood and postpartum running!

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  1. I’ve been training solely on the treadmill this winter and it both teaches me how to run easy and also allows me to experiment with really fast paces I didn’t dream I could do. I just did back to back long runs on the mill this past weekend and it is extremely important to go slow if you do that. It can be boring, but find a podcast or TV show, lock it in and cruise!

  2. I have been doing some of my long runs on the treadmill because it allows me to start way before the sun comes up and be done before we have to get to basketball games, ballet classes, etc. on weekends. I split the run up into shorter segments. For example, this weekend I did 3×6 miles. First segment was warmup, second segment was MP, third segment was MP with rolling hills to mimic marathon course. Watched a movie, was done by 9AM… and I think sometimes there’s less pounding on the mill and that’s not a bad thing.

    1. Definitely a great way to get the miles in when you have a busy schedule! Sounds like a great long run you had too, I love breaking up my long runs into blocks, mentally it makes me feel like it goes by faster and I have goals throughout the run to meet to keep me focused! nice work Jen!! Which marathon are you training for right now?

  3. Such a great post! As much as I love the fresh air and sunshine (or darkness!) of outdoors, the TM definitely does have a place – for me there’s a huge convenience factor with the kids, but in the winter, it allows me to hit paces I can’t outside because of the footing from snow and ice. I also think it keeps me honest on the pace – I can’t use the terrain as an excuse for a 5 second/km slower than goal tempo pace! I find I need a nice mix of treadmill and outdoors to prep for a race, but they both have their place for sure.

    1. Oh I totally agree, as much as I love the mill I need a good balance of outdoor time too. In the winter it means usually my easy runs or easy long runs are outside (assuming weather is okay). Quality miles are almost always inside because of ice/snow/risks like you mentioned!