Treadmill Tip of the Week: Treadmills are for Ultrarunners Too!

The snow may look pretty, but these trails are full of ice, freezing puddles of water and snow!
The snow may look pretty, but these trails are full of ice, freezing puddles of water and snow!

There’s one place where most ultra runners refuse to run. We love our trails, hills, mud, rocks and roots. We have our favorite parks and routes where we spend our weekends running, training and getting ready for our spring races. No matter what the weather, we’re there. It makes us tougher, stronger, more prepared for whatever the longer races throw at us.

But that one place we refuse to train has a ton of hidden benefits. No, I’m not talking about the road (though I’ve heard plenty of trail and ultra runners trash talk it!), I’m talking about the dreadmill, the torture device, the hamster wheel: the treadmill!

But it doesn’t have to be a dirty word! Treadmill workouts can be beneficial for anyone, from beginner to veteran ultra runners. Though we think training in any type of weather makes us more bad ass, there’s times when we need to choose a quality workout indoors over a crappy one outdoors.

Yes, even ultrarunners can benefit from treadmill miles!

Ultrarunner Mimi Anderson ran a world record 403 miles straight on a treadmill (all done with a broken toe, to boot!) Image via

Until this winter, I would never EVER dream of running inside, but looking back at my training last year, I skipped out or cut short quite a few runs because of snow and extreme cold, thinking, “it’s OK, I’m so awesome because I got something done.” But this winter has been much worse and I’m starting to care more about quality and effort over just getting some miles in. So when the temperature is well below 0 or we’re getting hammered with inches of snow and wind again, I’ve found myself watching Netflix in my friend’s basement getting quality workouts in. I promise, running on the treadmill won’t make you weak, it’ll help you become a stronger runner.

Here’s a few workouts you can take from the trail to the treadmill:

Hill Repeats: Hill repeats are an essential workout for any trail and ultra runner all times of year and should be incorporated into every training plan. No matter what the trail race, you’re guaranteed to run at least one hill. Base the size of the hills you choose on the elevation profile of the course you’re running. Lots of small rolling hills? Practice short, uphill sprints. Long climbs? Practice long, steady uphills. On the treadmill, start with a short warmup, then increase the incline and climb for 90 seconds to 3 minutes and repeat 6-10 times depending upon your ability and race distance with a short recovery jog in between, then cool down. Repeats should be done at race pace to build stamina and strength.

Hill Walking/Stair Climbing: These workouts are similar to hill repeats, but all you’re going to do for 30-45 minutes is climb. This workout builds leg strength and endurance on long, slow climbs. It also allows you to practice walking, which is essential for every ultra runner, especially first timers. The workout is simple: hit the treadmill (the stair climber works too if you’re at the gym and have less time), put the incline up to the second-highest setting and climb at a brisk walking pace. Just as you would climb hills on the trail, use your breath to gauge effort — you don’t want to be completely out of breath, but it should be labored.

Speed Workouts: We’ve talked about speed workouts on the treadmill before and there’s no reason ultra runners shouldn’t incorporate them into their training plan! My two favorites are mile repeats and Yasso 800’s. Both are workouts where you’re not sprinting, but the intervals are short enough to keep the treadmill workout interesting and still beneficial. Mile repeats should be done at a medium to hard pace (but not so hard you’re completely out of breath and sprinting) and for more on Yasso 800’s, check out our Salty guide.

You’ll notice I left long runs off this list. For ultra runners, it’s best to keep your long runs outside if you can because it’s rare an ultra will ever get canceled for weather and it helps to be prepared. But, just in case you have to take your long run inside, try to mimic the inclines as close to the course profile of the race you’re training for and practice eating at the same mile markers as the aid stations are.

Ultra and trail runners (and everyone else too) what kind of treadmill workouts are your favorite?

Trail and 100 mile ultra runner who still loves a good road marathon every now and then. Lifetime Northeast Ohio resident that dreams of the mountains out west, but loves CLE too much. Sometimes a vegan, sometimes does yoga, always loves a good craft beer and post race donuts.

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