Treadmill vs. road running

Have only recently got back into road running, having dabbled a few years back. On Friday I beat my best time for a treadmill 10k, completing in 36 mins. In a fit of enthusiasm, I went in for the Fairford 10k today - my first road race since about 1998 (one of the great Weston-super-Mare prom runs). Tried to take it not too hard because I didn't know how steep the hills were going to be and came in in a comfortable 44-odd mins, although I don't feel that I could have knocked more than two or three minutes off by starting out faster.

Two questions then:

1) If I can run 36 mins on a treadmill for 10k, should I be able to run 36 mins on the road?

2) Is treadmill training an acceptable substitute (at least partially) for road miles?

I do some ridiculous number of hours at work and training in the office gym is usually more pleasant than running through central London smog, although it does get a bit hot running at that pace for that time with no wind in your face. Also, the top treadmill speed in this gym is 36 min pace so it's not ideal for faster shorter distances.

If I do another (flatter) 10k in the next week or two, I want to know whether I should go out at the treadmill 36 min pace or something more conservative. Would be grateful for all comments and suggestions.


  • oiyouoiyou ✭✭✭
    Hi londoner - I can't think of any reason why you can't do 36 mins on the road if you can do it on the treadmill. Personally speaking I find the 'mill harder work. The big difference is that on the road there's no big digital display telling you your speed. OK you may need a flat 10k - or try taking the 'mill up to 1 - 1.5% gradient and see how you get on with that.
  • londoner

    I do most of my training on the treadmill so I'm probably quite well qualified to answer your questions.

    1) The simple answer is no. However, if you can do 36 mins up a 2% incline, I reckon the answer may be yes.

    I do my steady runs up a 1% incline which I reckon is slightly easier than the equivalent pace on the road. I think 2% is slightly harder.

    2) In my view it's a perfectly acceptable substitute and (for me) a preferable substitute.

    My reasons for this are:

    a) it's slightly easier on your muscles & joints

    b) you can run fast all year round - especially useful in winter - vest & shorts on treadmill vs Arctic gear on the road

    c) it helps with discipline and pace judgement - stops you from running too fast or too slowly

    d) the 'scenery' is nice down my gym ;-)

    I did Fairford as well yesterday and that's not a fast course. At 44 min pace you'll probably run about 80sec quicker over a flatter course for the equivalent effort.

    The treadmills in my gym go up to 20km/hr (4.49 a mile) which is about my 5k pace so I use these for hard intervals of 2-5 mins up a 1% or 2% incline). So if you're looking to do faster work on your treadmill you will need to put the incline up to 3 or 4% as it 'only' goes at 36 min pace.

    Hope that's useful. Good luck for your next 10k.

  • "1) If I can run 36 mins on a treadmill for 10k, should I be able to run 36 mins on the road?"

    The treadmill dictates pace for you. Start to tire out on the roads and you can slow without even realising it - do that on a tready and you fall of the back. Which certainly makes it easier to hold a fast pace for longer.

    I doubt anyone could run a 10K faster on the roads than they could on a treadmill.

  • Dunno jason - the adrenalin and competitive spirit of a race might make you run faster.

    Also, there can be a benefit being shielded in a group of runners during a race.

    Finally - sometimes you might get pulled round in a race if you latch onto someone/a group going at a pace that you wouldn't normally match.

    I agree that effort-for-effort the treadmill running at 0% incline is easier than road running. But you might go faster still in a race if you had a happy combination of the factors above.
  • My PB for a 10k road race is 56mins. There is no way I could run 10k on a TM at 10.7km/hr. Therefore I find I am faster outside than on the TM (I have a 1% incline)
  • yeh good points stuntman. didnt think about the "race factors".

  • Johnny J - some of the top runners do use treadmill training especially to mimic atmospheric conditions.

    You are right, though, that most of their running is done outdoors. A couple of reasons spring to mind:

    1. The really top athletes will do warm weather training and/or altitude training so they are less constrained by climatic factors than the average person

    2. Most, if not all, treadmills cannot go fast enough to cater for really short fast work. Equally importantly, you can't just start/stop a treadmill (say if you were doing a really quick series of * x 200m off 1 min recovery) so it's no good for that kind of running.

    But for everything else there's little reason why not. Some people suggest that the running styles required are slightly different but I don't find that personally.

    As a decent county standard athlete I would say it's a perfectly acceptable and effective means of training. Especially if it's easier to fit it into your day. For me it also means I will stretch, and do a good upper/lower body weights machine workout too. So my power to weight ratio is much better, my muscle tone is better and I think that's a psychological advantage on the start line!
  • Hello - I don't post much, but thought I would throw in my tuppence worth etc. I do most of my training on the treadmill (baby committments etc). I find it much easier to work an interval programme using the mill as you know exactly what speed and distance you are doing. I do my long steady runs outside (1 x a week)but the other stuff inside (3-4 x a week. I am a newbie to running and have taken my 10km pb from 59minutes to 46.14 in 3 months using this system. I think I just get a more efficient work out on the treadmill. sorry so long - get a bit carried away!.
  • You're right JJ. My point is, though, that there may not be any "training-based" reason why they don't.
  • Hey, this forum is good! Thanks for all the input, everyone. I'm thinking about the Herne Bay 10k next weekend and might try for a sub-40 pace, depending on how long and steep the last km is up the cliff. Running up a cliff sounds pretty hard work but maybe it's not a very big cliff (vain hope?).

    Anyway, I'm glad to hear that treadmills are considered ok to run on - I'll definitely try the 1-2% incline thing.

    In terms of running style, I find it easy to drop into a short choppy stride by accident and it's easy to lapse into some horrible hunched posture where running efficiency drops through the floor - I have to consciously check my posture and relaxation as I feel myself tightening up, but that's also good practice for race day. Running tall with a consciously slow cadence is better for maintaining the pace. I often run at a slower cadence at 16kph than people of similar height running alongside at 10-12.
  • RangerRanger ✭✭✭
    Stuntman I must disagree with you over treadmill running & their effect on running style. When running I believe that the ideal style is for your lead foot to land on the ground underneath your body so that your head, back, hips, knee & foot are roughly in a straight line this occurs on road or track because your whole body is moving forward, however I feel, from my observation of myself & other runners, that the lead foot lands ahead of the rest of the body on a treadmill. This could lead to injury in the long term, & is why I suspect a lot of treadmill runners pick up injuries when they switch to road running & continue to run with their forefoot landing ahead of them.
    I am not saying there is no place for treadmills, I use them myself on average 3 times a month, its just that I feel you should train on surfaces that you race on, & i've yet to find a race on a treadmill.
  • GobiGobi ✭✭✭

    sits back and dreams of a 36 min 10k anywhere

    I am faster on the road though as I find my running style improves
  • Ranger - interesting.

    Oddly I have found that I have suffered fewer running-related injuries since I switched the bulk of my training from road/track to treadmill. This may just be a question of surface though.

    I seem to run with a relaxed efficient style. Often I will concentrate on form when doing a steady run on the treadmill - for example, counting strides so that I can increase stride length (without exaggerating the action) whilst maintaining the same speed, or relaxing the face, arms & shoulders, or consciously trying to foot-strike in a particular way.

    When I race on the roads I don't have any problems in making the transition in terms of pace or running style.

    I'm definitely faster on the treadmill at 0% incline than I am on the road. I reckon I could run a 30.09 10k on the treadmill (20 km/h the whole way plus 9 sec for the treadmill to get up to maximum speed) if I really went for it. My recent best time on the road is 31.14.
  • I am soooo glad you asked that question. I have been training for a half marathon for the past few weeks and was feeling guilty for doing most of my training on the treadmill than on the road.

    I find the treadmill enjoyable to use cos a track speed and distance.

    It is also easier on my knees.

    so I guess i really dont have any reason to feel bad about doing my training on the treadmill. it is also good for my speed sessions which I have only just started.

    When I started my half marathon training schedule i could only manage a 5km in 35 minutes (i know not too fast) but on sunday i clocked my 5km at 28 minutes. not a bad improvement. what do you think? I always set the treadmill to a 1%incline.
  • I think treadmills are great for speedwork / interval training; I do most of my running in the
    evening and running fast along pavements in
    the dark is not ideal for me; I think the secret is
    to do plenty of roadwork as well so that your
    muscles are conditioned to both types of training.
  • There's not a straightforward answer as far as I'm concerned.

    I have never run a treadmill 10k (or 5k) as fast as I can run one outside (36.30).
    I would say a lot of it is down to perceived exertion, which for me is less in a race for a given speed than trying to run flat out on your own.

    However, I also do long runs on a treadmill with heart rate monitor and outside with GPS/HR. I can run 0.3kph faster outside at same HR than I do on a Startac t/mill.

    My gym is quite warm which might make outside easier, but I think it also depends on type of treadmill.

    Have previously measured speed and incline of gym treadmills for cross-training competitions, and for example found that one which read 14kph at 10% was actually doing about 12.5kph at 6%. In that instance you will obviously go "faster" inside, but it doesn't translate to reality.

    If you want to measure it, (and your gym cooperates with over-competitive
    people ;-)), the easiest way is to put a small mark on the tread and on the frame, and then measure the distance that one full revolution takes ( ie back to white mark again). Then, start it up at a given speed, and measure the time it takes to do say 50 revolutions (averages out user reaction time). Then you can work out dist/time to give you actual speed.

    Better quality/newer mills will generally be more accurate.

  • I know that at least two physio's that i have spoken to in the last couple of weeks (i am not injury prone they are friends)reckon that treadmill running can cause a lot of calf injuries as it forces your feet up more quickly than normal road running does.

    my only other query is unless a treadmill is maintained properly (i.r. the ballasts and rollers frequently cleaned and oiled) it can relatively quickly lose it's ability to measure distance so could give you a faster time than you are doing.
  • I use the treadmill quite a lot, particularly for hills/intervals as it's a consistent measure. I think that 2% incline equates to a flat, straight road with no wind - I've yet to find a race like that! Hence my treadmill times for 10k on 2% tend to be about 30-45 secs faster than a fast road race. Any hills, twists and turns in a race and I'm slower still!

    Another factor could be my treadmill pacing is spot on (easy!) and I do a negative split every time. It's much harder on your own to get the balance just right, between pushing too hard early on or leaving it too late.

    Another observation: Up to 5k, road is faster (on 2% again), over 5k, the balance switches. Maybe something to do with stride length?
  • may be it is because your can't slow down on a treadmill.

    i think JennyD is great, you always seem to have totally looked into the science of running
  • Treadmill running has too many benefits to list here the main of which are: weather is always fine, pace exact, hills without decent, no time wasted etc. The only really bad thing i swhen doinf speedwork you can't simply stop as you would in track. Moreover, the cushioning of today's treadmills is way superior for our legs as opposed to the trails and tracks. I use the treadmill heavily (i also run in track and trails) and think it's a great and safe substitute.Keep running
  • I just cannot understand why running on a treadmill seems so much harder than on the road.

    For example, I completed a recent a half marathon in just over 7.5 minute mile pace and yet running 5 miles on the treadmill in less than 40 minutes requires a really big effort.

    Is the reason psychological - boredom, lack of diversions, views, other runners etc. or is it actually harder for some people to run on a treadmill than is made out?

    Having said all that, I find there is nothing like a treadmill for intervals and increasing speed generally.
  • In my experience providing you do a couple of runs a week outside the treadmill can be a very good predictor for outside times. Obviously it depends on how well the tready is calibrated but I've always found them to be very good.

    Last year I ran 16kmh for 35 minutes at 4%, the same week I ran 34.20 outside for 10km. If you look on the hillrunner site and look at the treadmill conversion that is within a few seconds.

    I love running outside but if I do half my running on a treadmill I don't get injured.
  • JRM, perhaps the predictor only works for fast runners?!
  • Southdownsman wrote (see)
    I just cannot understand why running on a treadmill seems so much harder than on the road.

    For example, I completed a recent a half marathon in just over 7.5 minute mile pace and yet running 5 miles on the treadmill in less than 40 minutes requires a really big effort.

    Is the reason psychological - boredom, lack of diversions, views, other runners etc. or is it actually harder for some people to run on a treadmill than is made out?

    Having said all that, I find there is nothing like a treadmill for intervals and increasing speed generally.

    I know what you mean, I got into running several months ago. I got talked into trying a 5k on the treadmill at the gym. After six weeks I managed to get my time down to 20:46 (never got anywhere near it since) I then turn to running on the road following a RW half marathon training plan. After six weeks of running on the road I returned to the gym to try to match or better my PB 5K time. I really struggled to get into it, not sure if it was the heat, boredum or the fact I'd got used to do longer runs at a slower pace, but I was unable to run at a face pace for a sustained period.  My current 5k road PB is 23.40.

    I have started to get a few aches an pains, sore shins and heels and was considering using the treadmill again, despite my recent experience, to enable me to continue training without making my aches any worse.

  • MACbMACb ✭✭✭
    people seem pretty mixed on this one, I am faster on the road. I do not like the heat and tedium of a treadmill. I also enjoy the slight downhills and this is probably where i make up time. The time difference in the original post is massive though, I would question the calibration of the treadmill maybe, beacause 36 mins is very good and should lead to a sub 40 10K easily I would imagine.
  • I am faster on road. I have been training on a treadmill (1% incline, 30-35 miles per week) for 2 months and my PB on a 5k was 23 minutes, obtained setting the pace at 8 mph (7:30 min per mile).

    Since last week I'm on holidays, so I'm running on road and 2 days ago I did 7.8 miles in around 58 minutes, which is nearly exactly the same pace I had for my 5k! It also should be notes that after the 5k on the 'mill, I was really tired and my HR for the last 6-7 minutes was close to 185, while on road my max HR was 174 and the average for the 58 minutes was 162.

    I really can't figure how the difference can be so big... image

  • I think the people in this thread are either I experienced road runners or heavily biased towards treadmills. It's imperically proven that treadmill running is faster / easier than road running. Rather than getting into the details... on which surface was the first sub 2hr marathon run? Road; because no one takes treadmill times seriously. It's physics, no wind resistance and the propulsive effect of a moving 'road' relegate treadmills to a possibly useful training too, for some people, some of the time.
  • *tool, for some people...
Sign In or Register to comment.