In Defence of the Treadmill

This past weekend I raced in the Loaring Run Under the Sun, a local 5 and 10k here in Windsor with the proceeds benefiting the Windsor Essex County Sports Hall of Fame and the Loaring Hurdle Project. This was my first road race in Windsor in several years, so I was very excited to get back on the scene.

I had absolutely no idea how my legs were going to perform. The race happened to be on the 19th day in my training block, which started on the Wednesday following Oceanside 70.3. This meant I had done either a bike or run interval workout, every day for 19 days straight. In the block, I exceeded many of my prior bests on the bike and run. My in-practice 1 hour power, 2 hour power, 3 hour power and 4 hour power values on the bike. My highest weekly run mileage while training for two other sports. As well as my highest three week combined run mileage. On day 9 of the block I was feeling terrible. By day 18 I was beginning to feel like a million bucks.

I’ve always found run mileage to be a very interesting subject. Over the years I have come to find that 140km/week seems to be a magical number for me. If I run 100km/week I run decent. But when I begin to get into the 140km+ range, my running really starts to feel good. I don’t know how to describe it, but something changes. The best way I can describe it is “when you ask the legs to do it, they do it.”

I should also mention that I have done just about every run over the last 5.5 months on the treadmill. I ran 6 times outside when I went to Arizona for a short training camp, and then I ran outside at Oceanside 70.3. I have done a total of 8 runs outside in the last 5.5 months. I should also mention that the fastest I have run in the last 5.5 months is 12 miles per hour. The reason: My treadmill only goes 12 miles per hour.

I am a big believer that the treadmill is just as good as running outside, if not better. It is the CompuTrainer of running in a sense. I am always bothered when I encounter haters of the treadmill. The classic argument is that “the treadmill does the work for you, you just have to turn your legs.” I have logged over 5000km in the last year and a half on the treadmill, and I have never experienced the treadmill “doing the work for me.” I thought the Loaring Run Under the Sun performance was an interesting anecdote in defense of the treadmill.

The gun went at 10 am. It was cool and windy, but the sun was shining. My intention was to hold 3:10/km for as long as I could. I was immediately dropped by Loaring Hurdle Project member Jack Laundry. The thought crossed my mind to go with him but I have made that mistake hundreds of times in races. The damage is usually done in the first kilometer or two and I did not want to do any damage. I held my ground to the best of my ability and ended up going through the first kilometer in 3:04. A little hot, but very restrained. I entered the lead around kilometer 2, which I went through in 3:08. By the third kilometer I had settled to goal pace. As the race went on I actually began to feel better. I realized that 3:10/km was probably a little slow, so from then on I just tried to hold steady around 3:05-3:06/km.

In the end I ended up running 31:09. I was super happy with the time. What I was more happy about was how the time was achieved: By negative split. It has taken me YEARS to develop enough restraint to race that way. Here is the data followed by the actual kilometer times:

10k Results

3:04.21

3:08.82 3:10.55 3:07.18 3:04.83
3:04.18 3:04.32 3:07.71 3:07.97 3:04.06

As a side note, if anyone from Woodway, or any other manufacturer of treadmills that go faster than 12mph are reading this, I would love to represent your brand!

I thought it interesting that I ran pretty close to as fast as my treadmill goes. The course had a lot of corners, so I think on a straight out and back the time would have been faster, perhaps exactly as fast as my treadmill goes. I would say this was about as close to a “pure treadmill performance” as you can get.

It is from this anecdote that I argue that the only potential downside to treadmill running is that the treadmill does not go fast enough. This has definitely been a concern of mine, and next year I will invest in a treadmill that goes 15mph. Aside from this, I believe not only can the treadmill maintain your running, but can actually improve it. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.

I am now in taper mode for Texas 70.3 on Sunday. I am very excited to implement the lessons I learned at Oceanside 70.3. Here is the startlist. It’s shaping up to be a good battle. There should be live updates on Ironman.com that morning if you’re interested in following along. Thanks for reading!

By the way, check out all my sick Skechers running gear (Photo Cred: Eyes on Windsor):

11134087_950653588302685_8389914364806082088_oI made the switch back in December and it has proven to be a great choice. Loving the shoes.

8 thoughts on “In Defence of the Treadmill

  1. Hello Lionel,

    I too have come to embrace the treadmill. I believe the repeatability of conditions to be the biggest advantage and it is so convenient like the bike trainer. If your treadmill only goes 12mph why don’t you increase the grade. I keep my max. 10mph on 4% all the time and find that it doesn’t interfere with stride very much.

    Good luck this weekend. Canada will be cheering you on.

  2. Hi Lionel,

    While almost exclusive use of treadmill work is certainly working for you at this point (your progress in triathlon speaks for itself!), I do wonder if your performance might have been different (even better!) if you had been able to train on a wider variety of surface, incline and camber (including the treadmill)?

    As a sports scientist, while we we don’t always know the ‘why’ behind performance improvement, the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ tend to be more straightforward and introducing more variety into an athlete’s training program almost always results in an improvement. Consistent measurement of performance over the same gnarly trail run for example, may well result in even more surprises. Just a thought!

    Thankyou for the blog. It is excellent. I look forward to following your rise to the top.

    Best,
    Garth Fox
    PS I hope Woodway choose to send you that treadmill, you deserve it!

  3. Like you I ran exclusively on the treadmill from November until April. When I did do my first run outside this month I ran a hilly 21.1km and it went well (2min off a PB which was set on a flat course), but towards the end I was struggling on the hills and a couple days after the run my quads were really really sore. After that one run I haven’t had any issues at all though. Have you had this issue with our first run outdoors and on hills? I don’t really use the incline on my shitty treadmill so that may be to blame.

    And for what it’s worth, I would treat your endorsement of a treadmill with a great deal of respect. You should definitely put a package together and send it to some treadmill companies!

  4. Hi Lionel,
    Great Blog post. I too ran a majority of my mileage on the treadmill this winter season. The 140km mark for me was also a key point in which the legs started to feel good and strong. I’d never trained to that distance before.
    I’m loving the skechers shoes myself. Would love to get my hands on some of the apparel as well. Where can I buy that?
    Keep training hard.
    Rob

  5. Great Read Lionel!! Really appreciate the insight!!! Good luck this weekend in Texas! I’m sure you will apply the lessons learned from Oceanside and kick some A$$. Big respect to Frodeno / Potts, but that image of him passing you in Oceanside should provide major motivation for this week 🙂 It’s payback time 🙂 Good Luck.

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