Using a Treadmill to Train for a Marathon

Now Spring has sprung we’re finally into the marathon season with hundreds of marathons, half marathons, mud runs, fun runs and various Takeshi’s Castle like events taking place all over the globe. A big debate in the world of running is the value of using a treadmill when training for long distance running. While some people highly recommend it, others hate it. So, let’s look at the pros and cons of both.



  • Pros


The first undoubted pro of using a treadmill for your marathon training is the safety aspect. Imagine your environment when running in your marathon; you’ll be running dead centre in the middle of a road. A road that probably has hundreds of cars occupying it on a normal day. This is something you can’t recreate until race day so running on paths and pavements isn’t much of a compromise. Especially when there’s busy pedestrians populating them. With treadmill training, you get the luxury of focusing on your run without concerning yourself with your safety and other vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians when you’re crossing the road. You can also avoid that inevitable annoying moment when a group of walking people decide that it’s appropriate to spread across a pavement which leads to the ‘awkward having to squeeze between them whilst still running’ movement.

Practice Your Running Form

The majority of runners will tell you that running on a treadmill is easier than running on the road. While this is an obvious drawback to treadmill running, what this does is give you a chance to practice your running form. Slogging away for hours outside means that your form will drop and will essentially result in your speed and performance regressing as well. By running on a treadmill, you haven’t got distractions such as hills and bumps on your running surface to contend with so you can solely focus on your running cadence and form. Analyse things such as your foot placement and stride length to maximise your distance while running without exerting much more energy.


This is entirely dependent on where you run. If you run outside in a park where there’s lot of people and things to see, then you’ll find that time passes quite quickly. However, running somewhere where there’s not much to see can be quite tedious. The same can be said with treadmill running. However, on a treadmill you have the added advantage of training with entertainment. The majority of modern treadmills have added entertainment systems such as music or T.V capabilities. This makes the time go much quicker making your training that much easier. Be wary though, you won’t have the luxury of being able to watch a film on race day!


Fuelling your body correctly is key when marathon running. This doesn’t just count for pre and post-race either. Fuelling during the race is essential for fulfilling your potential. This can be difficult when training outside as you won’t have hordes of people waiting to hand you water, energy drinks and other forms of sugar to keep you fuelled during your race. Anything such as that would have to be taken around with you whilst running which is just inconvenient. This is where treadmill running comes into its own. It’s much easier to keep water and energy drinks on hand next to your treadmill when running so you’ll have no problem keeping your tank full when training.


It’s the thing all runners hate when running outside…wind, snow, rain, hail, fire balls falling from the sky. Anything that makes running outside miserable will make your training all that much harder. While this can be a good thing to acclimatise yourself to harsh running conditions (after all, it may be like this on race day), it’s never productive if you can’t focus on running patterns or breathing techniques because you’ve got snot icicles stuck to your nose (this is the U.K after all!). Take advantage of treadmill running by training in an ideal temperature with no elements trying to throw you off your game.

Muscle Building

This may be the biggest advantage to treadmill running of them all. Running the same route outside every week means that your body will get used to the route so it will stagnate. This means that you’ll struggle to make progress and the added benefits of running (losing weight, building muscle) will slow down or stop. By running on a treadmill, then you can choose different programs and alternate to build muscle in your legs which will boost your overall performance when running outside. Performing this 20 minute HIIT session once a week is great for building power in your legs so you’ll improve you PB outside significantly.

  • Cons

The Challenge

There’s no doubt about it. Running on a treadmill is nowhere near as challenging as running on the road. This means that you can’t feel a good representation of what conditions will be like on race day. There’ll be no harsh whether to get used to, no bumps or hills to overcome and the actual physical feel of propelling yourself is much harder than running on a surface that moves for you.


The cost of a treadmill compared to running outside is quite considerable. Even the most basic home use treadmill can start from anywhere from £200 and the only go upwards depending on the quality and features of the treadmill. Even using a treadmill at your local gym can be expensive with gym membership costs and transport costs on top of that. Compare this to buying a good pair of running shoes and then hitting the road, then it makes the prospect of running outside that much more attractive.

Memorise the Track

A big advantage to running outside would be to run your route that you would on your marathon. This is a great technique as it allows you to adjust your run according to the roads demands. You’ll know where is uphill, downhill, smooth terrain, rough terrain and just generally give you a good idea of how the route feels. This is something that can’t be replicated on a treadmill.


Running outside compared to running on a treadmill has huge differences which in turn results in pros and cons for both. My advice would be to use both options to reach your full potential as a runner.

If you want to invest in a home treadmill, then the JLL S300 Folding Treadmill is a great option for any home.

photo credit: JULIAN MASON London Marathon 13.04.14 (508) via photopin (license)

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