How to Train for a Marathon on a Treadmill

how to train for a marathon on a treadmill

Treadmills are one of the most popular features of the indoor gym in both homes and sports centers.

These moving sidewalks allow the fitness enthusiast to enjoy an invigorating workout despite the weather outside and can have many special benefits for those practicing for a long-distance marathon.

Beginners naturally see more use from an effective treadmill, but even a seasoned marathoner veteran will turn to the treadmill for fine-tuning aspects of their technique.

Following are a few key benefits of using a treadmill to train for a marathon.

1. Bad Weather? No Problem!

a woman runs on the bowflex treadmill

The treadmill can allow you to stay in shape and track your overall type of terrain no matter the weather outside.

2. Push Your Limits

No need to save anything for the return trip, the treadmill (Bowflex is our favorite) allows you to see how far you can go and what it cost. This is especially beneficial to the novice long-distance runner.

3. Multi-Task

You don’t have to worry about being killed by a bus or runaway mule cart, so take the time to catch the latest happening on your favorite TV show or sports events.

You don’t want to be staring at blinking lights as you run, that is painful.

4. Low Impact

If you haven’t taken your joints out to vigorously pound the pavement, you are going to want to work up to this gradually, what better way than with the gentle treadmill.

5. Easy to Hydrate

you won’t have to wait till the next convenience store or suitable bush for bathroom breaks, just head over to the kitchen and bathroom to take care of the necessities.

6. No Need for a Buddy

Running alone is not as safe as it may have been at some point. IF your normal running buddy cancels, you still have the treadmill.

Is it Easier to Train on a Treadmill?

A woman runs on the nordictrack c 990 treadmill

This question tries to compare two very different running environments that each present their own challenges and advantages.

There are several reasons that running on a treadmill is much easier than the hills, paths and trails around your home.

Before you start your training program, you may need to find the right treadmill to get the job done – see our list of the top-rated treadmills here.

1. Easier Leg Movement

Treadmills provide a moving surface which shoots a foot backward while weight is shifted. This is not an advantage provided by tarmac and reduces energy expenditures of the body by a small margin.

2. Softer Landing

Part of the grueling process of building those long-distance legs is dealing with the way your joints and tissues in the leg, hips torso and even neck will react to the impacts that reverberate through the body.

This is another feature of running that is greatly reduced by using treadmills.

3. No Wind Resistance

Unless you are setting up a high-powered fan there is ZERO wind resistance indoors. Wind resistance does much to affect the dynamics of the long-distance runner where every ounce of effort is needed to cross a finish line 42K away.

Is it Harder to Train on the Treadmill (Do You Run Slower)?

A runner uses the Nautilus T618 at an incline

As mentioned the dynamics of the treadmill are very different to the outdoor run.

For some people, this can actually make the effort more difficult and slow times.

Runners feel that it costs more energy to keep a faster pace on a treadmill, so why is this?

1. Regular Strides

The treadmill presents the runner with a consistent path that never dips into ditches, avoids obstacles or even so much as slants lazily to the left.

This means that when you are outdoors, your muscles are operating in a very different way to compensate for different stride lengths, maintain proper balance and time you’re running perfectly.

For some, this could distribute the running effort over many more muscles groups.

The focused and identical strides of the treadmill engage the same muscles more or less in the same way, which could cause them to tire out faster.

2. Constant Pace

A woman runs on the Nautilus T616

A singular continuous pace can also be difficult to someone who runs outdoors. Outdoors there are countless reasons to slow the pace and adjust your strides to the terrain before you.

This affects the way you spend energy and can do much to preserve those small ounces of effort that make all the difference.

On the treadmill, each stride costs the same energy and this can cause resources to deplete more quickly.


Another big factor that can make the miles seem to drag by costing so much more efforts is the monotony of the scenery.

Even those who enjoy their favorite TV shows and listen to music can find the same four walls a bit depressing.

There is something about watching the miles fly by before your eyes and the anticipation of a physical finish line and achievement that makes the energy expenditure less of a pain and far more exhilarating.

Half Marathon Training on a Treadmill Tips

nautilus t618 side shot

The treadmill is still an important part of your marathon training and especially in the early stages when you are testing your mettle and seeing how far your legs, heart, and lungs can take you.

The first part of this plan often involves reaching the Half-Marathon mark at the pace you are most comfortable and there is little point doing this out on the roads where so many factors can influence your formative progress.

The modern treadmill is a sophisticated instrument and can help you find your best pace with special settings.

For example, if you choose that running a mile in ten minutes is the pace you want to work at.

You can program a slower paced warm-up of 10 to 15 minutes, the mile in 10 minutes phase, and a cool down section covering your training course.

This can then be applied to the outdoors when you are ready.

Final Thoughts

A final tip will be to compensate for the wind resistance, it can be hard to say how much this will be, but most trainers recommend raising the inclination to 1% – 1.5%.

This will allow you to experience no energy losses when hitting the roads and tracks for the first time.