Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Want to Run Your Fastest Olympic Distance? Train On the Treadmill

The treadmill is your secret run speed weapon. Here's how to get the most out of your treadmill sessions, plus four treadmill workouts for athletes preparing for an Olympic distance triathlon.


Lock Icon

Become a member to unlock this story and receive other great perks.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

All-Access
Intro Offer
$3.99 / month*

  • A $500 value with everything in the Print + Digital Plan plus 25+ benefits including:
  • Member-only content on all 17 publications in the Outside network like Outside, Better Nutrition, VeloNews, and more
  • Outside Learn, our new online education hub loaded with more than 2,000 videos across 450 lessons including 10 Weeks to Your Best 70.3 and the 60 Day Metabolic Reset
  • Download your personal race photos from FinisherPix* for one race (up to a $100 value).
  • Member-only newsletter, and event meet and greets with editors
  • Get up to $30 off your next race and $30 off race fees every year you are a member through AthleteReg*
  • Annual gear guides for cycling, running, skiing, training, and more
  • Annual subscription to Outside magazine
Join Outside+
Triathlete

Digital + Print
Intro Offer
$2.99 / month*

  • Annual subscription to Triathlete magazine
  • Access to all member-exclusive content on Triathlete.com
  • Ad-free access to Triathlete.com
Join Triathlete

*Outside memberships are billed annually. Print subscriptions available to U.S. residents only. You may cancel your membership at anytime, but no refunds will be issued for payments already made. Upon cancellation, you will have access to your membership through the end of your paid year. More Details

To run a fast 10K straight off the bike takes a unique combination of skills and training. Unlike a pure 10K road race, a triathlon 10K challenges one to cope with nutrition and hydration needs for an event lasting two or more hours, and with the physiological transition from cycling to running at close to threshold pace. Through practice and commitment, you can perfect your race-day fueling and hydration strategies.

Using weekly bike-to-run sessions, you can create the muscular adaptations and psychological toughness required to run strong off the bike. Finally, performing regular interval sessions of fast running will condition your neuromuscular and cardio-respiratory systems to run faster over the full 10K distance.

To become a faster runner, you need to increase your anaerobic threshold, training your body to deliver and use oxygen and glycogen more efficiently. Provided you have a strong of base of aerobic fitness, you do this by running short, fast intervals, in which you raise your heart rate to within 10 beats per minute of your anaerobic threshold (or the fastest pace you can sustain for roughly one hour), followed by short recoveries.

These workouts serve to increase anaerobic threshold pace and also create a physiological tolerance for the discomfort of intense running and accumulating muscle fatigue. In the end, you will be able to sustain your optimal pace, cadence and stride length for the duration of the race. On the flip side, work at threshold-pace training is demanding on the body and causes significant muscle tissue damage, so you should do it sparingly and allow sufficient recovery time between efforts. Running too many interval workouts will result in injury or burnout.

RELATED: Triathlon Training Plan: Break 2:30 at the Olympic Distance

Photo: Getty Images
Section divider

Benefits of interval training on the treadmill

One of the best ways to increase your anaerobic threshold pace (and improve your 10K PR) is to do your interval training on the treadmill. Traditionally, runners have used the oval track for their faster running workouts. Tracks are a flat, compact and measured, allowing a coach to watch and record every step a runner takes.

Treadmills are even better because you can control all the variables, including weather, temperature and running surface to remain constant. You are running in a straight line, and the surface transmits less impact than the road (or about the same amount of impact as a trail). Treadmills are time-efficient, which is a bonus for busy three-sport people. (At the gym, they are usually close to the pool and showers.)

But wait: There’s more. Treadmills make it easy for you to perform workouts at any desired pace, including your ideal 10K race pace. Triathletes often report an increase in confidence after completing a set at their target 10K pace, as the treadmill provides quantitative proof of one’s ability to sustain that pace.

RELATED: Triathlete’s Guide to Becoming a Better Runner

Section divider

A higher cadence means faster running

Cadence, or the frequency at which your foot hits the ground, is the other factor involved in running faster, and the treadmill has proven to be an excellent tool for improving it. Studies involving elite runners from milers to marathoners show that most run at a rate of 90 cycles per minute on flat surfaces. (One cycle is two foot strikes, so 180 foot strikes per minute.) Whether they are running at a fast pace or doing a slow warm-up jog, all efficient distance runners run with pretty much the same cadence; what varies is the length of their strides. (Exceptions include athletes more than 6 feet 4 inches tall or less than 5 feet 4 inches tall, with the former having a lower cadence and the latter having a higher one.)

Calculate your own cadence by counting how many times one foot strikes the ground in 30 seconds and doubling it. If your cadence falls below 85, you are likely over-striding. Over-striding means that your front foot is falling too far in front of your center of gravity, reducing your natural forward momentum. Over-striding can also create bounding, or excessive vertical movement, which increases impact force on the body and the chance of injury. Well-trained athletes running at threshold pace combine an optimal cadence (180 strikes per minute) with an optimal stride length. Because the magic number in cadence is always around 90, it appears that the trained human body naturally gravitates towards its optimal stride length and cadence combination through training.

The treadmill helps athletes settle into their ideal rhythm and optimal cadence because the belt is always moving and therefore pulling their legs back to enforce another step forward, and because the belt’s unvarying tempo forces athletes to lock into a steady rhythm. Running fast at optimal cadence strengthens the leg muscles and creates neuromuscular adaptations to your ideal race pace.  To improve all factors in 10K running performance (anaerobic threshold, pace and cadence), simply combine short anaerobic threshold intervals with fast cadence work on the treadmill.

RELATED: 3 Ways to Increase Running Cadence for Speed

Section divider

Tips for better treadmill interval workouts

Like any interval training, these treadmill workouts are designed for an athlete who already has a good base fitness. Using the treadmill for high-speed intervals can be tricky. It takes time for it to speed up and slow down, so to make sure that your rest and work intervals remain controlled and steady, it is necessary to step to the side at the beginning of the interval while holding the hand rails and increase the speed manually.

Allow 10 seconds for the belt to accelerate, and then lower yourself onto the belt while running in the air in order to catch the belt with your feet. At the end of the interval, hold the rails, straddle the treadmill, reduce the speed and then lower yourself back onto it to jog.

For recovery intervals shorter than one minute, keep the treadmill at interval speed and stay on the sides or hop briefly to the floor to keep your legs moving a little. If you find that your heart rate is getting close to your maximum and your are creeping toward the back the machine, slow your pace by five or 10 seconds per mile. A 1 percent hill grade better simulates road running because it forces you to  push off with your toes instead of letting the belt do too much of the work for you by pulling your legs through.

RELATED: How to Warm Up for a Treadmill Run

Section divider

Treadmill Workouts for Triathletes

Working through a set of controlled-pace intervals on the treadmill can be very fun, motivating and encouraging. You receive specific feedback from the treadmill that allows you to gauge your fitness and progression, and it can be encouraging to see just how fast you can run. Knowing that you are specifically training towards running a faster 10K off the bike lends meaning and purpose to your sessions. The treadmill can provide you with the optimal cadence and threshold training to give you confidence that you can run faster. Do these workouts only once per week, and take a recovery day after each one.

Treadmill workouts for triathletes: Workout #1

Warm-up

15 minutes on the treadmill (TM) at 1-percent grade, HR zone 1.

Strides

6 x 15 seconds (45 seconds recovery) strides. Set TM at 10 to 20 seconds per mile faster than 10K speed for strides. Aim for high cadence (90) and relaxed but fast running.

Main Set

15 x 2 minutes (for two minutes) at 10 seconds per mile faster than your goal 10K pace with a 1-percent grade. Record your heart rate at the end of each interval and the end of each recovery period.

Cool-down

15 minutes of very light jogging on TM or outside.

Treadmill workouts for triathletes: Workout #2

Warm-up

15 minutes on the treadmill at 1-percent grade, HR zone 1.

Strides

4 x 30 seconds strides for 30 seconds. Set TM at your target 10K speed for strides. Count foot strikes for your left or right foot for 30 seconds. Calculate cadence. Aim for 90 and relaxed but fast running.

Main Set

20 x 1:30 (for 1 minute) at 10 seconds per mile faster than your goal 10K pace at a 1-percent grade. Record your heart rate at the end of each interval and the end of each recovery period.

Cool-down

15 minutes of very light jogging on TM or outside.

Treadmill workouts for triathletes: Workout #3

Warm-up

15 minutes on the treadmill at 1-percent grade, HR zone 1.

Strides

6 x 15 seconds (45 seconds recovery) strides. Set TM at 10 to 20 seconds per mile faster than 10K speed for strides. Aim for high cadence (90) and relaxed but fast running.

Main Set

30 x 1 minute (for 1 minute) at 10 seconds per mile faster you’re your goal 10K pace at a 1-percent grade. Record your heart rate at the end of each interval and the end of each recovery period.

Cool-down

15 minutes of very light jogging on TM or outside.

Treadmill workouts for triathletes: Workout #4

Warm-up

15 minutes on the treadmill at 1-percent grade, HR zone 1.

Strides

6 x 15 seconds (45 seconds recovery) strides. Set TM at 10 to 20 seconds per mile faster than 10K speed for strides. Aim for high cadence (90) and relaxed but fast running.

Main Set:

20 x 1:30 (for 45 seconds) at 10 seconds per mile faster than goal 10K pace at a 1-percent grade. Record your heart rate at the end of each interval and the end of each recovery period.

Cool–down

15 minutes of very light jogging on TM or outside.

RELATED: 3 Olympic-Distance Triathlon Simulation Workouts

This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of Triathlete magazine.

Over the past 30 years, LifeSport coach Lance Watson has coached new triathletes in addition to many Ironman and Olympic champions. LifeSport coach Lucy Smith has coached athletes ranging from beginners to world champions. She is also a two-time world medalist and a 19-time national champion in distance running and multisport.