Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Got a Treadmill? Got Speedwork!

Many runners at some point will find themselves in a rut. They’ve stagnated. Same mileage at the same intensity, week after week. They may even be putting on a few pounds even though they’re running. So, what’s up?

Well, the better question to ask might be “What’s not up?” Once you’ve become an established runner, it doesn’t take long for your body to acclimate to the demands you’re putting upon it. So, while that 5-miler you do every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday may be providing you some good base mileage and an aerobic workout, it’s probably not doing much to help make you faster, fitter, stronger. Nor is it doing much to ramp up your metabolism, the key in keeping those pounds off.

What’s the answer? SPEEDWORK! One weekly interval workout will do wonders to jack up your metabolism helping to shed those few pounds. It will also help increase your VO2Max, which is your body’s ability take in and use oxygen at the muscle level where it’s used to make energy. That weekly interval workout will also help push out your lactate threshold. Lactate is a byproduct of energy production. Ever get that burning sensation in your legs when you speed up and run hard? That’s due to lactate buildup. Usually the body is able to clear it out of the blood and there’s no problem. But when you ramp-up speed or intensity too quickly, the lactate can build up quicker than the body is able to clear it out of the bloodstream. Exposing your body to faster runs can gradually push out that lactate threshold, so it will take longer before you feel that burn.

So, I know some of you are saying, “I’d love to add speed work, but I don’t live near a track.” Well, if you own a treadmill, have a membership to a gym with treadmills, or have friend or family member with a treadmill, then you can get in an awesome interval workout.

An interval is nothing more than running fast for a certain distance and then running slow for the same distance or for a specific time. Typically a short interval (like a 200m interval) is run at a pace that’s about 30 seconds slower than your 5K race pace. Longer intervals (like the 800m or 1200m) are typically run at 30 seconds slower than you 10K race pace.

Does the math to figure out the pace for such a short distance make your brain hurt? Don’t worry. I’m with you. Put that calculator down and use The McMillan Running Calculator instead. Simply select the distance (5K or 10K) and then put in your race time and hit “calculate.” The next screen will tell you paces for every training distance you’d ever need to know based on your 5K or 10K pace.

Most interval workouts use some combination of 200m, 400m, 600m, 800m, 1000m, and 1200m intervals. Each fast interval is followed by a slow recovery interval. The recovery interval isn’t based on a certain distance. It’s based on time. The shorter the fast interval distance, the shorter the recovery interval time. The longer the fast interval distance, the longer the recovery interval time. For example, a runner doing a 6x800m workout would take about a 90-second recovery interval jog/walk between each fast 600m interval. A runner doing a 4x1600m workout would take about a 3-minute recovery interval jog/walk between each fast 1600m interval.

Most treadmills have an oval track diagram on the control display providing a wonderful visual to track your progress as you run your intervals. If you’ve never run intervals on a track you may not be familiar with the typical interval distances. The key below can help you better understand the distances you’re running as you’re looking at the track display on your treadmill monitor.

• 200m = 1/2 lap (1/8 mile on the treadmill)
• 400m = 1 lap (1/4 mile on the treadmill)
• 800m = 2 laps (1/2 mile on the treadmill)
• 1000m = 2.5 laps (5/8 mile on the treadmill)
• 1200m = 3 laps (3/4 mile on the treadmill)
• 1600m = 4 laps (1 mile on the treadmill)

Your body can acclimate to intervals just like it does when running that same old 5-miler three times a week. So, mix-up your interval workouts. Keep your body guessing by varying the interval distances each week. There’s no right or wrong way. Just remember to insert a recovery interval in between each fast interval. Below are some sample workouts for you to incorporate once a week into your normal running routine. 
  • Workout #1—5x1000m @5K race pace with 2-minute recovery (walk or jog) in between
  • Workout #2—6x800m @10K race pace with 90-second recovery (walk or jog) in between
  • Workout #3—Do Three sets of the following:  1x1200m @ 10K race pace with 1-minute recovery, 1x400m @5K race pace with a 3-minute recovery (walk or jog) before repeating the set
  • Workout#4—4x1600m @10K race pace with 3-minute recovery (walk or jog) in between
  • Workout#5—8x800m @10K race pace with 90-second recovery (walk or jog) in between
  • Workout#6—400m @ 5K race pace (30sec recovery); 800 @ 10K race pace (90-sec recovery); 1200m @10K race pace (2-min recovery); 1600m @10K race pace (3-min recovery); 1200m @10K race pace (2-min recovery); 800 @ 10K race pace (90-sec recovery); 400m @ 5K race pace

Your total mileage for an interval workout may be no more than 3-4 miles, but you’re getting a lot more out of this workout than your regular 5-miler. Think of the interval workout as a “Quality Workout.”

To better simulate outside running, be sure to set your treadmill to an incline of 1° or 2°. This will help account for uneven terrain of outside running.


Mark U. said...

Good post. I successfully do speed work on my fitness center's treadmill.

Be aware that most treadmills have a springy bed and all of them do not provide wind resistance, so on a comparable effort basis your pace will be reflected as unattainably fast. To compensate I set the treadmill's grade between one and two percent (depending upon just how springy the treadmill's bed is). Finally, as you are running in stagnant air on a treadmill you should bring a fan!

Melyssa said...

I just recently bought a treadmill. I love running outside, but the weather is getting colder. Plus I live in a flat land area. There are no hills. And my downfall on my races are hills. Like Mark U., the treadmill provides that exercise for me.

Amanda@runninghood said...

Thanks for the post! Very helpful information. I love doing my speed on treadmills...I set it to the speed I want to run and really I have no choice but to run at that pace or fly off so it is quite motivating. :) I wish my hamstring was recovered enough for some speed but I guess I'll have to bookmark your blog and come back to it later!

Emz said...

YAY! I love my mill for speedwork. Well, I love it for everything but . . . .speedwork is my favorite.


On Mark's comment......I do all my runs [except my decline runs ;)] at a 2-2.5% incline. Works for me!!

Julie @ HotlegsRunner said...

as much as I want to I can run on a treadmill. my knees always hurt =/

Wazzup said...

Great timing this article. I was just figuring out how I should program my speed workouts.

Wazzup said...

One more thing though....

Any special thought about shoes for running on a treadmill ?

RunnerDude said...

Hi Wazzup!You should be able to run in the same shoes as what you run in outside. I have some shoes that have a little more cushion that I typically wear when running on the treadmill. Unlike Mark, I find the treadmill to be a really hard surface so I like more cushion, but I wouldn't buy a separate pair of shoes just for the treadmill. See what works best for you. Each runner is different. More than the wind resistance, setting your tread mill at a 1 degree or 2 degree incline will help compensate for the unevenness of the road that you'd experience if you were running outside.

Jen said...

I've been doing the same speed work for weeks now. Thanks for the advice on how to mix it up!

Running Through Life said...

Thanks for the workout suggestions. I did this on the treadmill at the gym the other day and it kicked my but. I think it is just the shake up I needed. I appreciate your help.