How to Train for a 10K on a Treadmill

The women's-only Tufts 10K in Boston boasts over 6,000 finishers annually.
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Once considered the gold standard of nonmarathon road racing, the 10K has largely given way to 5K events on one side and half-marathons on the other. Still, if you've never raced before or are looking to take your running to a new level, the 10K is a great distance to shoot for -- long enough to offer a serious challenge but not so long that it'll crush you. Better yet, you can train for it entirely inside if you wish.

The Treadmill vs. Outdoor Running

"Old-school" runners used to look askance at those who trained on treadmills, judging them to be weather wimps or otherwise posers in some ill-defined way. That idea was forcefully laid to waste in 2000, when U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials winner Christine Clark revealed that she'd trained for the race by running 10 miles a day almost exclusively on a treadmill to escape the winter cruelties of her home state of Alaska.

Not only is running on a treadmill just as effective as training outdoors, it has certain advantages, especially for those with less experience. The ability to precisely know and control your speed is a plus, the surface is more forgiving than pavement, and you won't be felled by temperature extremes, wind or precipitation.

Basic Endurance Training

Your first job is to determine whether running a 10K within, say, three or four months realistic. If you've been doing some running for at least several weeks and can comfortably cover three miles without stopping, then you're ready. If you're not yet a runner but have been doing other aerobic exercise -- at least 30 minutes of cardio three or four times a week -- then you should also have a sufficient fitness base.

There are no absolutes in terms of how much treadmill work you need to do or how fast you need to do it to be well-prepared for a 10K, but you should be capable of running for an hour without stopping and work up to four or more runs a week lasting at least 30 minutes if you want to make the experience something more than a raw test of survival.

Speed Work and Goal Formation

Even if you're looking "only" to finish the 10K intact, it's helpful to have a good idea of an appropriate pace. Whether you're experienced or a novice, a useful guide to a proper intensity level for a 10K is a pace that keeps you at between about 85 and 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. You can estimate your MHR by subtracting your age from 220.

You can add speed workouts once or twice a week to simulate the exertion level of a 10K race. "Competitor Running" magazine senior editor Mario Fraioli recommends doing intervals of about 1/4 mile to one mile long at a few seconds per mile faster than your estimated 10K race pace. You should slow the treadmill speed to a slow jog or walk for half the time it took you to run the repeat before starting the next one.

Race-Day Considerations

Even if you prefer the treadmill to the road, it's advisable to do at least one or two runs on asphalt within two weeks of the 10K to "break in" your legs so that the harder surface isn't a complete shock to your muscles and joints on race morning. Resist the temptation to start out too fast, as you won't have the exquisite control over your pace that the treadmill affords. Make a note of your split time at the one-mile mark -- each mile should be clearly indicated by signage or painted on the road itself -- and be sure it corresponds to the pace you've been able to sustain in your faster training runs. While you may not need to carbs for a 10K, you should drink water at every aid station if it's hot or muggy.

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