Treadmill Speed for a 5K

Amy Begley, right, and Shalane Flanagan hone their performances on treadmills.
i Matthew Stockman/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Treadmills aren’t just for running beginners. Olympic middle-distance competitors including Kara Goucher, Amy Begley and Shalane Flanagan fine-tune their training on the moving belt, more forgiving on the joints than racking up hard miles outdoors. While you may not throw down a world-record 14-minute time in your 5K, treadmill training can help you channel your inner speed demon.

The 6 Mph Threshold

    A 5K equals 3.1 miles. You can warm up with a brisk five-minute walk on the treadmill and, if you are new to 5Ks, track your distance and time on the treadmill readout to get some idea of how long this distance takes you to walk, jog or run -- or a blend of all three. While the point is somewhat debated, 6 mph is typically accepted as the difference between running and jogging. So if you plan to really run your 5K, you’ll need to set your treadmill speed at 6 mph, which should have you wrapping up 5,000 meters or 3.1 miles in 31 minutes.

Faster or Slower

    You can set the treadmill speed to line up with faster or slower goals than 6 mph and 31 minutes. If you want to finish a 5K in 45 minutes, set the treadmill at 4.1 mph, essentially a brisk walk. For 40 minutes, enter 4.7 mph; for 30 minutes, 6.2 mph.

    You can calculate the needed miles-per-hour setting on the treadmill for any time goal by dividing 3.1 miles by the minutes divided by 60. For example, if you want to finish your 5K in 30 minutes, divide 3.1 by 0.5, which equals 30, and divide that by 60, for a result of 6.2 mph. Applying the same formula to complete a 5K in 25, 20 or 15 minutes, set the treadmill speed at 7.4, 9.3 and 12.4 mph, respectively.

In Practice

    In reality, your training will be far more effective if you mix up your speeds and inclines to get ready for the starts, uphills, downhills and finishing kick of a 5K road race. For example, Portland, Oregon-based triathlete coach Jeremy Hyatt suggests that you design a 5K workout based on your top speed, say, 9 mph, and take 2 mph off this figure to set your starting pace. Run an easy half-mile warm-up on the treadmill. Follow by a half-mile at, for example, 7 mph, 0.4 miles at 7.5 mph, 0.3 miles at 8 mph, 0.2 miles at 8.5 mph and 0.1 mile at 9 mph, followed by a half-mile at 8 mph. Carefully -- very carefully -- grasp the side rails and hop off the moving belt for 0.1 mile between each speed change to recover briefly and to reset the treadmill speed.


    Those speed and incline buttons on the treadmill dashboard allow you all kinds of latitude to custom design your 5K treadmill training. As you get more experienced, you can program in a tempo run -- 20 minutes of steady running at about 75 to 90 seconds slower than your 5K pace. Or, program in hill repeats -- gradually building up to 20 30-second incline runs -- to prepare your lungs for an undulating 5K course.

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