Staying on "Track" with the Treadmill

With the approach of spring most of us are headed out on the roads with our running and riding and that can only mean one thing, triathlon season is just around the corner.  Some early races have already come and gone but the meat of the season is still upon us. You probably are coming out of your base phase and getting amped up to hit the track and bust out a few sets of intervals, but that may not be the best course of action just yet.  

After months of steady pace running mileage and building that base you are going to want to hit those intervals hard.  Most athletes get over excited and want to push and see what they are capable of, instead of running within their capabilities. This is not only detrimental to their workout, but can hinder future training as it can increase recovery time needed for the workout.  

By starting your interval workouts on a treadmill you can easily control your effort and ensure you are running the correct pace.  Not only does the treadmill force you to start off at the correct pace to keep you from going too hard, it also forces you to keep your pace towards the end of intervals when you might have had the tendency to drop your pace due to fatigue.  What you get is an evenly paced set of intervals such as 8 x 200 @ :40, instead of a set that might look like :36, :42, :36, :45, :42, :45, :45, :39.  

Some athletes may look at the example and say well whats the big deal it's only a 9 second difference between the two scenarios.  However, as the intervals get longer the discrepancy between the pace that you actually should be running becomes more apparent.  So while 9 seconds doesn't seem like a big deal in terms of 200m repeats lets see what happens when we use 1000m @ 3:45 instead.  

Using the same exact percentages we would get 3:22.5, 3:56.25, 3:22.5, 4:13.125, 3:56.25, 4:13.125, 4:13.125, 3:40.375.  At these paces this athlete has spent almost a full minute pushing themselves, which is 25% more stress then they were supposed to get.  Doing 25% more work means the risk of injury is higher and workout recovery period is also going to be longer.  The less experience that you have with track intervals the more likely you are to have discrepancies in your pacing.  Using the treadmill as a pacing tool is a great way to learn what different paces feel like, and how you should feel running them.   

Since all treadmills are calibrated differently your best bet is to find a treadmill that you can use repeatedly, so that you are consistently giving your body the same stress and you can monitor progress.  As you get more comfortable with how your intervals should feel you will be able to transition your workouts to the track and learn how to pace more effectively while decreasing your risk of injury.