Treadmill sessions for ultra runners – why they have become a key part of my training

There’s a part of me that feels ashamed, sullied by what I’ve done. I vowed I’d never go back. Let sleeping dogs lie, that’s what they say. I’d found a much more alluring partner, much more fun. One that I really connect with and who brings out the very best in me. Yet somehow, the old monster wheedled back into my thoughts, etching out a platform from which to sit and cast sweet promises to my fertile ears. ‘Come back!‘ it called. ‘It’ll be different this time, I promise!‘ And, against all better judgement, I found myself powerless to resist. A few weeks ago, I eventually caved into temptation. I went back. I woke the sleeping dog. For the first time in nearly ten years, I ran on a treadmill! ‘Why?!” I hear you cry! Why swap the fresh air and the great outdoors for the stale air and four magnolia walls of a gym to run treadmill sessions? The answers lie in time restraints, and a focussing down of training sessions, aiming for quality over quantity…

Like most folk, I work full time. Outside of work there are various things taking up my time. There’s house and garden upkeep – Sharon and me are striving to be as self-sufficient as we can be by growing our own fruit and veg, so this does take up more time than just mowing the lawns. There’s Billy to walk, family to see, friends to catch up with, time with each other, running time, and of course, the very enjoyable tasks of writing and promoting this blog. I’m learning to make the most of my time, so that I can fit all of the things in that I love. I turned the commute to work into exercise and it only cost me 25 minutes. I even have a time sheet for my weekends now! And I’m trying to reduce my amount of sleep down from 6 hours a night to give me a little more time in the evenings. It was from these thought processes that I began to wonder if I could factor a couple of short runs in during work time. I only have 30 minutes for my lunch break, but can take longer if I get to work earlier. So twice a week now, my alarm goes off at 4.15am, and I’m cycling to work by 5am. Choosing to run treadmill sessions rather than outdoors enables me to really focus on the actual running…

treadmill sessions and ultra runners don't usually mix
How could I?!

Treadmill sessions vs Outdoors

I’ve not gone over to the Dark Side entirely. These two treadmill sessions sit very firmly alongside my weekly trail runs outside. I could run outside during my lunch break. There’s a canal path just outside our offices which I’ve run along many times before. The main reason I chose treadmill sessions over outside is controlled speed. I’m not the fastest runner. My current best time for a marathon is 3.46.39 and for a 10K 41.11. I really want to reduce these down to 3.30 and anything under sub-40. As such, I felt that the treadmill would offer me greater control over how fast I could run without having to slow/stop for pedestrians, dog walkers, cyclists, narrow bridges, roads etc. It also enables me to monitor my progress more accurately for matched sessions, as there will be no variables coming into play – alongside those obstacles just mentioned, weather, especially wind, can be a real factor to slow me down! Once I’d decided to build these treadmill sessions into my running plans, I set to work to figure out what sort of sessions I should do.

What treadmill sessions am I running?

Yasso 800. I found this workout on the excellent Salty Running blog. The basics of it are that you decide which marathon time you’re training for (so 3h30m in my case). Then, swap the hours value into a minute value to work out your 800m repeat time. So in my case, I’ll run 800m in 3 minutes 30 seconds. Then, recover at a slower pace for the same amount of time, and repeat for 10 sets. I don’t have time to do a full session in my lunch hour, so have reduced it down to five slightly faster repeats rather than ten on 3.30 pace. It’s a brilliant workout which flies by due to it being broken down into run / jog intervals.

5km tempo run at 15.4kmph pace (which translates to a time of 19m.25s for 5K and 38m.50s for 10K). I’ll gradually increase the distance out to 7km for this session, which is about the most I could do in the time I have (changing, showering and eating also having to be fitted into the hour).

VK session. I made this one up. A 5 minute warm up, starting flat and gradually increasing the incline. After 5 minutes crank the incline up to something hard and run a full kilometre at that. Then down to almost flat again and recover for a few minutes, before increasing to a slightly less aggressive incline than before, but with greater speed. I absolutely loved this session! Maybe one day, I’ll have a go at this…! It makes my legs scream just watching it!

Recovery run (after the weekends’ long run) of a gentle 6km at 11kmh pace.

The results will tell…

So, with these two sessions, and a hilly long run every week with Nick, I’m going to be running 25-30 miles per week consistently. Coupled with the 80 miles of cycling and some swimming, I hope that the quality over quantity approach will pay dividends. I’ve a couple of road marathons coming up, as well as a cross country one, before Ultra season begins for me in May.

I’ll add more workouts as I come across them. As this is new ground for me, I’m after some tips. If you use a treadmill to supplement your outdoor running, which workouts do you use? Let me know in the comments below.


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