How to Run Your Speed Workout on the Treadmill

Have you ever tried to run your interval session or speed workout on a treadmill?

For me, my plan today read “9×400 @ 5K” or in words: nine repetitions of a faster 400 meter run at your 5K-Race-Pace.

Problem Number 1:

In general, treadmills do not always show your current pace, instead they display your overall running time and speed in kilometres or miles per hour. To find my goal pace I entered my goal Half-Marathon pace into the McMillan Running Calculator and then checked the section for Equivalent Race Times in different times.

You could of course also use the “Your Optimal Training Paces” section but then you still have to convert the time into a pace. In my case roughly 1.50 minutes or 110 seconds multiplied by 2.5 and divided by 60 and then the decimal part multiplied by 60 again:

110 x 2.5 = 275.

275 / 60 = 4.58333

.4583 x 60 = 27.5

=> 4 minutes and 27/28 seconds.


Problem Number 2:

In order to convert your pace into a speed you will likely need another tool – at least I do. For this I use my trusty Treadmill Cheat Sheet. First you will need to find your pace under the Min/Km or Min/Mi section (with this tool you can even use your 5 km race time directly!) and then you look at the column entitled MPH or km/hr. I figured I would try to go for roughly 13km/hr or a little slower if I felt like it because I would still hit my time goal.

Problem Number 3:

What I finally had to get used to was shifting gears on the treadmill. The one I use at the gym here in Barcelona has buttons for every second speed (4, 6, 8, 10, 12, … km/hr) – some will have an actual number pad which makes things a lot easier. I took my cellphone with me to write down my 400m times during the recovery periods.

I was struggling with leaning forward on a moving surface and press buttons eleven times (since I could only choose 12km/hr and then go from there on) a little but managed not to break my neck.

The Result:

Will I do this all again? Maybe not, maybe yes. It was fun being able to count down the meters on the display but I think I would be happier on a track or with a Garmin.

In the end I ran nine times 400 meter at 1.50 sharp without getting faster or slower.


4 thoughts on “How to Run Your Speed Workout on the Treadmill

  1. Really useful info! I have a question now. I don’t run everyday but I try to do it at least once a week. I do sprints every 1km throughout the 5km I run. My brother told me that by doing sprints, I would become faster and it would become easier for me to run. I have definitely noticed improvement but I don’t know how good it is to run on a treadmill instead of doing it on a track or outside. What do you think?

    • Great Question!
      Treadmill running is great. You could for example choose to set an incline (I almost always go up just a few % on every treadmill run.
      Running on the track is in my opinion purely for speed workouts, like for example what you described. I would however probably only do them when I was actually training for a race. As opposed to the treadmill, it is in my opinion easier because you only need some kind of stopwatch (if you feel like it) and you are good to go. No calculations, no button pressing, etc. Also, the track is flat and even – perfect for speed work and it is measured precisely.
      Streets build greater strength in your legs, they also cause the most injuries though. If you have never run on the street before, you might feel a little sore after. Strength will help you become a better/faster/stronger runner.
      What I like though is that you can choose to go a route that incorporates a hill. Trails, if you have access to them are great too.
      For actually becoming a stronger runner:
      Easy runs are really important. I like to do intervals once every two weeks or sometimes a little “Fartlek” (“speed play”) session when I feel bored – pick up the pace, then go slower again, just as you wish. Since I am training for a Half Marathon, I do pace runs (running at planned race pace) or tempo runs (where you accelerate until about ⅔ into the workout depending on your goals). Finally, my favorite: hills. They build so much strength. They are really evil and you might think: no. Be careful on the down part because it can cause serious injuries but running only a few hills (you could run up a minute or two, then walk down for example) every week or every other week really does it for me. The next day, when you just do your normal distance it will feel easier.
      You can definitely do your hill workouts on the treadmill too. And if you find yourself stuck on a plateau maybe change things up: try to incorporate a longer run into your weekly routine or some more challenging speed workout.
      Uh, this turned out longer than I thought, hope you don`t mind. I`d love to give you more input or ideas – for now, these are the basics that worked for me.

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