How to Transition from the Treadmill to the Roads

Q I’m training for my second marathon at the end of May, and I’ve been on the treadmill 100 per cent of the time. I ran my long run (22km) outside last weekend, and I was quite sore after the run. Should I continue to train on the treadmill to avoid this? I was surprised at how I felt post-run, and I’m a little concerned about race day. – CARA


A Listen, there are a lot of us who’ve spent whole seasons indoors – due to heat, or wet weather. Sometimes, it’s smart to take it inside to get in quality kilometres safely.

That said, what likely happened in your case was that you went from zero to running 22km outside, all in one fell swoop. There are three things that come into play here.

One, the impact forces are much greater when running on the roads, and your body is used to the more forgiving treadmill surface.

Two, running on a treadmill versus outdoors varies in the movement patterns. Although it looks the same, on the treadmill you are keeping up with the tread as it glides under your feet, while outside you’re propelling yourself forward.

And three, if you were running by a pace, you may have been running too fast. A 6:15-per-kilometre pace on a treadmill doesn’t translate to a 6:15-per-kilometre pace outdoors, especially when you consider hills, wind and temperature.

Although it is possible to train 100 per cent on a treadmill and race on the roads, it’s a wise strategy to transition your training outdoors over the next few months to better simulate outdoor running for the marathon – specifically because it will help you gain a better sense of your pacing skills for the race. The good news is you still have time. Here’s how:

Start your transition by moving your shorter mid-week runs outdoors.

If that goes well and doesn’t hurt, move your longer runs outdoors the following week.

If you want to run your long runs outside now and don’t want to wait, you could reverse it and run the mid-week runs inside and cut back your long-run mileage to 10-13km the first week out, running on a softer terrain like a groomed trail or path (not technical) to ease the impact forces.

Train by effort rather than pace, as this will allow you to run the prescribed workout in the optimal training zone. Your body doesn’t know pace, it knows effort – and tuning into how you feel will allow you to run your easy runs truly easy and the harder runs at the right speed based on the given day and your fitness.

Another way to ease the impact forces on long runs outside is to add a one minute walking interval for every kilometre during your long run. It will cut the impact forces and allow you to cover the distance with less risk of soreness.

In most cases, once you start to take small steps in transitioning outside, your body will follow along nicely. Listen to your body, make the move gradually, and be patient with the pace. It will all come together for you on race day, and all your training this season will pay off.

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