While we would love to stick to the roads year-round, it’s not always possible depending on where you live. Cities like Ottawa and Edmonton are known for their hard-hitting winters, and many of our athletes will have to resort to running on the treadmill to safely fit their workouts in.

When to take your workout indoors

We are most often asked when is it too cold to run outside. There isn’t really a temperature that we set the limits at. You aren’t going to do damage to your lungs by breathing in the air at temps that most of us experience from coast to coast in Canada. If you dress appropriately you should be okay running outdoors at temps as low as -30C. 

Our biggest concern when it comes to deciding whether to brave the elements or stay inside is the footing. If the ground underfoot is terrible because of ice, black ice, any colour ice and you risk falling and busting yourself we think the treadmill is a pretty decent option. It’s also a pretty good idea if there is a blizzard and you can’t see 5 inches in front of your face. Running outside might not be safe in those conditions, so break out a singlet and shorts and head inside.

If you’re taking your workout indoors and don’t have a backyard fitness shed, start with your local gym. Be aware that most gyms have a 20-30 minute maximum time use. Best case, try to find one where there is no limit at all, but be warned many treadmills shut down automatically after 60 minutes. I learned this the hard way, by falling on my face when the treadmill stopped dead unannounced!

But how do I run on the treadmill vs. outside?

The same way you run when you are outside, one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again. Some pro-tips: 

  • Do not try to change your running gait in any way. It might take a minute or two to find your groove on the tmill, and even though it might feel strange, your gait should be more or less the same as it is running outside.
  • Load up your mp3 player (remember those!) or phone with a good mix of tunes or a few podcasts. Some of our coaches’ favourite shows include ESPN 30 for 30, the morning shakeout podcast, and The Rich Roll Podcast to name a few.
  • It’s always shorts and singlet weather! Inevitably it’s going to get much hotter on the treadmill than out in the winter air and snow. Just as you want to dress properly for the colder temperatures, you’ll want to adjust for indoors. That means wearing shorts and a singlet, even if it might feel cool to start. You’ll thank us later.
  • Next, set up a fan if you’re using your home set-up or get on a treadmill at the gym that is close to a fan or air vents. 
  • Lastly, especially for workouts with pace work or long runs, bring a water bottle to stay hydrated. And while you’re at it, bring a towel to wipe off the ridiculous amount of sweat that you will expire.

But what about adding intensity?

Go by effort in the early going and always err on the slow side for everything from easy runs to hard workouts. If you try to match your outdoor running paces while running on the treadmill you’ll likely run into some troubles. Whether it is mechanics or comfort level or treadmill running conditions, what someone can handle outside and on the mill do not always correlate. Give yourself a big range of goal paces/expectations in your first few workouts. After a handful of easy runs and a few workouts you should be able to match your treadmill paces to the appropriate intensity efforts (ie, easy run, tempo run, etc). But, don’t bother comparing your indoor running self to your outdoor running self, this is a recipe for overdoing it/hating the treadmill.

Depending on the treadmill, you’ll need to be able to convert your paces/effort to miles per hour or kilometres per hour. We often refer to this website to help us with the conversions. While there are a bunch of cheat sheets out there that can help you, it’s best to shift to thinking about your running in terms of duration (ie minutes), rather than distance (ie kilometres or miles). There isn’t any science behind this, it’s just something that from our experience helps with both the logistics of prescribing workouts and helping to breakdown the time on the treadmill into manageable chunks.

Not all treadmills are calibrated properly or the same. Two identical side-by-side treadmills at a gym may not be calibrated the same. That being said, do your best to get on the same one time and time again.

Into the weeds: vary your approach depending on the workout

Easy runs

Set the incline to 0.5-1%. Although the research is mixed on this, we believe that setting the treadmill at this slight incline best mimics running outdoors. 

Add some variety by adding in a few hills throughout the run or a bit of a progression. Don’t up the incline or pace so much that it turns the easy run into a harder workout, but enough to keep things interesting and help pass the time.

Examples:

  • 1-2min @ 3% every 5minutes of the run, starting 15minutes into the run.      
  • increase speed by 0.1mph every 5minutes.

 

Workouts

Tempo runs 

These should be your go-to workouts on the treadmill. Even if you get a stretch of bad weather and are forced to be on the treadmill for weeks on end, the majority of your workouts should be tempo effort type workouts. 

Examples:

Break up tempo pieces, even with some short little breaks. You will need the breaks mentally as much as physically. The physiological gains really won’t be all that different than a continuous tempo. For example, Instead of 45min straight do 3 x 15min with 1min recovery. 

Tempo runs that have progression built into them are also a great option. Try 3×9 minutes, broken into 3/3/3min, increasing the paces by 0.Xmph at the 3 and 6-minute marks of each interval.

Interval workouts:

You’ll really need to tweak your recoveries on the treadmill compared to the traditional interval workouts you’d do outdoors. When coach Tony Tomsich was coaching at the University of Alaska he would have his athletes jump off the treadmill for their recoveries between intervals. This prevents you from having to speed up and slow down the treadmill for the recoveries and provides a nice mental reprieve. 

If you’re too afraid to attempt jumping off and on for recoveries be sure to add at least 30seconds to your usual recovery times, to account for the time to slow down and speed up the treadmill. The key to getting your heart rate down and getting a proper recovery in between each interval is to go really really slow, like almost walking pace. This will allow you to get your heart rate down and ready to nail the intervals. We don’t recommend doing intervals shorter than 90seconds. You’ll just spend too much time pressing buttons and changing paces. Instead, pick workouts where you can hit a good intensity but that aren’t so long as to be too hard mentally.

Ex: 8 x 3minutes at 10k pace (2minutes recovery)

Above all else, the treadmill takes some getting used to, so be patient and don’t be afraid to reach out to one of our coaches if you’re in need of some guidance. If you’re one of those winter warriors who like to battle the winter conditions, check out our guide to winter running before hitting the roads.

While winters are mild in Vancouver, where Mile2Marathon first started, that’s not the case for the rest of Canada. With the eastern provinces getting hit with colder temperatures and ample snowfall, winter running can be a challenge. You may already be looking out your window at a winter wonderland.

If that’s the case don’t be discouraged, many great long distances runners have trained through a great Canadian winter. How does the saying go…. “what doesn’t break you, will make you stronger.” While that’s true and good motivation to get you through the winter, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure you bound through the snow without setback. 

Be safe 

Injuring yourself by slipping and falling is a concern with winter running conditions. Sometimes the road is cleared better than sidewalks, and you’ll be relegated to running on the roads. Try to find quiet roads to run on.  Be sure to run against traffic so you can see what’s coming at you. Snowbanks can get very high after a few snowstorms and drivers may not be able to see you crossing the road. Pay extra attention at intersections and when drivers are turning right. Wear a headlamp and reflective gear when running at night. It’s as important to both be seen and be able to see. 

Modify your footwear

For running in the winter, you’ll want to swap your footwear for an option that provides a better grip while running on snow. There is a wide range of winter running shoes available, most with a Goretex or similar weatherproof upper and a grippy outsole to give you better traction on snow and ice. If you want to use your regular shoes, there are some traction devices that can allow you to do that. Yaktrax is a popular choice, however, these can cause some modifications to your gait that may cause new overuse issues. Another option is to put good old fashion 3/8″ sheet metal screws in the bottom of an older pair of runners or in shoes specifically designed for this, like the Saucony Mad River TR. This option is only recommended if your entire running route is going to be on packed snow or ice, like the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. Nearly 8km in one direction, you should all come to check it out this winter! 

Plan your route 

here are several things to consider when planning your run that you don’t really have to think much about during other times of the year. Since you may be relegated to running on the roads, try to plan a route that is in a low traffic area, this is one instance in which living in the ‘burbs may be an advantage. You should also plan out an approximate time or distance for your route, nothing worse than running too long or far in the snow. You should also be conscious of the wind direction. Start your run into the wind and try to finish with it at your back. If you run with the wind at your back during the first part of your run you’ll get hot and sweaty and then when you run into the wind during the second part of your run you’ll get cold very quickly. 

Dress appropriately

Layering is very important in winter. We recommend a windproof outer layer, and insulated and wicking mid-layer that moves sweat away from the skin. Your body temperature increases with running so dress for conditions that are warmer than it is. You should feel chilled when you go out, but your body temperature will increase and you’ll warm up quickly. If you’re heading out during the early mornings or into the evening, add a reflective outer layer and a headlamp to ensure you’re seen. 

Don’t be afraid to adjust 

When the snow is too deep or the weather is simply too horrendous to do any safe, quality running it’s better to adjust your scheduled training for the day, by either cutting your run short, finding an alternative, or pushing your workout off til a better day. It’s better to alter the schedule a little bit in this way than try to push through and potentially end up slipping and falling and tweaking a muscle that then hampers you for weeks or months afterward. 

Pay close attention to any aches & pains

Speaking of tweaking a muscle, you have to read your body really well when running on snow and ice. There’s a good chance that you’ll be a bit sore the day after running on snow, especially loose snow. Running on loose snow is similar to running on sand, it requires the use of many more stabilizing muscles than running on solid surfaces. So, if you’re sore the day after running on loose snow, it may not be reason for huge concern, as you’re waking up some stabilizers that have been dormant for a while. But, if you feel a particular muscle getting tighter and tighter during exercise, this may be more serious and cause for concern. So, tread carefully…

When in doubt, hit the treadmill

This is always an option that we don’t want to deter you from. Sometimes the elements just aren’t worth braving, and a run on the treadmill is a better option.  If you find your mind starts to wander or you bore easily on the treadmill, throw on some tunes or your favourite podcast to help pass the time. We promise the treadmill isn’t all bad. 

With the exception of a few races, most notably California International Marathon, most goal races have come and gone. We’ve rounded up M2M results from the last few weeks of the fall below.

Thom Green Fall Classic Half 1:43:25 PB
Liam Baird Fall Classic 10k 38:23.0 PB
Rose Cass Fall Classic Half 1:44:47
Colton Higgins Fall Classic Half 1:18:46
Aric Fleming Fall Classic Half 1:37:34 PB
Andrea Digby Fall Classic 10k 0:45:05 PB
Mark Nelson Fall Classic 10k 0:42:07
Sean Del Ben Fall Classic Half 0:47:14
Claire Villet Fall Classic Half 1:43:00
Ryan Hobson Fall Classic Half 1:28:48
Todd Nickel Fall Classic Half 1:44:25 PB
Kathryn Williamson Fall Classic Half 1:31:14
John Hamilton Fall Classic Half 1:29:44
Nadine Robinson Fall Classic Half 1:31:07 PB
Brandon Hillis Fall Classic 1/2 1:33:51 PB
Farid Muttalib Fall Classic Half 1:20:53 PB
Catherine Scott Fall Classic Half 0:55:17
Chen Lp Fall Classic Half 1:34:32 PB
Kyli Shorter Fall Classic Half 1:44:35
Raymond Chhun Fall Classic Half 1:32:22
Sofia Romero Fall Classic Half 1:34:20
Lee Kennett Fall Classic 10k 0:35:04 PB
Todd Nickel Fall Classic 10k 46:28.0
Todd Nickel Fall Classic 5k 25:28.0

 

Kashtin Bogart BC XC Championships 32:58.0
Chany Groenewoud BC XC Championships 0:30:43 8th place!
Josh Potvin BC XC Championships 0:26:04 8th place!
Adam Buzinsky BC XC Championships 0:27:45
Stephen Lue Frankfurt Marathon 2:53:10 PB
Aaron Carveth Marine Corps 10km 44:58:00
Sandra Sukstorf James Cunningham Seawall 10k 50:22.0

 

Tammy Pigion TCS New York City Marathon 4:01:36
Nancy Hancharyk TCS New York City Marathon 3:56:11
Jason Lloyd TCS New York City Marathon 2:48:38 PB
Brianna Hungerford TCS New York City Marathon 3:14:44 First Marathon!
Michael Cosentino TCS New York City Marathon 2:59:11
Kim Bennett TCS New York City Marathon 3:02:17 PB
Emily Rudow TCS New York City Marathon 3:14:37
Victoria Asikis TCS New York City Marathon 4:14:37 PB
Kim Nguyen TCS New York City Marathon 4:25:54
Leah Larocque TCS New York City Marathon 3:50:12
Jono Laurie TCS New York City Marathon 2:42:34
Pam Campbell TCS New York City Marathon 3:35:26
Alex Denysiuk TCS New York City Marathon 3:13:35 PB
Jeff Taylor TCS New York City Marathon 2:56:12
Shirley Wood TCS New York City Marathon 3:40:24
Erin Mayo TCS New York City Marathon 3:55:16
Dom Reilly TCS New York City Marathon 4:04:54
Lisa Stanley TCS New York City Marathon 3:54:25
Sydney G-O TCS New York City Marathon 3:10:10 PB
Dana Henson TCS New York City Marathon 3:22:18
Shira Daltrop TCS New York City Marathon 3:32:49
Chris Pearce Hamilton Half 1:33:22 PB
Esther Lee Hamilton Half 1:27:20 PB
Garrett De Jong Hamilton Marathon 2:39:13
Kerri Andreas Hamilton Marathon 3:08.26 BQ
Gary Cheung Angus Glen 10miler 0:57:09 1st place overall!
Annie Riel KRRA Anniversary Run 0:46:10
Neil McCallum Cookie Run 5k 17:55 PB
Stephen Andersen Cookie Run 5k 18:15:00 PB
Warren Isfan Cookie Run 5k 18:16:00
Dan Steeves Cookie Run 5k 18:48:00
Adam Adriaanse Cookie Run 5k 18:51:00