Hit the Treadmill for a Fast 10K

Every triathlete wants a faster 10K time at the end of an Olympic-distance race.

The race-day script reads, "I was out of the water with a solid swim, followed by a killer 40K bike ride. Off the bike, I cruised through a fast 10K run. Sweet."

However, many triathletes struggle to make a faster 10K happen, particularly those who do not come from a running background.

More: 10 Steps to a Successful 10K

One useful tool when trying to improve 10K running speed is a treadmill. Begin with some short, faster runs with plenty of recovery, like those found in my previous column, Treadmill Workout: Guaranteed Speed! I like to begin these short intervals in the winter season and continue using them a couple of times per month, even through the race season. These are form workouts, intended to work on neuromuscular speed.

The next type of interval I like to include are lactate threshold intervals, found in the column Treadmill Threshold Workouts. These workouts improve leg strength, as well as lactate threshold speed and heart rate.

Anaerobic endurance intervals are the third workout scheme I use to improve running speed in the treadmill progression. One such workout, the treadmill-track workout, is shown at the end of the column. As its name suggests, its roots are from a common track workout. This workout does wonders for athletes that struggle to keep a steady, relatively fast pace.

More: 4 Steps to a Perfect Running Pace


Let's begin with an explanation of terms:

  • Set: Includes time-specified repetitions
  • Speed: Record the speed you set the treadmill at. Start with a speed that is 8 percent faster than your open 10K time (a 10K run without swimming and cycling first). Open 10K speed is roughly 10 to 20 seconds per mile faster than the 10K speed at the end of an Olympic-distance triathlon.
  • Elevation: Set the treadmill elevation at zero to approximate running on a track. Some people prefer a 1 to 2 percent grade, which also works.
  • Time: The designated time you run on the treadmill at your personally selected speed.
  • Number: The repetition number within a given set.
  • PreHR: Heart rate prior to stepping on the treadmill for each repetition.
  • PostHR: Heart rate immediately after stepping off the treadmill for each repetition.
  • Comments: How did you feel?

Workout Details

Warm up for 10 to 20 minutes before treadmill workouts. If you are doing the workout correctly, your heart rate should be very close to Zone 5b by the end of the first repetition of the first set. (See my document on training intensities for an explanation.)

If your heart rate is low—say barely making Zone 4—increase the treadmill speed by 10 seconds per mile. For example, if you begin at an 8:00 pace per mile and it was too slow, increase the treadmill speed to a 7:50 pace per mile.

Be cautious not to increase the speed too much. If you are unable to stay on the treadmill for the designated time—you're getting spit off the back—the speed is too fast and you need slow the treadmill down.

Record your PostHR after each running repetition. Also record your heart rate at the end of each recovery interval or before you begin the next run (PreHR). Look to get your heart rate in Zone 1 by the end of each recovery interval.

More: 3 Interval Training Plans to Build Fitness

Each recovery interval is easy jogging at Zone 1 intensity. Jog, not walk, for a time that is equal to the previous interval. In other words, the recovery-interval time equals the preceding work-interval time.

You can repeat the workout shown here for three weeks, or you can use the progression found in the Intermediate Olympic Distance Tri Program: 5.75 to 10.5 hrs/wk training plan. A treadmill-track progression is also found in my book Training Plans for Multisport Athletes.

More: Interval Training Tips for Runners

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