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Can I run long distance in the gym?


Ask a running purist whether training on a treadmill is a fair substitute for real road work and he’ll tell you where to go.

Although the reaction might be unwarranted, they may have a point. For marathon-trainees seeking to up their competitive run game, it’s true that there is no substitute for doing a fair amount of outdoor training. After all, the race will be outdoors, won’t it? So you’d best get yourself used to running in outdoor conditions.

That being said, it’s time to look at the other side of the coin because there are genuine benefits to treadmill training. In fact, at certain times and in certain ways, it can even be preferable to outdoor work.

A bold claim, you say? Read on.


Training in the gym keeps you out of the elements

Training outdoors in winter is radically different to training outdoors in summer. It’s different in just about every conceivable way. In winter, visibility is lower (and the sun sets earlier). The road is more likely to be iced and slippery. The weather will be far chillier, potentially causing your fingers and toes to go numb. And, of course, an icy downpour or storm can hit at any moment.

Simply put, running in winter is its own special skill. If you’re training for an event next summer, running through the slippery winter half-light isn’t going to replicate the conditions of your race.

If you’re unaccustomed to running in winter, it’s perhaps best to ease yourself into it in small increments and do the bulk of your training in the gym, in the meantime.

treadmill workout

The gym is (almost) always available

One benefit of the gym is that it allows you to almost always train in your preferred environment, at your preferred time. Trying to squeeze in an outdoor run during a normal workday can mean a rapid-speed change of clothes and a sprint around the block during your lunch hour, an early morning jog, or a frosty night run.

Apart from holidays, the gym is always there, and the training environment is always the same.

Treadmill workouts can be tailored in minute detail

When training outdoors, there isn’t much you can do to adjust some of the subtler variables of your workout. If you want to improve your ability to run up slopes, you’ll need to find a decent hill and add it to your route. If you want to condition yourself to run faster, you’ll need to become adept at monitoring your own pace in real time.

Training in the gym, on the other hand, allows you the luxury of conditioning yourself to different variables in small increments.

Want to run faster? Turn the treadmill speed up by one setting, and see how quickly you become accustomed to using that as your normal pace. Likewise for incline work.

treadmill workout

You’re always in safe territory in the gym

Long and strenuous runs which involve pushing your limits may be valuable from time to time (there’s some debate on the subject). One thing that’s clear, however, is that those kind of runs are also much riskier insofar as potential injuries are concerned.

On a tough, outdoors distance run, you may be unlucky enough to find yourself injured, far from home, in the dark or stranded in poor weather conditions.

If you’re new to the distance running game, getting yourself accustomed to these longer runs in the gym can be a good, safe place to start.

In the gym, help is always at hand, and you’re always the same distance from home no matter how much you sweat.


Looking for some treadmill workout ideas? Try this 30 minute running challenge and check out our guide to treadmill HIIT workouts here.

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