Train for a Marathon Indoors
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Train for a Marathon Indoors

Train for a Marathon Indoors

by Mathew Dale

Dr. Chris Clark cracks the window inside her Anchorage, Alaska, den. Outside, the winter sky's dark and the thermostat's flirting with zero. But it's time for Clark, a pathologist, to chase her athletic dream, the marathon. So she tunes into MTV and hops aboard her treadmill. Her preferred running companion? Tina Turner. "She's my inspiration," says Clark. "If only I could look that good at 60. I could never look that good. But if my LEGS look that good at 60, I'll be happy."

Part of running's lure is being at one with nature. Feeling a soft trail beneath your feet. The wind whipping your face. A lake, a mountain, a field of corn, an ocean at your side. But what about when the weather's not cooperative? What about when you want to be certain you're clocking 8-minute miles? What about when you don't want an asphalt surface pounding your legs?

Then you head indoors to the treadmill. And if you have reservations about running inside, consider the world-class marathoners who have benefited from extensive treadmill training:
  • Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen at one time held the world record in the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, half-marathon and marathon. She won the London Marathon four times, Boston twice and New York once. A treadmill often was her best friend.
  • Colorado's Kim Jones, twice runner-up at Boston and New York City, avoided ice-caked roads by running indoors.
  • Chris Clark, the United States' lone woman at the Sydney Olympics, who set PRs at both the Trials and the Olympic Games, did half of her training on a treadmill. "I work out in the morning on the days I go to work," says Clark, 39. "There's no way I'm going out in the cold when it's 5:30 in the morning, five degrees and pitch black."
Many coaches and elite runners endorse using a treadmill as part of marathon training, although most of them feel that treadmill running should be done in conjunction with running outdoors.

"You've got to get outside and deal with the road and the elements," says Don Kardong, who finished fourth in the marathon at the 1976 Olympics and coaches athletes via the Internet. "You don't race on a treadmill."

However, if you want to hit time-specific mile repeats, a treadmill keeps you on pace. "Most inexperienced runners don't have any idea about pace," says running columnist John "The Penguin" Bingham. "If normally they run a 10-minute mile and you want them to go an easy five miles at a 12-minute pace, a treadmill's the best place to go."

For Kim Jones, running on a treadmill is a way to deal with asthma. "If conditions are polluted, windy or there's pollen in the air, I'm on the treadmill," she says.

Back in 1991, Jones did 80% of her training leading up to the Boston Marathon on a treadmill. During one stretch, she trained 10 straight days indoors. She went on to finish second at Boston in a personal best 2:26:40.

Jones ranks as the United States' third fastest all-time marathoner behind Joan Benoit Samuelson and Julie Brown.

The longest she's ever run on a treadmill: three hours. "I listen to music," says Jones. "I just enjoy the rhythm of running and focus on that."

Thomas Miller is the consumer division national sales manager for Star Trac Fitness. He has run 20 marathons and completed six Ironman triathlons. "You can absolutely follow any established marathon training program and use a treadmill as the vehicle for that program," says Miller, who lives in Southern California.

To prove his point, Miller trained strictly on a treadmill for the 1999 San Diego Marathon. His average marathon time before that race was 3:24. At San Diego, he posted a 3:07 personal best. "Like so many Southern Californians, I viewed the treadmill as a rainy-day alternative," says Miller. "What I found is that it can be an incredible performance tool when training for the marathon."

Good, training-quality treadmills typically sell for $2,500 to $4,799. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, treadmills are by far the top-selling item in the fitness industry.

Because treadmills can be adjusted for pace, incline, decline and interval training, Clark insists that any workout you can get outdoors you can get on a treadmill. "You can't do any workout fast on the snow," Clark says. "You just can't count on the traction."

But if you're hoping to one day qualify for the Olympics, there's something more important than the surface you run on. Clark stunned the running world by qualifying at the Olympic Trials in a personal-best 2:33:31. Eight months later at Sydney, Clark again clocked a PR (2:31:35). A mother of two and the sixth oldest athlete in the marathon, Clark finished 19th out of 53 runners.

Asked why she performed so well, Clark says, "It was a confluence of good karma, good training and peaking at the right time. I was the only American and it was the chance of a lifetime. I was representing the United States, and I was tremendously proud to do that. I didn't want to let myself or my country down.

"I knew I wouldn't medal, but I had to put in as good an effort as Chris Clark could. I did that. I trained my hardest ever. I went out that day and didn't leave anything on the pavement. It helped to have a lot of doubters. Most of the running elite didn't support me. That gave me motivation to prove I wasn't a fluke. To show I deserved to be there."

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