Treadmill Pace Conversions FAQ
by on Thursday, January 5, 2017  (8 comments)

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The Treadmill Pace Conversions chart is the most commonly visited page on HillRunner.com. It's also the page that, by far, I receive the most inquiries about. I'd like to take some time here to address some of the most common inquiries. Below, in no special order, are the most common questions I receive about the chart and my answers.

What is the source of the data for the chart?

In the late 1990s, some post-graduate students gathered data from multiple studies done in the 1980s and 1990s. They used primarily data on oxygen consumption, comparing runners of various abilities running on outdoor tracks at various paces to the same runners running at various paces and inclines on treadmills. The oxygen consumption between methods of running was compared and the data extrapolated to produce this chart.

With the permission of these post-graduate students, I reproduced the chart on HillRunner.com, I believe originally in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, they told me I didn't need to source them and I didn't understand the importance of doing so at the time so I didn't. After a couple computer crashes, I lost track of the original source. I've searched for it several times and haven't been able to find it.

The numbers seem off, what's up?

Especially at faster paces, I agree. The number do seem off, in some cases by quite a bit. My best guess is that, at faster paces, fewer data points were available because it takes a runner of pretty extreme fitness to run, to take the extreme, 12 miles per hour at a 10% incline on a treadmill. Anyone who knows statistics will tell you that fewer data points means more margin for error.

At more moderate paces, the numbers seem generally reasonable to me.

How should I use this chart?

My usual advice for using the chart is to consider it as a starting point. If you're aiming for the effort of about an 8:00/mile outdoor run on level ground, then you might start at 7.8 mph at 0% incline or 7.5 mph at 1% incline. See how that feels and adjust as you feel necessary.

Remember, these are roughly speaking just averages of many runners. Some runners may find a specific setting easier than the chart suggests, while others may find it harder. In the end, I believe you should always trust your perceived effort level but this should give you a rough starting point.

Another way of using this is to consider how a workout went. For example, when I am on a treadmill, one of my favorite workouts to do is a hill progression. Every half mile, I increase the incline by a half percent without changing the speed. So, let's say I ran a progression at 8.0 mph and got up to an 8% incline. How good of a workout was that? Well, I can use the chart to estimate that it was roughly equivalent to an outdoor progression run that topped out at roughly 6:00/mile.

Why is treadmill running different than outdoor running?

I've seen several reasons hypothesized. The one that seems to have the most evidence and make the most intuitive sense to me is that you aren't moving through air. Wind resistance may not seem significant at 8:00 or 10:00/mile but that doesn't mean it doesn't affect you at all.

Can you put this into a calculator or expand the chart to include more paces/inclines?

The chart is not based on a formula and the data does not nicely fit a formula. So I don't see any way to create a meaningful calculator.

As for expanding the chart, I suppose it's technically possible to make some inferences. However, I have always been hesitant to do so because it would then misrepresent what it originally was.

Other questions?

If you have any additional questions, don't hesitate to ask me. I'll do my best to answer and, if a question comes up often, come back to add it here.

Photo credit: Treadmill by Farhad sh, on Flickr

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8 comments
Munir Isahak (Guest)

Hi, Ryan
How's running on indoor track (200m) lab, different than running on treadmill.
What do you think is better?

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Ryan

Hi Munir,

As far as the chart goes, the indoor track will essentially be equivalent to outdoor running so the chart would apply.

As for which is better, it depends on the application.

For interval type workouts, I would prefer the track as you can accelerate and decelerate faster and you'd be forced to set your own pace, which I believe is an important part of workouts. That said, I've successfully done interval workouts on treadmills.

For easy and long runs, I think the treadmill would be safer. The concern I would have with indoor tracks is that you're spending half of your time turning around fairly tight turns. This means, for a 5 mile run, you're spending 2.5 miles turning and placing additional stress, if running the standard counter-clockwise direction, on your left leg. Do this too often and/or for too long of a duration and you're going to start developing injuries in that left leg.

For tempo style workouts, I think one could make arguments for either. Personally, I would lean toward the treadmill as these would still involve a lot of turning on the indoor track and you don't have to worry as much about accelerating and decelerating.

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Jingle (Guest)

The pace and the setting seems wrong on the chart: at setting of 12, the chart say it's 5 minutes/mile. Based on the calculation 1609meters/5 minutes. Let's round it down say, 1600 meters/300 seconds. OR 300/16 = 18.175 seconds/100 meter. I'm a slow sprinter, but I can easily do 14.5 seconds for 100 meter. But when I ran on the treadmill, I could only go up to setting of 11. 12 seems too fast. Something does not add up or my calculation is wrong.

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Ryan

The setting is the miles per hour setting. 12 miles per hour is 5 minutes per mile (60 minutes / 5 minutes per mile = 12 miles per hour).

Some treadmills might have different settings but most I've seen are in miles per hour.

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Jingle (Guest)

Ryan, you just repeated what I said. What I tried to get at is: With 5 minutes per mile setting which is equivalent to 18.175 seconds per 100 meters. This is quite slow in sprinting on the outdoor track. I could not run at this setting on the treadmill which is too fast while I'm able to sprint 14.5 seconds per 100 meters on the outdoor track.

The issue is why I can not do 18.175 seconds per 100 meters on the treadmill, and I can do 14.5 seconds per 100 meters on the outdoor track??

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Ryan

Sorry, I misunderstood. I thought you were questioning the chart when the math is clear that 12 mph is 5:00/mile.

I can't offer much. I've run at 12 mph on a treadmill and held it for far longer than I could ever run at sub-15 second pace on a track. It's possible that your treadmill isn't calibrated correctly or that your sprint mechanics are different on a treadmill than on the track.

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Alastair MacDonald-Fraser (Guest)

Hi,
Do you have data for speeds of over 12.0? I'm ideally look for up to 15.0.

Thanks

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Ryan

Sorry Alastair. As I mentioned in the post above, numbers are not available for other speeds. It's possible they could be extrapolated but accuracy could not be guaranteed and I don't want to misrepresent the original sources of the chart.

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