Why is my Treadmill Pace so Wonky!?

Whether it is focused speed work, hill repeats, or a break from the elements, there are times when we break away from the great outdoors and hit the treadmill for some of our training.

Why Is My Treadmill Pace So Wonky!

How many times have you gotten on the treadmill and noticed how much different the treadmill pace was to your Garmin, Suunto, etc. watch?   This is actually where technology has gotten the best of me!   I have come obsessed with looking at data from my runs and studying the rise and fall in my heartrate, my pace over different terrains and temperatures, or making sure that I continue to maintain a consistent cadence even on my climbs.   If you are like me, much of that seems to go out the window as soon as I step on the treadmill.   While much of the running dynamics captured are still very consistent whether I am running on the treadmill, road, or trail, there is one measurement that causes me great pain; The pace!

It never fails, when I hit the treadmill my pace is typically FAR off from what the treadmill says I should be running.   The treadmill may say a 9:00 min/mi but when I look at my Garmin it says 7:00 min/mi.   For the longest time I just attributed this to my cadence thinking that I was just naturally running faster than the treadmill and it was ok.

Today on the treadmill I discovered something fascinating!   Keep in mind I have googled this problem several times and I never really find a valid answer. The typical answer is they won’t match, the treadmill may not be calibrated, or some other random reason on why there is a difference.   The end-state is the same. Many people seem to have just accepted this!   Well, I may be able to offer you some information that can change that!

Without getting into the technical details, most of the fitness watches measure your “indoor” pace based on the accelerometer that exists in the watch and/or heartrate monitor! (If you are one of those that uses a footpod, this will not apply to you as your times are already pretty close!).   Many of the watches “learn” your running dynamics over time and then use this same information to calculate your indoor pace when there is no GPS signal available or when you are running on a treadmill!   This is actually where I have discovered what has been impacting “my” pace on the treadmill! 

Why Is My Treadmill Pace So Wonky!

When I am running outside, I carry a handheld on the majority of my runs and I carry this handheld in the same hand that I wear a watch.   On a treadmill though my hand is empty as I put my bottle in the beer / Pringles holder.   While it may have been obvious to most people, I never took into account the difference that carrying a handheld had on my running dynamics. In the case of my hill repeats on the treadmill, that difference was approximately a 1:00 min/mi difference!   At one point during my run today I grabbed my bottle for a drink and held onto it.   When I glanced at my watch this time I was amazed; the pace between my watch and the treadmill was only off by 5 sec!

For the duration of my workout I continued to experiment and came up with a couple solutions to increase your pace accuracy on the treadmill if you are also one that runs with a handheld;

1) Begin carrying your handheld in the opposite hand (non-watch hand) while running outside; This approach will then recalibrate your watch so running on the treadmill without the handheld will be more accurate.

2) Run on the treadmill just as you do outside. If you carry a handheld, carry that handheld on the treadmill. This will ensure that your range of motion while running is in sync whether you are running inside or outside.

So if you are like me and have been plagued with this treadmill pace accuracy issue, hopefully this shed some light on what I have experienced!

Miles and smiles!