How to Convert an Elevation Map to Treadmill Incline

Young Man On Treadmill

During 2016, there were more than 1,100 timed marathon events held in the United States, attracting over half a million finishers, according to’s annual report.

A runner preparing for a particular race can use elevation maps and charts to work out the distance climbed during the event. Elevation maps are topographic maps that show changes in the surface features of a landscape, while an elevation chart shows a cross-section of the surface along the route.

Using a treadmill with an incline function allows an athlete to simulate the hills that he will encounter.

Locate the start point of your race marked on the elevation map. Follow the race course on the map, noting from the contours whether the terrain rises, falls or is leveled. Contours are usually defined by color bands that correspond to a particular elevation.

Mark the first point on the route where the contours change color and the terrain starts to rise or fall. Check the elevation of the contour shown on the map at this point, and note the height in feet. Use the midpoint if a contour covers a band of elevation. For example, if the contour indicates 200 to 250 feet, note the height as 225 feet.

Continue along the route until the contours no longer change color and the course levels off, either at the top or bottom of a hill. Mark this point on the map. Check the elevation of the contour shown on the map at this point, and note the height in feet.

Subtract the height of the second point from the height of the first point, and note the answer, which is the height climbed. For example, if the height of the second point is 275 feet and the height of the first point is 225 feet, the height climbed is 50 feet.

Note the distance in miles along the course between the two points. This is often marked on the course map. If not, measure the distance using a ruler, and convert using the scale on the map. Multiply the distance by 5,280 to convert it to feet. For example, if the map scale is 2 inches equals 1 mile and you measure 1.8 inches, the distance is 0.9 miles, which converts to 4,752 feet.

Divide the height climbed by the distance between the two points. Multiply the answer by 100, and record the result, which is the percentage incline between the two points. For example, if the height climbed is 50 feet and the distance between the two points is 4,752 feet, the percentage incline is 1.1 percent.

Add 1 percent to the percentage incline if you want to simulate the effects of running outdoors. Set your treadmill to the calculated incline percentage, and run the distance between the two points to simulate the section of the course that you just measured on the elevation map.

Repeat the procedure for the remainder of the course. Record the elevation for each section, and program your treadmill accordingly.


If you are not familiar with reading a map, use mapping software to calculate the height climbed and the distance along the course.


You will not be able to simulate downhill sections of a course if your treadmill cannot apply negative inclination. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for guidance.