How to Run a 6 Minute Mile

Strategies for setting realistic goals and achieving a 6-minute mile goal.

Running a 6 minute mile is recognized as a true test of a recreational runner. It is fast, but not elite fast. And, if given the will and dedication, many can achieve it. 

The mile is a beautiful distance.

Four perfect laps run at near-top speed. It is short and satisfying, and racing the mile is coming back into style just like tie-dye shirts and high-waisted pants.

As Deanna Hammond-Blackburn, a certified trainer at Origym Centre for Excellence, notes,

The 6 minute mile is and has been one of the most recognized goals that many runners aspire to achieve; it is often used as a gauge of skill and becomes competitive between athletes. Not only is this known as a significant accomplishment, but the training itself will provide a multitude of benefits that make it worthwhile starting.” 

For example, this training will improve your range of mobility, leg speed, and economy, as well as your cardiovascular health. In short, training for this distance and pace will make you a better runner in the end.

But trying to run a 6-minute mile is not for the faint of heart. So, how to run a 6-minute mile? This article is a roadmap to success.

You will learn:

  • Who Can Run A 6 Minute Mile
  • How Fast Is A Mile In 6 Minute Mile Time?
  • How You Tell If You’re Capable Of Running A 6 Minute Mile
  • How Long It Takes To Train For A 6 Minute Mile
  • How Many Miles A Week Should A Runner Run To Run A 6 Minute Mile
  • How To Run A Faster Mile
  • What Strength Training Routine Should A Runner Do For Mile-Training
  • How Many Time Trials Should A Runner Do During One-Mile Training

Let’s get into it!

A man runs down a tarmac path with the words 6 minute mile in the foreground.

Who Can Run A 6 Minute Mile

Many runners can run a 6-minute mile, given time, says Deanna and Lanni Marchant, an elite marathoner and coach at Tagalong with a Pro

Factors like genetics (e.g. slow versus fast twitch muscles), form, technique, overall aerobic endurance, flexibility, mobility, and strength will all impact how fast it takes a person to be able to run a 6 minute mile. 

“Make no mistake, this is a difficult but worthwhile achievement to work towards, that some people may not be physically capable of reaching,” explains Deanna. “For some, it could take months and months of training, while those that are more experienced runners could reach it in just a few weeks.”

Lanni, a 2:28 marathoner, uses herself as an example: “I’m an elite marathon runner, so breaking 6 minutes in the mile is easier for me than most.  But for me, to break a 5 minute mile is an all-out effort versus a miler who can run sub 5 minutes with no problem.”

Thus, your running background is key to how you will train to run a mile in 6 minutes, and how long it will take you. 

The most important prerequisite though, says Jeff Parke, founder of fitness magazine, Top Fitness Magazine, is that:

“you have a burning desire to run at that pace. What that means is that you have to decide there is no other option for you other than running a 6 minute mile. It’s not easy and if your head isn’t in the right space, your body won’t be either.”

A man wearing blue runs down a forest path.

How Fast Is A Mile In 6 Minutes?

When in training or actually attempting your mile effort, here’s the 6 minute mile pace you want to see on your GPS – try to keep as close to this as possible, perhaps going 1-2 seconds faster when you can:

6:00 minutes / mile

or

3:44 minutes / kilometer

How You Tell If You’re Capable Of Running A sub 6 Minute Mile

Timothy Lyman, director of training programs at Fleet Feet Pittsburgh, suggests runners do a self-evaluation of their past running experience, their current level of fitness and address any injury or medical concerns prior to attempting a six-minute mile.

“Taking a look at their individual history with running, their personal best times, etc. would give an athlete a general overview of their past and current abilities, and then they should talk to a running coach or personal trainer to see if they are a good candidate to train for a 6 minute mile,” he says. 

For example, if someone is an avid runner who is able to run a 5k in less than 21 minutes, then they would be a good candidate to start training for a 6-minute mile. Someone without this experience will need to do a lot of base mileage of easy running before beginning their training plan. 

Running pro and Tagalong Coach Eric Ashe, who qualified for the 2016 and 2020 USA Olympic Marathon Trials, adds that to be able to run a 6-minute mile within the near future (8-12 weeks), a runner should be able to run 800 meters in 3 minutes.

Runners running on a pavement from the legs down.

How Long It Takes To Train For A 6 Minute Mile

As mentioned, it depends on where you’re starting from. If you aren’t currently running, you’ll need to spend weeks running easily to build your weekly mileage to at least 15-20 miles a week before beginning any intensity of speedwork. 

If you’re an avid runner, then your training plan will likely be about 8 weeks. 

“Your training period will depend on how much running you’ve done before.  On average, I would recommend 8 weeks at a minimum.  That’s a good training block for any kind of a distance,” shares Lanni.

How Many Miles A Week Should A Runner Run To Run A 6 Minute Mile

According to Timothy and Lanni, a runner can get by with as low as 30 miles a week training to run a 6-minute mile. However, to maximize your effort, runners who are more durable and less injury-prone should aim to run 40-60 miles per week. 

“Some athletes will have the ability to accumulate more mileage than others, so there is a fine line between what’s enough and what’s too much,” says Timothy.

A woman sprints down a tarmac road.

How To Run A Faster Mile

A runner should do a bulk of their runs at an easy cardio intensity and low heart rate with about two higher intensity sessions per week. 

For example, a runner could do 3-4 easy run days with 2 high intensity sprint speed days, says Timothy. 

Lanni adds specific speedwork should start with under-pace work.

Begin with a 10-to-20-minute jog, some drills, and 4-6 strides, before doing any of the speed workouts. 

If your running goal is to increase your running speed and hit that 6 minute mile, you will have to include speed work.

Sample quality speed sessions for a 6-minute mile include:

  • Warm up, then do 200-meter repeats or 400m repeats at a pace faster than a 6-minute mile pace, closer to a 5:30 mile pace.
  • Warm up, then do a fartlek with 80-90-second intervals and a 60-second jog in between.
  • Warm up, then do 12 x 1 minute hard/1 minute easy. Begin at a 20-minute race pace for the first four intervals, then work down to a 10-12-minute race pace for the middle four, and then finish the final four at a mile race pace. Cool down for 10-20 minutes. 
  • Threshold workouts such as a steady state run where you warm up for 1-2 miles, run 2 miles holding a 7:00-7:30 minute mile threshold, and then run 1 cool-down mile.  
  • Or run 3 or 4 800 meters at a 6:00-6:30 minute pace with 2-3 minutes jogging rest in between each interval.  

“The goal of a threshold workout is to get you go faster and feel the burn you would feel when you do the time trial or race,” explains Lanni.

A man wearing red does a lunge.

What Strength Training Routine Should A Runner Do For Mile-Training

Any runner should strength train. 

“Keeping your body from breaking down will be the hardest part of training for a 6-minute mile. Strength training is needed to not only keep your body strong but to keep those injuries away. Distance runners tend to shy away from strength training but it’ll give you an advantage towards breaking the 6 minute mile,” explains Josh Schlottman of Trainer Josh Fitness.

Try To strength train about 2-3 times per week. 

Exercises should include:

  • squats
  • deadlifts  
  • lunges, 
  • step ups, 
  • bridges, and
  • plank variations

“Multiple research studies including a 2017 systematic review published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning1Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research31(12), 3508–3523. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000002200found that runners who strength trained experienced improvements in their oxygen uptake (VO2 max), running economy, lactate threshold, and musculo-tendon stiffness,” she explains. 

All of these physiological factors positively determine performance in the mile; a runner with higher VO2 max, running economy, and lactate threshold will be able to run a faster mile. 

A man wearing grey sprints with high knees.

How Many Time Trials Should A Runner Do During One-Mile Training

A runner trying to run a 6-minute mile should aim to do 3 total time trials:

  • One time trial at the beginning of their training as a baseline of their current fitness and
    another time trial in the middle of training.
  • A final time trial at the end to see if they achieved their goal, suggests Timothy. 

If you don’t reach your goal, it is still a success, Lanni reminds us.

“If you are fitter than you were at the beginning of the 8-week training cycle, then you’ve achieved success.  Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hit the goal in the manner that you think you should.  Set goals and celebrate improvement.”

There are no running secrets, just a blueprint that, if you follow, you will see results.

If 6 minutes if too much of a leap, consider setting your goal at a 7 minute mile or a 10 minute mile, progression takes time!

What is your fastest mile? Let us know below! Keep on trying to be your best, and keep on running! If you enjoyed this article, check out:

References

Photo of author
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the US Olympic Trials marathon.

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