In this post, coach Cathal Logue explains the training, strategies, and pace necessary how to run a 5 minute mile.
The mile is often considered the blue-ribbon event in athletics. The event has caught the imagination of track athletics fans ever since Roger Bannister ran 3.58.60 in Oxford, England on 6th May 1954, breaking the once believed impossible feat of running under four minutes the distance.
If the running of a sub 4 mile is a benchmark for most modern-day elite athletes, the running of the mile under 5 minutes is for the ambitious amateur athlete.
For a lot of runners, the question they get asked time and time again is have you run a marathon – or indeed how many marathons have you run.
However, as UK Endurance coach Malcolm McCausland (coach of two sub-four-minute milers) explains, there remains a fascination with the mile distance “Fads come and go but the mile retains its magic. The true acid test of any runner is how fast he/she can run a mile. Four laps to the mile, perfect symmetry for the perfect distance“.
Nowadays there are more and more people training and preparing for longer distance events like the marathon. The type of training and preparation for running the mile is different from that needed to run well over longer distances like 10k, half marathon, and marathons.
So, what are the key ingredients needed to realise that dream?
Here is my guide to achieving it, including 5 top tips to run a sub 5 minute mile and advice on your racing strategy.
1. 5 Minute Mile Pacing – Train At The Target Pace
The mile distance comes from the imperial measurement system and is the equivalent of 1609m in the metric system. As the mile is 4 laps of a traditional track (plus the 9m extra from the mile start line on a standard track), you’ll be attempting to run each lap in 75 seconds (3.08 min/km pace).
Your 5 minute mile pace is simple to dial into your GPS: 5.00/mile, or 3.08/km.
To get used to this pace, start by running a series of 10-12 repetitions of 200m at the target pace of 75 seconds per 400m (37.5 seconds per each 200m effort), taking a 60-second recovery.
As you get more comfortable with this pace, add 100m to the repetition and complete 6-8 repetitions of 300m, with a 75-second recovery. The next progression is 6-8 repetitions of 400m, with a 90-second recovery.
As you get fitter and close to attempting your sub-5 minute mile race, you can attempt the following session: 3 x 600m with a 4-minute recovery. The longer recoveries will be needed as running at your target race pace over this distance will result in a build-up of high levels of lactic acid in your muscles.
Remember although the sprinting speed of the athlete is important, it is the ability to sustain the target pace over the whole distance that is key. Therefore, the development of speed endurance is critical. It is no good being able to run at the target pace in training with overly long recoveries as you won’t have 2 minutes rest during the race!
2. Speed Development: Train At Faster Than Race Pace
Working on your speed is an important part of the process and will enable you to ultimately feel comfortable running at your target race pace. One method of achieving this is to get your body used to running at speeds quicker than your target race pace.
This means that you need to have the ability to run quicker than this 5 minute mile pace for shorter distances. For instance, if you attempted to run in an 800m race or ran that distance as a time trial, you’d hopefully be able to run it around 2.20. That is an average of 70 seconds per lap. And if you decided to run 1 lap of the track as fast as you can 400m (100% effort), you’d be hoping to run it as close to 63 seconds or below. If you have this base speed, then the breaking of the 5 minutes for the mile is attainable.
Your target 800m pace is 35 seconds per 200m or 70 seconds per 400m.
Some useful sessions are as follows: 10 x 200m with a 90-second recovery, 8 x 300m with 2-minute recovery or 4 x 400m (5-minute recovery)
To further develop your speed, you can include the following sessions: 5 x 300m (4-minute recovery) and 8 x 200 (2-minute recovery). These should be run at your target 400m pace of 32 second for the 200m and 48 seconds per 300m repetition.
These sessions will be tough, and it is recommended you run very easy the days after this session. Moreover, remember that at this intensity and speed you’ll be putting your body under a lot of stress, so don’t forgot to complete a comprehensive warm-up that includes some fast strides before starting the sessions, and is important to do a proper cool down afterward.
If you don’t have this base speed, don’t worry as there are ways of developing it.
3. Building Strength – work on your leg strength
Working on improving your leg strength will help you develop the speed needed for a 5 minute mile. Hill running, and circuits are two of the most effective ways of doing this.
Hills are an excellent way to develop leg strength. There are number of different sessions that you can do. First, find a hill that measures 100m with a moderate gradient. Run a series of 6-10 hills, with a jog back recovery.
Remember to focus on keeping good running form and don’t get too caught up on racing to the top!
Alternatively, you could find a steeper hill to work on power. Run for 15 seconds as fast as you can and then walk back down to fully recover before repeating three more times.
A perhaps unorthodox way of improving your cadence or leg turnover is downhill running. Try running 4-6 strides on a slight downward slope.
Strength training is another effective way to build specific leg strength. It can help increase your stride length and therefore leads to greater sprinting speed. Some of the key exercises to include are squats, lunges, burpees, squat-thrusts, one-legged squats and calf raises.
Check out my complete guide to weightlifting for runners.
4. The Importance of Tempo Runs
When moving from aerobic to anaerobic state, your body will start to fatigue with the onset of lactic acid.
Your LT is the point at which lactic begins to accumulate in muscles. This build-up of lactic acid in the muscles leads to the fatigue, burning sensation and soreness that runners experience when running hard.
If you can increase your LT by doing tempo runs, you can delay this onset of lactic acid and run faster without suffering muscle fatigue.
Start off with 2 x 10 minutes at the tempo pace of 3.45 minutes/km or 6 minutes/mile and then build up to a continuous effort of 20 minutes.
5. Increase Your Aerobic Capacity
The mile event is considered 50% aerobic and 50% anaerobic. Thus, in addition to the outline of the anaerobic session above, you should also dedicate some sessions to work on your aerobic capacity.
For instance, you could incorporate both 3k and 5k paced sessions into your programme. Your target 3k pace is 3.18 minutes/km, 5.16 minutes/mile or 79 seconds per 400m.
Some of the sessions that work well are 8-12 repetitions of 400m in 79 seconds followed by a 90-second recovery. As your aerobic strength improves, you can include longer intervals such as 500m and 600m at the 3k pace with a 2-minute recovery.
In addition, try running 4 repetitions of 1000m at your target 5k pace (3.28 minutes/km, 5.32 minutes/mile or 83 seconds per 400m) with a 2-minute recovery. This will also be a good test of how well you can maintain your concentration over longer distances.
Also, include a long run in your weekly schedule of between 60-75 mins.
6. Race Strategy – How To Approach Race Day For Running a 5 Minute Mile!
Run with Pacers
If you have some training partners who are willing to help you to your goal of running a sub 5 minute mile this would be a great help.
Just like Roger Banister back in 1954, having some pacemakers who can take you halfway or even to 1200m, will allow you to focus on staying relaxed and conserving energy for the final lap. There will inevitably be a point in the race where you will be feeling uncomfortable, and you will need to maintain concentration and focus to hold your target pace.
Luckily by following the training advice described earlier, you’ll have already experienced this uncomfortable feeling and your body will be accustomed to dealing with it.
Target An Even Pace
Try and run each of the 4 laps at even pace. If you start too fast and run 72 seconds for instance, you may find yourself in oxygen debt too early and the onset of lactic acid will cause you to tire.
The 3rd of 4 Laps Will Be Where Your Mile Is Won Or Lost
The 3rd lap is key to bag a sub 5 minute mile. It’s the critical part of the race where you’ll have to dig deep to ensure you don´t fall off the pace too much. This requires working on the ability to concentrate while feeling uncomfortable.
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