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.
The marathon will always be popular but when the pandemic hit and races went on lockdown, time trials for short and sweet distances like the mile became en vogue.
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 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
- what workouts a runner should do to train for a 6 minute mile
- what strength training routine should a runner do for mile-training
- how many time trials should a runner do during one-mile training
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.”
The 6 Minute Mile Pace
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
3:44 minutes / kilometer
How can you tell if you’re capable of running a mile in 6 minutes?
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.
How long does it take to train for a 6 minute mile time?
As mentioned, it depends on where you’re starting from. If you aren’t currently running, you’ll need to spend weeks running easy 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.
What workouts should a runner do to train to run a 6-minute mile?
A runner should do a bulk of their runs easy with about two higher intensity sessions per week.
For example, a runner could do 3-4 easy run days with 2 high intensity 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.
Related: How to Run Strides
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 5-5:30 mile pace.
- Warm-up then do a fartlek with 80-90 second intervals and a 60 second jog in between.
- Warmup then do 12 x 1 minute hard/1 minute easy. Begin at 20-minute race pace for the first four intervals, then work down to 10-12 minute race pace for the middle four, and then finish the final four at mile race pace. Cool down with 10-20 minutes easy.
- 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.
Related: Fartlek workouts
Should a runner training to run a 6-minute mile do strength training?
Yes, 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.
Running coach Laura Norris suggests lifting 2-3 times per week.
Exercises should include:
- step ups,
- bridges, and
- plank variations
“Multiple research studies including a 2017 systematic review published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found 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.
Related: Guide to Weightlifting for Runners
How many time trials should a runner do?
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.
- another time trial in the middle of training,
- and 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.
Related: 11 Pro Tips for Running Motivation
“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.”
In other words, keep on trying to be your best, and keep on running!
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