In this post, Cathal Logue explains how to run a faster mile: improving your one mile time is a great tool and goal ,regardless of your running background. If you’re a distance runner, taking some time out to focus on how to get a faster mile time can have massive advantages to your endurance and running economy.
Over to Cathal!
The mile distance is often referred to as the blue-ribbon event of athletics.
The history of the event is steeped in running folklore and most people have heard of the legendary Roger Bannister, who was the first man to run a mile in under four minutes back in 1954.
One of my earliest memories of hearing about the mile race was a story about my grandfather, who was an avid running fan. The year was 1958 and he was getting organized to cycle from Derry to Dublin ( a distance of 240km) to see Irishman Ronnie Delany, 1500m Olympic Gold Medallist from Melbourne 1956, take on the world’s best milers at Santry Stadium Dublin.
My grandfather, himself an accomplished middle-distance runner, saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience and would do all that it took to get there. Unfortunately, he had a crash some 40km from Dublin and finished up listening to the race on the radio from a hospital bed.
What a race it turned out to be. Herb Elliott from Australia produced a devastating kick in the last 200m to win in a new world record time of 3.54.5, followed by four other runners all under four minutes, with Ronnie Delany in third place. The race on 6 August 1958 was lauded by the media as the Race of the Century.
So, inspired by that moment in history, how best do we prepare ourselves to run a mile in a respectable time?
Although lauded as an athletics event, figuring out how to improve your mile time is something that will benefit any runner – especially distance runners.
The running of a 6-minute mile for an ambitious and committed runner at an amateur level would be considered akin to the running of a 4-minute mile for those at the elite level.
Here are my top tips on how to prepare to run your fastest mile – whether that’s a 6-minute mile, 7-minute mile, or faster!
Related: How To Run a 5 Minute Mile
How To Run a Faster Mile – The Six Steps
Step 1: Know Your Target Pace And Hit The Track
The first step is to define your target time for running the mile.
If you don’t have a sense of this already, go for a gentle warm-up then run a mile at 8-9 out of 10 in terms of exertion rate, and see where your current ability lies.
Next, it’s time to hit the track.
Remember that a standard running track is 400m : 4 laps of this (plus 9 metres at the end) will get you your mile.
So you can divide your target mile time by 4 to figure out your target lap time.
If your goal is to run a 6 minute mile, then you’ll have to complete the equivalent of 4 laps of a standard running track at a pace of 90 seconds per lap. This is a pace of 3.45 minutes/km.
A starting point is running a series of 10-12 repetitions of 200m at the target pace of 90 seconds per 400m (45 seconds per each 200m effort), taking a 60-second recovery in-between each repetition.
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, 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 buildup of high levels of lactic acid in your muscles.
Step 2: Develop Your Speed
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.
Running at speeds quicker than mile pace or 1500m pace is considered more anaerobic than aerobic.
For instance, running at 800m is considered 67% anaerobic and 400m pace 83% anaerobic, whereas 3k pace is considered 60:40 aerobic to anaerobic.
The switch from aerobic to anaerobic will require you to engage your fast twitch fibres more.
One method of preparing your body for this is to include sessions where you’ll be running at your predicted 800m and 400m paces.
Your target 800m pace is 42 seconds per 200m, or 84 seconds per 400m. Some useful sessions are as follows: 12 x 200m with a 60-second recovery, 8 x 300m with 75-second recovery and strides.
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.
Strides are a great way to reinforce good running technique and help you develop the ability to switch from the slow-twitch fibres of aerobic running to the fast-twitch fibres of anaerobic running.
Step 3: Incorporate Tempo runs
The mile event is a 50% aerobic and 50% anaerobic activity. When moving from aerobic to anaerobic state, your body will start to fatigue with the onset of lactic acid.
Thus, you ́ll need to train your body to be both aerobically fit as well as to have the ability to cope with the accumulation of lactic acid in your muscles. Therefore, your lactate tolerance is a key factor in reducing your mile time.
One way of increasing your lactate tolerance is by running tempos in training. The appropriate pace for tempo runs is at the point where your body changes from working aerobically to working anaerobically; sometimes known as the anaerobic threshold.
Start off with 2 x 10 minutes at the tempo pace of 4.25 minutes/km or 7.04 minutes/mile and then build up to a continuous effort of 20 minutes.
The other benefit of running tempos is that it improves your ability to maintain a steady pace and to hold your concentration over a long duration.
Step 4: Improve your aerobic strength
The ability to run well over longer distances than the mile will also be required if your goal is to run a quick mile. This will provide you with the adequate aerobic strength to remain strong throughout your mile effort.
This is where interval training at specific paces will come to your aid. Use your GPS watch to mark out the distance or if you have access to a local running track, you can use the 400m lap as your guide.
For instance, you could incorporate both 3k and 5k paced sessions into your progamme.
Your target 3k pace is 3.55 minutes/km, 6.16 minutes/mile or 94 seconds per 400m.
Some of the sessions that work well are 8-12 repetitions of 400m in 94 seconds followed by a 90-second recovery. As your aerobic strength improves, you can include longer intervals such as 600m and 800m at the 3k pace with a 2-minute recovery.
In addition, try running 4 repetitions of 1000m at your target 5k pace (4.05 minutes/km, 6.32 minutes/mile or 98 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.
Step 5: Work on your leg strength
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.
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. Complete 10-15 repetitions of each exercise and do two full circuits.
Step 6: Beware the 3rd lap!
This is a well-known expression to any runner who has experience of running 1500m and miles races.
It’s the critical part of the race where you’ll have to dig deep to ensure you don’t drop the pace too much. This requires working on the ability to concentrate while feeling uncomfortable.
One method used to help overcome this difficult part of the mile race is to practice running at race pace for longer in training, using a time-trial over a specific distance.
You can start with a distance of 1000m. Make sure you are well warmed up and really commit early on to hitting your target race pace.
As you get stronger you can increase the distance of the effort by 50m each time up to a maximum of 1200m, attempting to hold the race pace for the full duration of the run.
Cathal’s Final Thoughts
Your weekly training schedule should include two of the sessions described earlier.
Most runners find that mixing a fast 800m pace session with a tempo run works best as your body has more time to recover. Similarly, you could match a session at target mile race pace with an aerobic session at 3k or 5k pace.
In addition, ensure that when you attempt a time-trial session, you are not going in fatigued. So, it is advisable to have a tempo or hills session earlier in the week rather than a fast 800m session.
Another suggestion is to reduce your weekly mileage before attempting to run the fast mile as this will keep your legs fresh for the challenge.
Good luck with your challenge to run a faster mile.
Be patient with your adaption to the new training session and remember: “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.”