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6 Tips and Strategies For How To Run A Faster Mile

Nail that mile time PR.

As a running coach, I find that most distance runners who want coaching are looking to either get started with a training program as a beginner or train for longer distance races such as a half marathon or marathon.

While I certainly think there are benefits of following a training program for a half marathon or other long-distance race, I also encourage my runners to consider running a faster mile time.

Even for runners who are interested in setting a PR in a 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon, there is a lot of value in trying to improve your fastest mile time.

High-intensity mile training can help improve your running economy, and maximal running speed, lactate threshold, and running power, all of which can translate to the ability to hit a faster goal pace over longer distances.

Moreover, for beginners, working to improve your mile time is a great way to increase your fitness level as you eventually work towards other long-distance events.

In this guide to how to run a faster mile, we will discuss the components of the best mile training plans, tips for how to improve your mile time, and how to nail your one mile race.

People running hard on a track.

How Far Is a Mile?

Before we look at the strategies to run a faster mile, let’s cover the basics: how far is a mile, and what is a good mile time?

On a standard 400-meter running track, a mile is just over four full laps to run a mile because a mile is 1609 meters, and four laps of the track is 1600 meters.

According to Running Level, a good mile time is 7:04. This is the average mile time across all ages, genders, and experience levels.11 Mile Times By Age And Ability – Running Level. (n.d.). Runninglevel.com. https://runninglevel.com/running-times/1-mile-times

‌This site reports that the average mile time for men is 6:37, and the average mile time for women is 7:44.

People running hard on a track.

Why Should Distance Runners Train to Run a Faster Mile?

I’ve been running competitively since I was in seventh grade. I started with cross country and track, always gravitating towards longer distances because I have a lot of natural endurance rather than raw sprinting speed.

In high school, I started as a miler in track.

I wanted to do the 2-mile race as my main event, but I didn’t have seniority as a freshman on the team, and we needed a strong miler. I accepted the position and set a season goal to run under 5:30 as my mile time.

I had just come off of the cross country season, where we were doing more tempo runs and easy distance running rather than a lot of high-intensity interval workouts or anything at mile race pace.

As such, the first couple of mile running workouts were pretty tough, and I noticed that I was really struggling to run fast and get into the anaerobic heart rate zones.

As my freshman high school track season progressed, I eventually saw improvements in my running speed and my ability to hit some of the anaerobic interval workouts at a faster mile pace than I was used to hitting for the longer distance running workouts I naturally gravitated towards.

Ultimately, I found that the mile training plan helped me work on my running form, and I ended up finishing the season with a 5:19 as my fastest mile time, which was a pretty significant improvement.

A person running hard on a track.

I mention all of this because now that I work as a running coach, I often find that long-distance runners are reluctant to do mile training because it feels uncomfortable and perhaps unnatural to be doing such high-intensity interval training workouts.

This can be a turn-off and dissuade people who are used to training for a half marathon or other long-distance race to even try to run a fast mile time.

When the track season was over, I ran a road race 5k after not getting to do a longer distance race since the cross country season.

Without doing any longer distance training workouts and solely doing the mile training, I improved my freshman 5k time from 19:09 down to 18:37, which was way faster than my goal pace for that summer road race.

I have seen similar improvements in the runners who I coach, who end up being able to run a faster pace for longer races due to better running economy, proper form, and improvements in running speed after doing 1 mile training plans.

Therefore, I strongly encourage runners to take 6 to 10 weeks to train for a mile race or mile time trial, committing to high-intensity interval training and running workouts to run a fast mile. 

You will see payoffs in a relatively short amount of time, not just because you will run a faster mile, but the improvements in your fitness level, running form, and running speed will translate to the ability to hold a faster pace in long-distance races.

People running hard on a track.

What Are the Best Ways to Improve My Mile Time?

So, what are the best training techniques to run a faster mile?

#1: Follow a Mile Training Program

Training to run a fast mile, either for a 1 mile race or a mile time trial, is a little bit different than a half marathon or marathon training plan.

You will still have many of the same elements2Boullosa, D., Esteve-Lanao, J., Casado, A., Peyré-Tartaruga, L. A., Gomes da Rosa, R., & Del Coso, J. (2020). Factors Affecting Training and Physical Performance in Recreational Endurance Runners. Sports8(3), 35. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports8030035 in terms of the types of running workouts, but the relative percentage of time that you spend training at a faster pace or with high-intensity anaerobic speed work will certainly be greater for the mile training program versus a training program for a long-distance road race.3Stinchcombe, C. (2022). GoodRx – Error. Goodrx.com. https://www.goodrx.com/well-being/movement-exercise/aerobic-vs-anaerobic-exercise

‌Here are the key running workouts that should go into training to run a fast mile time:

  • Easy Runs: Long-distance runs to build your aerobic fitness and endurance and increase your cardio fitness and VO2 max.
  • Long Runs: Long endurance workouts to improve physical and mental stamina. You should run at a comfortable, conversational pace, at an effort of 6 on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is max effort.  
  • Speed workouts: Interval training on the running track will involve running reps of race pace intervals and VO2 max intervals. These speed workouts get your body used to running fast, build anaerobic fitness, and improve VO2 max and running speed.
  • Strides: Accelerations where you reach your max sprinting speed by the end of each one. They can be done on a running track, grass, road, or treadmill.
  • Hill Sprints: Hill sprints build strength, power, and running speed.
  • Threshold Interval Workouts and Tempo Runs: The lactate threshold occurs around 83-88% of your VO2 max, so your threshold run pace would roughly be the pace you could hold at max effort for an hour of running. Tempo runs are less important for milers than for half marathon and marathon running, but increasing your lactate threshold can help you tolerate running a fast mile before crossing over into anaerobic metabolic systems in the first half of the mile race.
  • Time Trials and Goal Mile Pace Workouts: Race-pace effort to assess your fitness level and rehearse the mile race experience.
  • Running Drills: Help improve your running form and running technique.
  • Cross Training: Non-running aerobic workout. Examples include cycling, swimming, rowing, elliptical, aqua jogging, and hiking.
  • Rest Days: No structured exercise. Focus on rest and recovery (stretching, foam rolling, taking it easy).
A person running hard on a track.

#2: Focus On High-Intensity Strength Training

Strength training workouts with heavy weights can help build fast-twitch muscle fibers.4Kohn, T. A., Essén-Gustavsson, B., & Myburgh, K. H. (2010). Specific muscle adaptations in type II fibers after high-intensity interval training of well-trained runners. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports21(6), 765–772. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01136.x

‌This can improve running economy and decrease the risk of injury from high-intensity running workouts.5Balsalobre-Fernández, C., Santos-Concejero, J., & Grivas, G. V. (2016). Effects of Strength Training on Running Economy in Highly Trained Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research30(8), 2361–2368. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001316

‌Include exercises that target the glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, hip flexors, core muscles, as well as the muscle groups in the upper body.

Some of the best strength training exercises for milers include squats, lunges, split squats, deadlifts, calf raises, hip thrusts, step-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, planks, and other core exercises.

In addition, include plyometric exercises tobuild power, especially in the glutes and calf muscle groups. Examples include box jumps, single-leg bounding, and burpees.

Consider working with a personal trainer if you are unsure how to perform strengthening exercises with proper form or which muscle groups you need to target to prevent muscle imbalances, improve your running form, and improve your running economy.

People running hard on a track.

#3: Work On Your Running Form

Proper running form can help you run faster and reduce the risk of injury.

Running drills such as high knees, hill sprints, and accelerations can help you improve your running form.

Working with a running coach can also help you identify issues so that you can work towards proper running form.

How Do I Race A Fast Mile?

Here are some tips for nailing a faster 1 mile run race in your goal mile time or setting a PR with a mile time trial:

#1: Do a Thorough Warm-Up

Make sure to do a thorough warm-up before your mile time trial or mile race. I usually suggest doing an easy run of about 15 to 20 minutes to increase your heart rate, get your muscle groups primed and ready to go, and feel loose and relaxed.

Then, do some dynamic warm-up exercises such as walking lunges, bounding, leg swings, high knees, and a couple of high-intensity strides to warm up your neuromuscular system.

A person running hard on a track.

#2: Pace Yourself

A common question for beginners training for the mile run is: “How do I pace myself for a mile race?”

If you are used to running a 3 mile race, 5 mile race, half marathon, or some other event, four laps of the track may seem like such a short race that you don’t have to spend much time pacing yourself.

However, if you are truly trying to run your fastest mile, it means that you will be pushing your body beyond your lactate threshold and really digging into the anaerobic heart rate zones.

There is only so long that we can physiologically sustain the running speed beyond your anaerobic or lactate threshold, so it is critical that you pace yourself properly.

When I am working as a running coach with milers, I usually recommend thinking about the four laps of the mile race as follows:

Lap 1

400m, get a strong start but don’t go out too hard. Check at the 200m mark that you are on your goal pace. If you are running too fast, rein yourself in. I suggest trying to come in with your 400m split even a second slower than your goal mile split time.

Lap 2

This is where you can start to turn on your next gear.

Think about using proper running form and increasing your cadence. You should still feel relatively relaxed and flirting with crossing over the anaerobic threshold. By the 800m mark, you should be on pace to hit your goal race pace time.

Lap 3

Hang on. This is the hardest lap.

Here, you will probably start hitting the anaerobic or lactate threshold zones and your heart rate will increase, even if your running speed does not increase. The goal here is to try to maintain the running pace and push through the discomfort.

Lap 4

Give it all you’ve got. I divide the final lap into four 100m intervals. Try to ratchet up your running speed with each 100m, sprinting all the way through the finish line.

People running hard on a track training to run a faster mile.

#3: Cool Down

Hopefully, you will have run your fastest mile. Celebrate how much you improved your mile time, but then make sure to get in a good cool down easy run to prevent muscle soreness the next day. 

High-intensity running at a fast pace generally puts you more on the balls of your feet than distance running, so you will likely have sore calves, especially if you wear track spikes or racing shoes rather than regular running shoes.6Xu, Y., Yuan, P., Wang, R., Wang, D., Liu, J., & Zhou, H. (2020). Effects of Foot Strike Techniques on Running Biomechanics: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach13(1), 71–77. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738120934715

‌Overall, whether you are training to break a 10-minute mile or closer to the world record mile pace, it is almost always possible to improve your mile time with a dedicated mile training program. 

Training to run a fast mile involves building your aerobic base and then focusing on speed workouts, strength training, improving running form, and increasing your anaerobic fitness level.

Check out some of our training plans and guides for a faster 1 mile run here.

A stopwatch and people running on a track.

References

  • 1
    1 Mile Times By Age And Ability – Running Level. (n.d.). Runninglevel.com. https://runninglevel.com/running-times/1-mile-times
  • 2
    Boullosa, D., Esteve-Lanao, J., Casado, A., Peyré-Tartaruga, L. A., Gomes da Rosa, R., & Del Coso, J. (2020). Factors Affecting Training and Physical Performance in Recreational Endurance Runners. Sports8(3), 35. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports8030035
  • 3
    Stinchcombe, C. (2022). GoodRx – Error. Goodrx.com. https://www.goodrx.com/well-being/movement-exercise/aerobic-vs-anaerobic-exercise
  • 4
    Kohn, T. A., Essén-Gustavsson, B., & Myburgh, K. H. (2010). Specific muscle adaptations in type II fibers after high-intensity interval training of well-trained runners. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports21(6), 765–772. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01136.x
  • 5
    Balsalobre-Fernández, C., Santos-Concejero, J., & Grivas, G. V. (2016). Effects of Strength Training on Running Economy in Highly Trained Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research30(8), 2361–2368. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001316
  • 6
    Xu, Y., Yuan, P., Wang, R., Wang, D., Liu, J., & Zhou, H. (2020). Effects of Foot Strike Techniques on Running Biomechanics: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach13(1), 71–77. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738120934715
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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