Mile repeats are one of the most versatile and effective workouts for runners. Indeed, part of the magic of mile repeats is the fact that runners racing nearly any distance can benefit from this solid workout session.
By manipulating the number of reps, intensity, recovery intervals, and the terrain, runners can use mile repeats to improve race times in the 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, ultramarathon, and anything in between.
Moreover, even runners who have no interest in ever running a race can benefit from adding mile repeats to their training program, because they can improve your cardiovascular fitness, endurance, running form, and speed.
But how do you best incorporate mile repeats into your training program? How should you structure these workouts to improve your race time?
In this mile repeat guide, we’re going to look at:
- What Is a Mile Repeats Workout?
- Benefits of Mile Repeats for Runners
- Types of Mile Repeats Workouts for Runners
- When Should I Do Mile Repeats In My Training Program?
- Should I Run Mile Repeats On the Track?
- 6 Tips for Mile Repeats Workouts
Let’s jump in!
What Is a Mile Repeats Workout?
As the name suggests, mile repeat workouts involve running multiple reps of a measured mile (1609 meters) with a recovery period in between in each repeat. Mile repeats are often run on a track, but plenty of runners also do them on a road, trail, grassy course, or treadmill.
Benefits of Mile Repeats for Runners
A mile repeats workouts can provide a range of benefits depending on how you structure it, including the following:
- Increasing speed
- Increasing endurance
- Improving running economy
- Increasing VO2 max
- Increasing lactate threshold
- Increasing cadence
- Getting you comfortable and familiar with goal race pace
- Providing a good benchmark workout to monitor fitness improvements
- Building mental toughness
- Adding variety to your training program
Types of Mile Repeats Workouts for Runners
There are a couple of different types of mile repeats workouts, depending on the goal.
Mile Repeats for Speed
Mile repeats can be used to improve your overall speed and race performance. When running mile repeats to improve your speed, each mile rep is run at goal race pace or faster.
For example, a 5k runner looking to break 18 minutes in the 5k (5:40 pace), could run 3 x mile at 5:40, 5:35, 5:30.
A half-marathon runner hoping to break 1:40 (7:38 pace), might run 6 x mile at 7:15-7:20.
Rest is usually longer in a mile repeats speed workout relative to one that is geared towards improving stamina. For instance, runners may jog a full 400m after each mile instead of 100-200m.
Mile Repeats for Stamina
Mile repeats can be used to increase endurance and improve lactate threshold when they are run at a tempo or threshold pace (roughly the pace you could sustain running all-out for one hour). Tempo mile repeat workouts can be incorporated earlier on in the training program.
An example of a threshold mile repeats workout would be 3-8 x mile at half-marathon pace (or slightly faster) with one-minute rest in between.
Runners racing anything from a 5k to marathon and beyond can benefit from this type of workout, though in general, the number of reps will vary (fewer for shorter race distances).
Mile Repeats to Learn Pacing
Trying to dial in your goal race pace so that it feels as comfortable and natural as possible is one of the keys to having a successful race performance.
Mile repeats can help condition your body to nail your intended race pace despite nerves, competition, and any other distractors come race day.
Simply run your repeats at race pace to help lock in the feeling of this pace. The number of reps you should do and the rest periods will depend on your race distance and where you are in your training program.
The shorter your race, the fewer reps you should do because a mile is a greater portion of your race.
Regardless of your race distance, the closer you are to your race (aside from being in the final 10-14 days), the more reps you should be able to handle at your race pace.
For example, a 10k runner may do 3 x mile at race pace with 2 minutes rest in week five of training and build up 6 x mile with 1-1:30 rest by week 10.
When Should I Do Mile Repeats In My Training Program?
Depending on your race goals, current fitness, and how you structure your mile repeats workout, it’s usually best to incorporate them after the base-building phase of your training plan and stop them before the taper.
The longer your race (half marathon or marathon, for example), the earlier in your training program you can do mile repeats at race pace because a mile is a significantly smaller percentage of the overall distance.
Should I Run Mile Repeats On the Track?
One of the beauties of mile repeats is that they can be run anywhere where you can measure the distance. A standard running track is usually the easiest place for your workout because it’s free from traffic, a known distance, and has easy demarcations to help with pacing.
However, you don’t have to run mile repeats on a track, and there can be benefits to varying the terrain.
If your goal race is run on the roads or trails, running mile repeats on the actual course, or at least the same terrain, will better replicate the race-day experience.
A road marathon might have a rolling course, so practicing your form and technique on a similarly challenging road during your mile repeats will better prepare you for the race than a workout on a flat track.
Just make sure you have an accurate way to measure distance and a safe course mapped out for your workout.
You can even run mile repeats on a treadmill to boost your overall fitness and improve race performance. This being said, it’s usually advisable to increase the incline a little to better replicate the muscular demand of propelling your body outside when a belt isn’t pulling you along.
6 Tips for Running Mile Repeats
To have the most successful mile repeats workout, consider implementing the following tips:
#1: Warm Up Thoroughly
It’s important to warm up before tackling your workout, especially if you’re running your mile repeats at or faster than race pace. Run a minimum of 1-2 miles at a comfortable pace, and perform some dynamic stretches and strides to get your muscles ready before hitting the first interval.
#2: Run Even Splits
One of the benefits of running your mile repeats on a track is that you can check your pacing every 400m (or even more often). Running an even pace for each mile repeat will help you get through the workout and reap the most from the work you’re putting in.
If you’re running on the road, use a GPS watch or mark the first quarter-mile. This way, you can do a pace check and ensure you’re hitting the right splits before you get to the end and realize you either went out way too fast or failed to push hard enough.
Also, unless otherwise dictated in your workout program, try to run each mile repeat at the same pace so that your finish times for each are within just a few seconds.
#3: Keep Moving Through the Recovery
Particularly if you are running your mile repeats at an uncomfortably fast pace, it can be tempting to stop completely once you cross the line and take a stationary rest period instead of trying to jog through your recovery.
However, continuing to jog as soon as you finish a repeat will better replicate the physical demands of racing and is better for your body.
Keep in mind that if you are doing threshold intervals, you should have no problem resuming a comfortable running pace during your recovery because you should only be working at about 83-88% of your VO2 max, or a pace you can maintain for about one hour.
#4: Take One Repeat At a Time
Mile repeats can build mental toughness. They are short enough that you can maintain your focus throughout each rep but long enough that they test your grit and mental fortitude.
Tackling a mile repeats workout with 4-8 reps or more can feel daunting. Any time you have speed work or intervals where you need to run faster than race pace, it’s natural to feel a little anxious anticipation of the difficulty ahead.
However, just focus on one mile at a time. Stay mentally locked into the repeat you are currently doing and don’t worry about how many are left to come. This will help manage feelings of dread, doubt, or defeat.
You can do it!
#5: Follow Your Workout
Workouts are structured in particular ways and strategically incorporated at certain points in your training program to yield specific intended results.
In order to reap the benefits of your workout, it’s critical that you follow the prescribed workout as closely as possible. For example, if your 10k training program has you slated to run 4 x 1 mile at threshold pace with 1-minute rest, don’t try to be a “hero” and crush it by running goal race pace.
#6: Cool Down
Even if you are tired after your workout, it is important to jog at least a mile or two after your workout to help your body cool down.
Cooling down helps bring your heart rate and respiration rate back to baseline, and can help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by keeping the blood circulation to muscle elevated. This brings oxygen and nutrients to repair muscle damage and helps facilitate the removal of metabolic waste products.
Now that we’ve given you all the tips and tricks in this mile repeat guide to tackle your next workout, get out there and give it a go!
If you are looking for a structured training plan for your next race, you can check out our very own Marathon Handbook plans here: