When Roger Bannister ran the first-ever four-minute mile back in 1954, his achievement captivated the world and established the appeal of the distance, which continued into the golden era of Coe, Ovett and Cram. It’s the one most of us still use to measure our runs and gauge our progress. However, outside of club and junior athletics, few people now consider entering for a mile race, let alone train for it, focusing instead on established longer distances such as 5K, 10K and the half or full marathon.
But we think it’s time to show those 1,760 yards some love – and this guide is designed to help you prepare to run your fastest mile. There are good reasons for doing to too – getting in shape for a fast mile will improve your leg speed and economy, which will also boost your 5K and 10K race times this summer and autumn. Rather than a full training programme, we offer six weeks of mile-specific sessions that you can easily incorporate into your existing regime. And alongside the sessions themselves, incorporate the following tips to make your mile really fly.
Lay the foundations
Training sessions geared to 5K and 10K races provide a perfect platform to lead into your mile training. Focus on a period of six to eight weeks of building this ‘aerobic support’ before you get stuck into the more mile-specific sessions we’ve detailed in our Fast Mile Key Workouts Schedule here.
Try this: Sessions such as 5-6 x 4 mins at 5K pace with 120 secs rest between efforts; 6-10 x 3 mins at 5K pace with 75-90 secs recovery; 5 sets of 4 mins between 5K and 10K pace, 45 seconds rest, 75 seconds hard, with 2-3 mins jog between sets.
Work on speed
Many runners think of any interval session as ‘speed work’. Genuine speed work, however, is focused on developing more raw speed and power and should be run over much shorter efforts.
Try this: Once every 10 days or so, aim to include a session of sprinting. Warm up well before completing 4-5 efforts of 8-10 secs (no more) at maximum effort. Take at least three minutes rest between each. These can also be run on hills and can build to 6-8 efforts as the weeks go by.
Find your focus
Success at the mile isn’t just about speed; it also requires excellent endurance. Keep your easy runs going throughout your training week, but remember the goal should be to arrive at your mile-specific sessions ready to run fast.
Try this: Aim to keep the runs between your fast sessions at an easy, conversational pace and around 30-45 mins, with a weekly long run of 60-75 mins. Go too quick on your easy runs and you’re likely to compromise your performance in your key fast sessions.
Stride it out
Strides are short repeats of relaxed faster running, and they can be great for maintaining leg speed without creating excessive stress or fatigue.
Try this: Do 4-6x80m strides at the end of some of your easy runs. Don’t sprint; focus on a relaxed flowing rhythm, as if you’re running on clouds.
You know that feeling of ‘pop’ and ‘spring’ you need to feel fast? We call that muscle tension, and it can be improved. Work to develop an ‘active’ footstrike – where controlled stiffness in your muscles and tendons can help you run faster – with a more dynamic stride.
Try this: A ‘pogo’ drill is a great addition to your training a couple of times a week. With your legs straight and feet shoulder-width apart, perform fast ‘hops’ up and down, trying to replicate the feeling of being on a pogo stick. Keep your laces pointing upwards when in the air and land on your midfoot or towards the balls of your feet. Complete 3 x 10 secs.
Callusing your mind
Probably the hardest thing for a runner used to racing from 5K to ultra distances is getting used to the intensity (and, yes, pain) required to perform well over a mile. The sessions we’ve suggested are as much about psychologically ‘callusing’ yourself to this as they are about the fitness aspects.
Try this: In the first couple of sessions forget your GPS and focus on your rate of perceived exertion (RPE), working at 8-9/10 effort but still running, not sprinting. The goal of these sessions should be to stay as relaxed and flowing as possible while still running fast.
Primed for performance
Many runners try to get away with a five-minute jog and a few strides before fast sessions. But in mile training sessions every step counts, so get yourself ready with a complete warm-up.
Try this: Complete a RAMP warm-up: Raise your heart rate with easy and relaxed running; Activate your muscles with bodyweight exercises such as lunges; Mobilise your joints with exercises such as hip swings and hamstring sweeps; Potentiate using running drills including skips and high knees.
Watch the drift
On the track, a mile race plays out over four laps, and it’s often the third when runners drift. Give yourself a psychological kick to keep yourself on pace when your body is screaming at you to slow down.
Try this: Whether you’re doing your fast mile on a track or a level path, dedicate that third quarter of the mile to someone important in your life, and vow to not let them down.
FAST MILE KEY WORKOUTS SCHEDULE
Warm up and cool down well around these sessions
WEEK 1 SESSION
8 x 80 secs at mile-3K pace/effort with 75-90 secs very slow jog recovery on grass or trail. No GPS.
Purpose: This session is designed to switch you off from too much feedback in terms of pace and pressure, and just get you used to running fast, pressure free.
WEEK 2 SESSION
5 x 50 secs at mile-3K pace/effort with 1 min rest between efforts, then 3-4 min jog, then add 8 x 30 secs at mile pace/effort with 30 secs jog between each on flat grass or trail. No GPS.
Purpose: The shorter efforts this week are a great introduction to running fast and the feel of a mile pace. Still avoiding the track or a measurable route.
WEEK 3 SESSION
(5 x 90 secs or 400m) x 2, with 80-90 secs rest between reps and 3 mins between sets.
Purpose: 8-10 x 400m is a classic miler’s session. Here that’s broken up into two sets with a longer recovery between them to help make the pace feel a bit more manageable. Aim to run at or close to your goal mile pace. If you feel good, aim to push the final effort of each set faster.
WEEK 4 SESSION
1km or 4 mins + 800m or 3 mins + 600m or 2 mins + 400m or 75 secs; take 5-6 mins recovery between sets. Start with the first 1km/4-min, repeat at 3K race pace and then aim to get faster with each rep, finishing with the 400m hard (at 800m pace).
Purpose: This session simulates the fatigue you will feel in the latter stages of your mile race or PB attempt. The long recoveries between the efforts mean you need to really focus on giving each repetition your full attention.
WEEK 5 SESSION
4 x 400m at target mile pace (or a second or two faster), with 40 secs rest between efforts.
Purpose: To simulate the demands of the race or attempt and to help you break the mile down into four periods of mental and physical focus. Aim to run this on the same surface as your mile race or PB attempt.
WEEK 6 SESSION
(4 x 200m or 40 secs) x 4 with 30 secs recovery between repeats and 2 mins recovery between sets.
Purpose: A week or so out from your race, this session is great for sharpening up and getting you running a race rhythm. The short recoveries in each set will simulate the build-up in fatigue you can expect on race day.