How To Run Your Quickest Mile

A combination of speed and endurance, the mile race is a classic challenge. Master it, says Martin Yelling, and you’ll be a better runner over any distance

How To Run Your Quickest Mile

Roger Bannister (centre) on his way to breaking the four-minute mile for the first time

Spring is stacked with marathon and half marathon races. But with summer fast approaching, could it be time to knock the distance stuff on the head and think about picking up the pace a little? The recent resurgence of a ‘running boom’ has seen more and more people sign up to marathons and ultramarathons. But what about the shorter stuff? With a few mass participation mile events popping up (City of London Mile, Bupa Westminster Mile), it’s time to lace up your lightweights and give speed a chance.

Why the mile?

The mile is an historic distance: 1,609m of fast running. Britain has serious pedigree in the event – from Sir Roger Bannister smashing the sub-four-minute barrier, to Steve Ovett and Seb Coe swapping mile world records on an almost weekly basis during the 1980s.

What’s more, fast running is really good for you. It keeps your motor neuron pathways sending speedy signals to fast-twitch muscle fibres and can actually boost your fitness for longer distances. It improves your flexibility, helps promote better form and makes slower running feel a lot easier. Speed workouts are time-efficient, too. Why wouldn’t you smash your way through a high-intensity 45-minute session and feel amazing afterwards? There is a catch, though: to race fast, you’ve got to train fast. And that hurts.

Train for the mile

Speed sessions are often structured as ‘intervals’. That is, periods of high intensity effort (the interval) interspersed with periods of recovery. You’ve really got to get your head and heart into the hurt locker. Although the effort periods are short compared to long runs, the effort level required is high.

Pick a suitable surface for your speed work. Avoid places with sharp turns, curbs, surface changes or hazards. Tartan running tracks provide the perfect speedy surface. If that isn’t your thing, try running on a flat, well-maintained surface such as a cricket field or football pitch. Preparation is also key. Warm up effectively to prepare your body and mind for the demands of the session ahead.

How to race a mile

First 400m: there’s no time to start off easy. Your first 400m should see you picking up the intensity quickly so that you’re in full flight and moving at pace. But don’t be daft – otherwise you’ll soon be swimming in a sea of lactic acid.

Second 400m: the second quarter demands concentration as you strive to hold the pace you’ve reached. Consistently keep the hammer down.

Third 400m: focus on form. You’re now over halfway, and it’s easy to drop form as you begin to tire. Focus on technique, pace and posture.

Final 400m: hang on for the finish.
This is where your legs will either buckle or you’ll have timed your effort to perfection. In the final 400m of the mile, it’s all about hanging on to the pace.If you feel you could have rinsed a little more pace from the tank, you simply haven’t run hard enough. Feel like you gave it everything and never, ever want to run a mile again? Congratulations, you’ve hit the intensity spot on.

3 key mile sessions

1. The ‘no-limiter’: this workout is all about pushing limits on an unmeasured course, as it’s a time-based session. Try to hit each rep as hard as you can. Take 5mins break between each set.

Set 1 = 3mins – 2mins – 60secs  (all with 60sec recovery)
Set 2 = 90sec – 75sec – 60sec (all with 60sec recovery)
Set 3 = 60sec – 45sec – 30sec (all with 60sec recovery)

2. Coe 300s: Seb Coe completed this flat-out session as his acid test of readiness for major championships. He’d cover each 300m in 35-38secs, but don’t worry, you can go a bit slower than that!

6 x 300m with 2:1 recovery: if each 300m takes 60 seconds, take a 2min walk/jog recovery.

3. Flat-out 400s: this is a classic session performed over 400m.

6 x 400m: each one run at target mile pace, with 4mins recovery between each interval. In this session, the focus is on ‘best pace’ for each 400m and across all 400m efforts.


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