How to run a faster mile?
October 8, 2012 10:37 AM   Subscribe

How can I run one mile faster?

What is the best way to run a single mile faster? Four laps on a track. Right now I can't seem to do it any faster than 8:30. I work out doing an outdoor class that's mixed cardio drills and strength four times a week, and I'm happy with that. I can realistically add only one more workout to my week, and I'd like it to focus on improving my mile time.

I am interested in both training drills and strategies for pacing.

I am not particularly interested in running longer distances as a goal, although I have in the past. If the key to running one fast mile is running five fast miles in training or something, though, I'm interested to hear about that.
posted by purpleclover to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
200-400 meter intervals!

Run 200M at an all out sprint, then jog for 200M. Then 200M sprint, 400M jog - do this until you've completed one mile.

Then work your way up to 400M repeats. It will take a little time, but repeats are the surefire way to run faster overall.
posted by floweredfish at 10:49 AM on October 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

Run both longer and shorter distances. Can you run a half mile in under 4:15? Do that, rest for the amount of time it took you to do the two laps, then do it again, and one more time. Do 100 yard sprints with the same protocol. Run two miles at whatever pace you can do it at.
posted by cmoj at 10:49 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although it might seem counter intuitive you might try sprints of 50 m. 100 m and 200m. Build up stamina and speed in measured progressions sprint 50M jog 50M repeat until you can do a lap comfortably. Next move on to 100M sprints and jogs. Finally 200M sprints. You should be able to increase your mile speed by learning to run faster farther.
posted by pdxpogo at 10:50 AM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not going to let complete ignorance stop me from offering advice.

My mile time generally improved with improved fitness. Running longer distances generally meant that I got faster at the shorter ones. At some point that will stop working and you'll have to do some speed specific workouts, but I suspect that it will stop working at a much, much faster pace than 8 minutes/mile.

If you do want to do some specific training, then interval training might be for you. Run 400m fast. Given your mile pace, I suggest doing it in under 2 minutes. Then jog a lap, nice and slowly. Repeat. Don't do too much of this at first, because you can hurt yourself (and keeping healthy is probably the most important part of improving your mile time).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:53 AM on October 8, 2012

I'm sure there are lots of training programs you can find online, but the one thing you'll definitely have to do to run faster is, well, run faster. This means running your target pace or faster for shorter distances until you can run that pace for a mile. If you're already in decent cardio shape and can only add one workout to your week, forget about distance.
Do repeats or ladders - it sounds like you're running on a track, so speed workouts should be easy to do. Make sure you're timing your speed workouts, at least until you get a sense of the effort required.
I like ladders - something like 100m, 200, 400, 600, 800 and back down.

Your goal is to build the kind of speed that comes out in 400s and 800s, so it might also help to run those at peak effort (timed) to figure out what your baseline speed is - then you can structure your 400 repeats around those times.
posted by hot soup at 10:53 AM on October 8, 2012

When I was trying to bring my time down I did a lot of intervals. A lot of ladder running.

100-200-400-1000-400-200-100 etc.

Ran uphill. A lot.
Ran on the Sand. A lot.

I do not know, if it is the best way to run or train, but it's what our coach insisted on. Basically building up to (near) sprinting the whole way.

when I was a serious runner in hs/college I could run the mile in about 4:35, my coach was Alberto Salazar. He liked old school stuff like that.
posted by French Fry at 10:56 AM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

Interval training will raise your threshold level.

Being able to run at your threshold will allow you to run faster.

Are you monitoring your heartrate while you run? Tracking your heart rate, knowing when you go anaerobic, and if you are able to sustain the same effort level through out the run.

Lastly, consider joining a track running group. The accumulated wisdom of those kind of folks far outstrips the interwebs.

Good luck.
posted by Argyle at 11:05 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not very experienced. But I like dead-simple approaches, so I'll give my dead-simple method in case you're like me. Running longer distances (thereby building my endurance) allows me to run shorter distances much faster. Even if I run those longer distances at a nice, leisurely pace, it makes it much easier to run fast over short distances. For example, I haven't run as short as 3 miles in a few months. I've been running 5 miles at a leisurely min/mile pace. When I went back to 3 miles, I set a personal record without any "speed" training.

So if you're like me and the idea of interval training sounds awful, maybe just take leisurely 1.5, 2, and eventually 3 mile runs aiming for 10 or 11 min/mi. When you go back to 1 mile, it'll be nothing to pick up the pace a bit.

Also, a few years ago I made the mistake of just trying to run 3 miles faster by running 3 miles several times a week and really pushing myself harder each time. It was difficult, unpleasant, and ineffective - I quickly plateaued. Now that I discovered the "run longer, at an easier pace" I'm able to stick with it - and it seems to help my shorter runs much more than just doing the same distance repeatedly.
posted by Tehhund at 11:06 AM on October 8, 2012

How long do I wait between the rungs of the ladder? 100m and then get to full recovery before doing the 200? Or one minute or some other set time? Jog an equal distance slowly?

I do have and use a heart rate monitor. I usually judge whether I'm working aerobically or anaerobically by how well I can breathe. Is that right?

Thanks for the answers so far, y'all. I obviously know nothing, so, uh, don't worry about being too elementary.

I have actually looked around for a program to follow (like Couch to 5k), but haven't had any luck. It seems like most people doing this distance are high school track runners who are running waaaay faster than me and know a lot more.
posted by purpleclover at 11:18 AM on October 8, 2012


(Interval training. The link includes a pretty basic workout.)
posted by notyou at 11:27 AM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Hill runs, sprints, and intervals.
posted by downing street memo at 11:33 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

purpleclover try googling 1500meters instead of a mile. If you are looking for "couch to.." guides.

It is the competitive distance everyone other than kids in HS gym are running.
posted by French Fry at 11:55 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh! That fixed my search terms! Thanks, French Fry!
posted by purpleclover at 11:59 AM on October 8, 2012

Train for longer distances than your target distance. Work your arms for strength and explosive power to increase your speed by pumping them more strongly, which will really put your whole body into your run equally.
posted by michaelh at 12:08 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you were to ask the runner's world forums their chief piece of advice would be losing weight. It sounds crass but they do have a weird point, but I want to put that in context before you google too much and read endless articles about it:

You can't be an elite 1500m runner without being below a certain weight. Like a "super skinny" or "don't look good in your clothes" body weight.

So don't give that too much credence, you want to go from 8:30 to maybe 7:30 or 7? What that advice is talking about is going from 5:45-5:00. So ignore that. When you are running 5:45 and can't seem to get faster then you can consider going to the bottom of healthy BMI.
posted by French Fry at 12:16 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If finishing a one mile run is hard (meaning that two miles of distance feels really challenging) work on extending your range first. If you can run two miles or more at an 8:30 pace then do intervals as suggested by many above. Intervals work best when the distance is comfortable.
posted by dgran at 12:39 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Run more.

The advice about intervals and sprints and fartleks or whatever is all and good, but for two reasons:

1) Excessive high intensity running without adequate base training is risky business. You need to build (running specific) strength before attempting high intensity training, in order to withstand injury and realize any gains from speed training (old, a pyramid is only as tall as it's base adage). Even when you are ready to include intervals, you should only do so one or two days a week out of five or six days of running.

2) The task that you are attempting, a maximal effort run in 6-8 minutes, is primarily (80% or more) aerobic. You are not being limited by your speed. You are fast enough now to run 200 or 400m at your goal pace, you simply don't have the stamina to hang onto it for the whole 1600m. The way to increase stamina is to run more.

So yes, the answer is "Run more".

Please see this article. I understand that you don't want to be a distance runner and I am not asking you to run 80 miles per week or anything. Just understand how this concept applies to you.
posted by robokevin at 3:14 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think breath training (with a qualified "professional") might be really beneficial.

I've been trying to do the 100 pushups in a row thing; hit a really hard plateau at 50-ish, and couldn't break 55. 30 to 50 took maybe a month. Hitting 60 from 50 had been like a half year.

I decided to breath long and slow and as needed instead of the "breath in, breath out/push up,let down." IMMEDIATELY hit 65 and am keeping on making good long strides towards the 100.
posted by porpoise at 7:08 PM on October 8, 2012

I used to run the 1500m (aka kinda, sorta 1-mile). You want to have the endurance to run that distance fast, so training runs that are longer than 1 mile, say 3 - 5M at 80% race effort, plus intervals or interval-like activity. Burst of controlled speed, brief cooldown, and repeat. These will get you to run more efficiently at speed, which means faster runs. (that's just my mental model of what intervals do - the reality, I dunno)
posted by zippy at 10:44 PM on October 8, 2012

I've been working on this some over the past few months. Mid-july, my mile time was about 8:30 (probably more!). These days I'm at 6:50, still working on improving.

The big things for me have been serious conditioning work and also improving my form & technique. For the conditioning, I am strongly in the interval training camp. If you want to run a 6:30 mile, for example, then you know that you need to be able to do a half mile in 3:15, or a quarter mile in 1:08. Or 150 meters in 33 seconds. I kind of build my training up around this idea -- break the mile up into pieces and run intervals of that length (faster than a mile pace of course, but with the goal of decreasing rest time on successive training sessions). I like 150m for anaerobic training. The transition from anaerobic to aerobic starts to kick in on 400m runs so I will also run intervals of this length. I basically never run more than 2-3 miles and don't see any compelling argument for training much beyond the one mile distance, if your goal is simply to improve your mile time. I also like to do intervals on elliptical machines -- you can get a reasonably intense workout without busting yourself up.

Technique is one of those things where a little effort can go a long way. For me, the drop from 7:45 to 7:20 was nearly instantaneous, once I made some progress on my technique. To run fast, you need to be striking somewhere between the ball of your feet and your toes (and probably a bit to the outside of your foot). If you're a heel striker (I was) it may be a tough transition, physically. My lower calves were super sore for the first few weeks, but you'll I've gotten over it. Just don't overdo things and hurt yourself. Another thing is to keep your posture extended, with a slightly lean forward. Pay more attention to the part of your stride where you pull the rear foot up and bring your leg forward, with the general motion being driven by the lean of your body. Try to think of your motion -- how are you wasting energy? If you can spot even little things, correct them. Speed is graceful.

Another remark: you can probably run faster than 8:30 right now. There's a psychological component to the mile, because it can be such a painful distance to run. It's helped me to bring a stopwatch with me when I run. After the first 400m or so you probably have a fair idea of what you can sustain for the rest of the mile, so then it's just a matter of picking a goal pace and sticking with it.

Good luck!
posted by aconcagua at 10:44 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

A word on technique. Look at how competitive runners run. look at how most people run.

See the huge difference? It's stride placement.

Most normal people put some or most of their stride in front of the plane of their body. reaching their foot forward like they are trying to grab something in front of them with their toes or lifting out and forward like they are trying to climb stairs. If your foot is hitting flat or your heel is striking the ground first this is a sure sign you are doing this.

There is no power there. It's all being mushed into the ground and not propelling you forward.

Instead draw a line straight down from you hips. Don't bring your foot much in front of that. Push back hard. Putting as much of that stride behind you as possible will give you a lot more power per step. You will also feel weird and likely really sore at first. But it does make a big big difference.
posted by French Fry at 12:48 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

For on-the-track stuff, try power-walking an additional lap after you're finished. Go as fast as you possibly can without changing from a walking gait to a jogging one. That's what someone at the gym (one of the PTs) suggested I do when I expressed frustration with not being able to run more than a mile at any decent pace, and within a few days of that I had broken through the proverbial wall.
posted by Urban Winter at 9:53 AM on October 10, 2012

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