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How to Run your Best Mile

Last Friday, to mark the anniversary of the 4 minute mile #TeamIffley ambassador James Beckinsale held a session about how to improve your Mile Time at the Iffley Road track in Oxford.

The Mile is a particularly difficult distance for athletes because it requires a combination of anaerobic and aerobic fitness.  In addition it’s not a distance that is raced often these days – so athletes don’t tend to specifically train for it.  (Although one could argue that it is not too much further than the 1,500m).

So for those of us who couldn’t attend the session we thought it would be interesting to ask James his tips on how to improve your Mile time.

Why should long distance runners try to improve their Mile time?

Improving your Mile time will help you build speed/endurance, which is really important even for long distance runners.

Even though I train athletes for endurance events such as Ironman, as head coach of Optima Racing Team I still ask my athletes to complete a version of the “Cooper Test” every 3 months or so.  My version of the Cooper test requires you to run at the top of your aerobic ceiling for 6 minutes (roughly the length of time it would take a moderate club runner to complete a Mile).  It’s really important to do this because it measures VO2 max (your running velocity at your aerobic capacity) a great test of your maximal aerobic fitness level. 

Does form matter?

It’s impossible to run a fast Mile without good form.  Therefore it’s important to make sure you have a good springy step, turn your legs in a cyclic motion and have a high cadence.  Typically elite runners will have a strike rate (turn their feet) of 190 steps per minute.

Rune your best mile coaching

What kind of training should you do to improve your Mile time? Sprints, hills, steady running?

You need to do all of the above depending on your own personal strengths and weaknesses.  In order to understand where to put in most work, you’d need to do a version of the Cooper test first.

What’s the best way to race a Mile?

The best way to race the Mile is similar to how you’d race a 1500 meters - it’s all about consistent / even paced laps.  The Mile is four laps of the track.  It’s natural to set off a little quicker for the first 100 metres, but after this runners should settle into an even pace.  Be prepared for the second and third laps – when you’re really in no man’s land – to hurt.  At this point you need to rely on mental strength (see my previous blog) and then really dig in during the final lap, whilst staying relaxed.

How to run your best mile

What’s considered a good Mile Time?

A “good” Mile time depends on your age and level of fitness.  A top end club runner would be able to run a 4-5 minute mile; a medium club runner around 5-6 minutes and a beginner around 7-9 minutes.

What is the Mile World Record?

The men’s Mile world record is 3:43:13 – run by Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco) on July 7th 1999.  So interestingly there has been no improvement in the Mile time in the last 18 years.

The women’s Mile world record is 4:12:56 – run by Svetlana Masterkova (Russia) on August 14th 1996.  No woman has broken 4 minutes for the Mile.

Is it worth doing any particular Strength & Conditioning in order to improve your Mile time?

Yes, it’s particularly important to focus on building strength in your glutes and hamstrings.  Therefore I recommend Back Bridges and Single Leg Bridges (for Glutes) and Nordic Hammies for hamstrings.   (For more details see my previous blog – Strength & Conditioning for Runners).

Strength and conditioning for runners

James Beckinsale

Coach, Founder of Optima Racing Team & 2016 Kona Ironman Qualifier

James’s main long-term goal is “to be 80 years old still coaching happy athletes!”