9 Ways to Run a Faster Mile

Hoping to improve your mile time? Whether you’re a high school track athlete, beginning-level runner, or a masters runner, you can make small changes to your training routine to improve your pace.

If you don't already know your current mile time or it's been awhile since you've clocked your mile, start by doing a timed trial on a track to set a baseline to measure your progress against.

man running in mountains

A standard track is 400 meters for one lap, with four laps equalling a mile. However, some tracks are shorter and require more laps to reach a mile. Tracks are often marked, but if you are unsure about the size of a track, ask someone or if using a school track, check the athletic department's website.

Here are nine strategies to try the help you shave time off your mile.


Schedule Interval Training

High-intensity interval training is a fun way to improve your speed and confidence. As a runner, incorporating speed intervals into your training schedule can help you to improve your level of fitness and 1-mile pace.

Once a week do speed repeats. For example, on a track, you might run several 200-meter sprints (1/2 lap) or 400-meter sprints (full lap) with a short recovery in between each effort. The workout is fairly straightforward.

After a 5-minute to 10-minute warm-up, alternate between running hard for 200 meters or 400 meters and then easy jogging or walking for the same distance to recover. If you’re doing 200-meter repeats, start with six repeats and try to work your way up to eight to 10 repeats. For 400-meter intervals, start with two or three repeats (with a recovery lap in between each), and try to work your way up to five to six repeats.

These can be performed on a track or on any measured stretch of road. These workouts can also be performed on the ​treadmill.

Or, if you're running on the road, you can use lamp posts or telephone poles to mark your intervals. After warming up, try sprinting for two lamp posts, then recover for two, and keep repeating the pattern until you've covered a mile.


Build Endurance

If you want to run a faster mile, you’ll have to run longer than a mile. You may already participate in at least one run per week that is longer than a mile, but you want to add one that is significantly longer. 

To increase your running distance, start by gradually increasing the distance that you are currently running.

For example, if your longest run is currently 2 to 3 miles and your total weekly mileage is 10 miles, add about 1 mile per week until your long run totals 7 to 8 miles. You can accomplish this by adding up to a mile to your longest run, increase your total mileage by up to 10 percent each week.

If you are training for a half marathon or full marathon, you'll continue to build your mileage on that long training day.

Doing one long run per week (in addition to shorter runs on other days) will improve your cardiovascular fitness and strength, which will lead to faster times. It also helps improve your mental strength, which will help you push through discomfort toward the end of a race.


Increase Stride Turnover

The rate at which your feet hit the pavement is called your stride rate or your stride turnover. You can practice improving your stride turnover to learn how take quicker, shorter steps and improve your pace.

Most new runners have a stride turnover that is too slow. Some coaches recommend reaching a rate of 180 strides per minute. However, some scientists feel that the rate is highly personalized. Regardless, you can identify and improve your rate with a simple exercise.

First, identify your current turnover rate. Run at your 5K pace and count the number of times your right foot hits the pavement for 1 minute. When you are done, double the number and you have your turnover rate. Now you can use a running drill to improve it.

Run for 1-minute intervals and begin by running at your current stride turnover rate. Then run again and try to increase your foot strike count. Repeat this sequence several times, trying to increase your foot strike count by one each time.

If you have a heart rate monitor, try to identify the rate when your heart rate is lowest. This may be the most efficient stride rate for you.

While running, be careful not to overstride. Your feet should land under your hips, not in front of you.


Improve Running Form

Spend a few minutes at the beginning of each run practicing proper running form. You can participate in simple warm-up drills that accentuate different aspects of good running form so that the movement is enhanced during the body of your workout. Try adding four to six drills that help your form to your warm-up.

For example, a quick and efficient stride turnover helps you to run faster with less energy. So participating in a drill called "fast feet" helps train your feet to move more quickly. Simply run in place as quickly as possible for 1 to 2 minutes to complete this drill.

Other drills include butt kicks (lifting heels behind you as if you are kicking your butt) to improve hamstring engagement or carioca drills (sometimes called "grapevines") to help improve hip stability.

After the warm-up and during your run, pay attention to posture, arm motion, and foot strike position as these all make a difference in your speed. You don't want wasted energy and inefficient body mechanics that will slow you down. Work on your form at a lower speed so it can serve you well as you speed up.


Run Hills

Doing hill repeats will make you stronger, as well as improve your running efficiency. Hill work can increase your lactate threshold to improve your mile time.

You can perform hill repeats (also called incline training) on a hill outside or on the treadmill. A treadmill makes it easier to control the incline and the length of the hill, but most treadmills don't allow you to run downhill, which can be an important part of training especially if you are training for a race with hills.

To do hill repeats, start by warming up with 10 to 15 minutes of easy running. If you are running outdoors, find a hill with a decent incline—but not too steep. If you can, find a gradual incline that extends for about 100 to 200 meters.

Start running up the hill at your 5K effort pace. You'll want to try to push yourself hard up the hill, but don't let your form fall apart. Try to keep a consistent effort. When you reach the top of your hill, turn around and recover by jogging or walking down the hill.

The number of repeats you complete depends on your experience and fitness level. Beginner runners should start with two to three repeats, adding one additional repeat each week over the course of three to four weeks. Advanced runners can start with six repeats and add one each week with a maximum of 10 repeats.

After completing your repeats, finish with a 15-minute cooldown of easy running.


Climb Stairs

If you don't have easy access to hills, you can run stairs instead. Use the same approach as hill repeat.

Find a staircase that has several flights so that you can run uphill for at least 1 to 2 minutes without having to turn around and run down.

When you begin, run up the stairs for 30 seconds, walk down to recover. Repeat five times. Gradually work your way up to 10 repeats. As your fitness level increases, try to run upstairs for longer stretches of time.


Lose Excess Weight

If you're already trying to shed some pounds, here's more incentive. On average, runners get 2 seconds per mile faster for every excess pound they lose. For example, a 10-pound weight loss could shave about 20 seconds off your mile race time. Intrigued?

Unfortunately, trying to lose weight while training for a race can be tricky. It is important to fuel properly to get the most out of your training, so cutting calories isn't always smart. But there are some nutritional guidelines you can follow to make sure that you don't consume too many of the wrong kind of calories.

First, eliminate empty calorie foods. Junk foods like sweetened sodas, candy, starchy fried snacks, and sugary baked goods provide calories without smart nutrition. Instead, fill up on foods like crunchy vegetables, sweet berries, and fresh fruit at snack time. Build meals around lean protein, whole grains, and leafy greens.

Next, make sure that you are not eating too much. It is normal to feel entitled to a big indulgent meal after running. But if you're not careful you can eat more calories than you burned, and gain weight. Meet with a registered dietitian who specializes in running to get personalized guidance.


Get Strong

Building muscular strength will boost your speed and provide other benefits. You don't need to lift serious weight or hit the gym five days a week. Just doing several bodyweight exercises a couple of times of week after your run can help add lean muscle.

To get started, simply add basic whole-body moves to the end of your running workout two to three days per week. For example, after a 3- or 4-mile run, complete 10 to 15 push-ups, 10 front and side lunges, and 10 single leg squats on each leg, then finish with a 1-minute plank.

This basic routine helps you to strengthen the muscles that help keep your body stable and balanced while running and improves muscular strength in the upper body and core. Doing strength training after your running workout instead of on a different day allows you to fully rest on recovery days.


Rest Well

Don't assume that running hard every day will make you faster. Training is important but rest is crucial.

Rest days are critical for proper recovery and injury prevention. Your muscles need this break to rebuild and repair tissue. But you don't need to lay on the couch all day for this rebuilding to occur.

A rest day shouldn't be a complete day off. Instead, it should include easy activities that you enjoy, preferably those that engage muscles that you don't use when running.

For example, you can take a yoga class, go for a bike ride, swim, or visit a rock-climbing gym.

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Article Sources
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