Written by James Kuhlwilm
The one-mile run is often overlooked and underrated by runners, with many opting for 5km, 10km or longer instead. However, there are many benefits to running shorter distances. This training still requires strength and endurance, so has a high fat burning rate, including an excellent after-burn rate, but it is also a great cardio vascular workout. Recently, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology compared the benefits of running a mile with those of running a marathon.
The study concluded that the same health benefits were gained by runners who ran for under one hour per week as those runners who ran for over three hours a week. Notably, both types of runner lived an average of three years longer than non-runners. Shorter distances can also be far less punishing on the joints, thereby reducing the risk of many injuries.
The perfect one mile run
Running the perfect mile is a mixture of correct tactics and good running technique. Basic technique requires a relaxed form with elbows tucked in with hands remaining open. Clenched fists and a tight body will require extra energy expenditure, so remain flexible and relaxed to increase running efficiency. As the race progresses, improve the stride length for maximum performance and relax into the race.
In a short race such as this, there is little room for tactical error. Tactics will vary depending on the individual’s strengths and weaknesses and running experience; however, a basic, generic plan can be followed by those beginning to train and compete in the one-mile race.
The pre-race warm up is vital when participating in any form of high intensity speed training. The purpose of the warm up is to increase the heart rate, increase blood flow to the running-specific muscles and to mentally prepare and rehearse your race plan. The increase in blood flow to the muscles will reduce any chance of injury by increasing flexibility, loosening the joints and tendons, and alerting the muscles to prepare them for work. Time spent on the warm up might range between 20 – 45 minutes, depending on your running level and experience. This might include several paced sprints or a relaxed mile run followed by 5-10 minutes of stretching the major muscle groups.
The one-mile race usually takes place on a 400m track, but can be run anywhere. In all cases, the beginning of the race is vital to achieving your goal. Your target time should be divided into lap times, or splits if the race is off the track. For example, if your race target is 5 minutes, each lap will be run in 75 seconds.
Lap 1 should be the fastest lap in order to compensate for any slower laps later on in the race. You should aim to run 3 or 4 seconds faster than your average lap pace, so around 71 to 73 seconds if your target is to finish in 5 minutes. If you are running a track race, it is important not to get boxed in by other competitors at the beginning of the race.
Lap 2 should be run at a more economical pace, matching that of your target pace. You should now have a steady, relaxed, elongated stride to maximise efficiency. Adrenaline from the starting line may be beginning to wear off so remain focused and maintain pace and form.
Many runners find the 3rd lap the most difficult and is therefore usually the slowest. This is where the faster time in the first lap should make up the lost seconds in the third.
The 4th and final lap, nearly there! This lap requires one final kick physically and mentally. By this point, the body is using both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems so you will feel it getting tired. With about 200m to go, this is the best time to make the final, all-out sprint for the finish line. If you are running a track race and are behind the leaders, try to keep with them until the final 200m then move outside and push for the lead whilst maintaining sprint pace.
Recovery after the race is as important as the pre-race warm up. Immediately after the race, keep walking and include some light, active stretches to help remove waste products from the body and provide the muscles with oxygenated blood. Within 30 minutes of finishing the race, eat a small snack of roughly 80% simple carbohydrates and 20% protein and re-hydrate with water and/or a sports drink. This will help to replace some of the energy used up during the race and prevent fatigue. Take the next day off from training to give your muscles time to recover.
Your one mile time can be greatly improved through efficient and effective training. Incorporating different drills can keep training interesting and help to use all of the muscle groups effectively. Here are a few examples you can include in your training programme:
- Endurance drills. In order to increase your speed over 1 mile you should run at the same pace for a greater distance. Aim to run 2 – 3 miles at a straight pace. E.g. if you currently run 1 mile in 10 minutes, aim to run 2 miles at 10 minutes a mile totalling 20 minutes. This will improve endurance leaving you to focus on adding speed to your 1 mile.
- Hill runs. Mixing things up by using hills, stairs and sand running is a fantastic way to develop strength and endurance. To begin with try sprints lasting 30 seconds, walk to rest, then build up to 60 second sprints. Progress to 10 of those, twice a week and you will see great improvements in your strength and endurance.
- The gym. Love it or hate it, the treadmill can be a very beneficial way of training! This can be an excellent way for beginners to get into running, it improves pace training by providing accurate split times, you can set and maintain a steady pace, you can work on inclines and use pre-set or manually entered programmes. Also, it’s weather-proof!
- High-intensity interval training is a great way to improve your speed, agility and strength as well as maximize fat loss. It can also add variation to your workout so that your results don’t plateau. You might want to begin working at 200m – 400m intervals which might include a 200m sprint and then a 200m recovery jog. Repeat this 8 times. Or you can try out Fartlek training or utilise ladders to mix things up.
Stretch off. To increase your running speed, it is important to ensure stretching is done properly. This can help increase stride length which should result in faster times. Additionally, being flexible can help prevent injury which is of great benefit to any athlete.
Take home message
Training for and running a one-mile race can be exciting and rewarding. Incorporating various training methods into your routine will help keep things stimulating whilst reaching your goals will prove incredibly satisfying. Setting realistic targets and maintaining a training programme will go a long way to helping you improve your race times. Remember to consider race tactics and running technique as well as looking to improve your overall strength, speed and endurance.