Let me introduce to you the old school, four lap, President’s physical fitness, Roger Bannister throwdown: the mile. It’s got history; it can be done indoors; neither the training nor the race itself take much time; and the speed and intensity required will make you feel frisky when you resume training while still providing a break from the in-season grind.
NorCal Distance Project coach Drew Wartenburg knows a thing or two about the mile. He has coached mid-distance Olympians Kim Conley and Kate Grace, and agrees, when it’s not normally your thing, training for the mile can score big benefits—physically and mentally.
“From a physiological standpoint, the blend of aerobic strength and mile speed and power can involve neural and muscle recruitment often allowed to stagnate when targeting paces for long, purely aerobic race efforts,” Wartenburg says.
So, training for the mile, even for a month or two, can refresh those speedy neural pathways that might otherwise go fallow. Train on the treadmill, the local high school track, or a stretch of road you’ve measured.
“Mentally, many athletes thrive on the challenge of striving for a goal, or even a personal best, in an event outside their typical wheelhouse,” Wartenburg says. “Focus on performance over short race distances will have beneficial impacts on an athlete’s perspective once the time comes to shift back to the slower paces for longer races.”
Good for body and soul, the mile also has a rich history.
It’s a curiously American distance—1,760 yards or 1,609.344 meters—a bit more than four laps of a 400-meter track. Meanwhile, the Olympics, the world championships, and most international track meets contest the 1500-meter metric mile. The term itself comes from the Latin word for 1000, mille—originally a mile was the distance a Roman legion could march in 1000 paces. Roger Bannister first achieved the sub-four-minute mile in 1954, posting a 3:59.4 with the help of some friendly pacers in leather shoes on a cinder track. Since then, 488 men have broken the four-minute barrier. Svetlana Masterkova set the women’s world record in the mile in 1996 at 4:12.56.
Stay true to your old school—challenge your friends to meet you at the high school track, bust out the nylon shorty shorts, and run until your sternum glows red.
4 LAPS 1 PR
Wartenburg says training for the mile can become complex at the highest levels of performance, but the fundamental challenge lies in making the goal pace sustainable for the race duration. In other words, it’s only five(ish) minutes, so suck it up. Aside from including strides, hill repeats and strength-based workouts, he provides two fairly straightforward workouts that will help you adapt to to mile pace:
8x400m at mile race pace: The recovery interval between each repetition can be as long as 2 or 2.5 minutes to start and lessened as fitness builds, with 60-second recovery providing a high level workout.
Broken kilometers: 400m, then 300m, then 200m repetitions run at goal mile pace, or even slightly faster as the distance shortens. Recovery for this workout can consist of covering the distance of the next repetition at a very slow pace. Three broken kilometers will yield a good amount of running at mile race pace for one workout.