We’re all chasing faster times one way or another. It’s one of the best things about running – or sport in general – that with each new run, race, or competition, we’re always looking to better what we did before.
A lot of the time, that comes with the knowledge that beating your best is inherently up to you. At the end of the day, it’s your desire, drive, knowledge and skill that’ll determine just how well your run goes.
And while keeping an eye on what those around you in the running community are achieving is great for healthy competition, only you yourself can be the person to push your mile time to new heights.
Seeing as running a mile is sort of a fundamental of the sport, it’s often a target runner’s set to beat time after time. Unsurprisingly, trying to run it faster is likewise a similar aim.
And we know what your thinking. Surely, running a mile is a fairly short distance for serious runners who are constantly doing far greater distances than that week after week, right? Well, you’re technically right, but when you’re giving a single mile your absolute all, it can really feel like a marathon.
So, without further ado, here are some of the ways you can aim to run a faster mile.
Endurance is the name of the game
Can we shock you? When you try to run a faster mile, you’re going to need to run longer than just one mile. Sorry. And you’ll have to run it regularly a few times per week. Sorry, again.
Truth is, if you’re looking to get faster mileage, then it often boils down to your endurance. This is, thankfully, quite an easy aspect to get your head around and can be increased over time by gradually upping the distance you cover each time you run, little by little to build stamina and endurance, allowing you to run smaller distances faster and easier — even if you’re only adding an extra mile or so per week to your overall mileage total.
We’ll come back to this point later on, but enhancing your cardiovascular activity and working on increasing your strength will be key and crucial factors in helping you achieve a faster mile.
Interval training … Interval training… Interva…
This won’t come as a surprise to many, but interval training is great for working towards targets like running a faster mile, and really does wonders for increasing a runner’s speed.
A good thing to do is practice speed repeats. Alternating between intense running and an easy recovery run will help you to develop a stronger level of endurance, treating speed repeats as reps and performing around six at a time.
It’s easy to set yourself a goal, on a track or road, of covering a mile by sprinting, followed by a recovery run, then sprinting again, and recovery again until you hit a mile.
This likely comes as a surprise to no one, but when you’re trying to run a faster mile, you’re going to need to focus on the speed of your running.
While the previously mentioned interval training may be great for working on endurance and speed in short burst, it’s good to incorporate actual speed training into your programme as well.
The obvious way to do this is sprint trials, which should be done in very short bursts and not too often in your routine – try it once a fortnight. Essentially, you want to perform very short, quick lengths of sprinting at your maximum effort. Ideally, you don’t want to do this for any more than 10 seconds at a time and should take a good few minutes of rest between each. If you do this around five times, then you’re already on your way to boosting your speed.
Fix that form
Form is vital to most parts of your running routine, but if you’re really looking to run a faster mile, then you should spend a bit of time focusing on having a solid, proper running form.
Spend time focusing on running in small bursts with the aim of having concentrated, immaculate form – we’re talking good posture, relaxed shoulders, arms by your sides with gentle swings — the works.
This can be as a warm-up or as a mini activity you do, but it’s good to practice running with proper form often for it to translate well into your regular running.
Try performing it in reps across a small distance to really hone in on it.
Strong strides, short steps
Think about your stride as you run. How often are your feet hitting the pavement? How far are your legs reaching forward with each step? To have a faster mile time, you want to have quicker, shorter steps and the way to do this is to learn to improve your stride turnover (that’s the rate at which your feet hit the pavement).
You should think about this in line with your cadence (the number of steps you take per minute). A higher cadence, and therefore shorter steps, is optimal for faster performance as the higher the number, the more time your body spends airborne and not slowed down by contact with the ground.
By having a higher cadence, your stride will be at a better rate and will help to increase your speed and ensure you run a faster mile. Aiming for a cadence of around 180 steps per minute should help do the trick.
Head for the hills
Hill running is great for a number of reasons, but it’s particularly useful for speed training.
Hill repeats, while gruelling, can help to build strength and in turn, develop how efficient and economic you are as a runner. You have to spread your energy and effort, and understand when more workload is required. When it comes to running a mile faster, that knowledge can be incredibly useful.
The name of the game for this one is incline training, which will see you either running uphill or on a sharp incline on your treadmill. When you’re all warmed up, run easy for a few minutes to get yourself at the right level to up your workload. When you get there, at around the same pace as say your 5K, head up for around 100 or so meters. How much you do will depend on your experience, so don’t try too much too soon, and remember to keep your speed and form consistent. When you get to the top, turn around and head back down to repeat a few more times.
If you want to know more about hill running, we wrote a whole blog dedicated to that very topic, which you can find right here.
And if you don’t have many hills around you, you can apply the same principles to stairs, so no excuses for missing out on all that uphill running.
Crush your core
Again, this one is focused more on influencing your form (which must be important as it keeps cropping up in this article, huh?). It’s no secret that running a faster mile requires additional strength than before, and adding that to areas like your core — not just your legs — could prove to be all the difference.
It’s all about keeping your form consistent even as fatigue starts creeping and your body might want to slump. Activate your core! By working and training your core muscles, you can keep your posture as proper as possible and channelling your energy through an engaged, strong centre.
Sit-ups and various forms of crunches will help add a bit of bite to your core, keeping it strong and steady to hold your form even when your body wants to waver.
Maximise your mental strength
While working on the physical strength of your body is obvious, many might overlook the importance of your mental preparation as you get ready to take on the challenge of running a faster mile.
Don’t ignore this step. A runner’s best friend really is their strong mentality, and having a winning one is more likely to see you succeed.
It’s more than just a “want it, do it” situation, although that attitude cannot be faulted. It’s about recognising that achievements take real hard work, hours of training and really intense grinding to get to what you want. Sure, most serious runners will know this, but a gentle reminder of it never goes wrong.
Positive thinking, mindfulness and preparation for the toughest episodes of your workouts are key to success here. Channel what you know, use it and allow yourself to push your body to the next level. While increasing your speed sounds easy, seeing it through for the whole mile will push your physical and mental strength more than you might think.
Fight the urge to give up, and build some solid foundations that’ll help you get over the line when the going gets tough. Set small, achievable goals and work your way up to what you want to achieve.
Think of it as endurance training for your brain – you can’t just rush into a marathon, it takes time, work and effort to progress, and building that winning mentality is no different.
Bulk up, slim down
Strong and steady wins the race right? Well, having already focused a lot on having a steady posture up until now, we’re going to look at the importance of strength – and how being bulkier could make you a faster runner.
We don’t just mean becoming a gym buff either, as it’s not really about pumping iron or having muscles that look like they’ve been blown up by a handpump.
Instead, consider adding exercises like press-ups, sit-ups, planks, squats, crunches and other such activities to your workout to increase your body’s strength. These will help your body stay balanced and allow your body to do more over longer periods as it’ll be stronger and can cope with the extra demands you place on it.
Conversely, slimming down may also prove useful. Especially as research says that runners can be two seconds faster per mile with every pound they lose.
The less weight on your person, the easier you’ll find it to push those extra seconds off of your time. Anyone who has attempted to lose weight by running will tell you that the sport is a wonderous thing for it, but does also come with its challenges.
Cutting out calories is an ideal aim but hard to achieve when the exercise you’re looking to do requires good fuelling, creating a bit of a weight-loss paradox.
So, the main aim is to lessen the number of empty calorie foods – the high in sugar, processed kinds that while tasting great are often chockablock with unhelpful calories – and replace that with nutrient-rich, healthy foods instead to give you better calories for your appetite.
Be mindful of how much you eat and, if it helps, count your calories to help you reach your ideal target.
Take it easy
Let us repeat that one again. TAKE. IT. EASY. It’s reeeeally important.
You can’t just expect to go straight into a faster mile by literally sprinting non-stop on your first go. Not only is it dangerous and puts you at risk of injury, but you’ll also be totally wiped out after a matter of minutes too.
Remember, it’s fine to work your way up to a faster mile time – heck, we’re actively encouraging you to! You can train every single day but it won’t make you faster if you do not allow your body time to recover and repair, it’ll just keep you tired.
Taking it easy can mean many things, and if you don’t want to have a day off then you don’t have to – just do something different and less intense than your regular running routine.
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