If you want to improve your one-mile times, follow these speed-building workouts
This month, Vincent Costa writes, ‘As a secondary-school miler who has run 4:55 for the mile, what type of speed workouts do I need in order to run 55 to 57 seconds for 400 metres? I’m hoping that by lowering my quarter-mile time, which is currently 60 seconds, I’ll have a better chance of running 4:30 for the mile during spring track.’
Even if you’re not specially interested in one-mile racing, read the answer to Vincent’s question, because the principles we outline will help you run improved 5Ks and 10Ks, too. You see, Vincent is definitely on the right track. He’s absolutely correct in thinking that consistent work on his speed will pay big dividends in his miling. The mile is a high-power event, and a neglect of speed development and an over-emphasis on pokey endurance training is unlikely to bring him home 25-seconds sooner.
It’s very interesting that Vincent should focus on 400-metre times, because recent research carried out by Gordon Sleivert and colleagues at the University of Otago in New Zealand indicates that one of the best predictors of one-mile race time is one’s clocking in the 400! If you become more explosive in the quarter-mile loop, your one-mile time will also accelerate dramatically (just as improving your mile time will add sizzle to your 5-K racing).
For Vincent’s speed-building workouts, there are a number of possibilities, including the following (if your mile and quarter-mile performances are different from Vincent’s, simply use the general comments at the end of each workout description to plan your own personal sessions):
1) Warm up with 15 minutes of easy jogging, stretch your quads, hamstrings, and calves thoroughly, jog easily for five minutes, and then run 200-metre intervals in about 28 seconds each, with two minutes of light jogging between intervals. Over a period of several weeks, progressively reduce the recoveries to about 30 seconds or so. The idea here is to learn to function at about two seconds per 200 faster than one’s current best 400-metre time.
2) Follow the same warm-up procedure outlined in workout No.1, and then run 400-metre intervals, with the first 200 of the 400 completed in about 33 to 34 seconds and the second in 28. Recover for three minutes between intervals. Over a period of several weeks, progressively reduce the recoveries to one minute. The concept here is to develop the ability to run faster than current 400-metre pace when one is already somewhat tired.
3) Train specifically. Since the goal is 4:30 per mile, which is 67.5 seconds per 400, it’s paramount to run workouts which consist of 67.5-second 400s. Start with two minutes of recovery and gradually go down to only 30 seconds (don’t forget to warm up properly before this session begins, using the warm-up described in workout No. 1). The principle here is to set a reasonable but challenging goal and then specifically practise that goal pace, progressively expanding one’s capacity to handle it by increasing the number of reps and reducing the recovery time.
4) Train specifically – yet with more difficulty – by using longer intervals at goal pace. Since the goal is 4:30 per mile (2:15 per 800), it’s important to try a workout consisting of 800-metre intervals in 2:15 each, with three minutes of recovery. Over a period of many weeks, the recoveries can be squeezed down to 45 seconds. The idea here (with the longer intervals) is to progressively lengthen the time and distance over which one can operate effectively at goal pace. Increasing the interval length and shortening the recovery makes workouts more realistic and develops the physiological capacity and mental confidence needed to sustain goal pace in an actual race.
5) Don’t forget to include ‘classic’ VO2max workouts (ie, ones with even longer intervals at an intensity which resides in the domain between 90 and 100 per cent of VO2max). For Vincent, that would mean one-mile repeats in 5:30 each; for most of us, it would simply involve five-minute intervals at 5-K pace. If you don’t actually run 5Ks, formulate your ‘5-K pace’ by focusing on a tempo which is about 30 to 40 seconds per mile slower than one-mile race velocity for these longer (1200-metre or one-mile) intervals. The principle here is to expand VO2max, a critical physiological variable for milers.
6) Stimulate lactate threshold by running 10-minute intervals at a pace which is 40 to 50 seconds slower per mile than one-mile tempo. The idea is to upgrade lactate threshold, which – like VO2max – is critical for good miling.
7) Since good one-mile running also involves high power outputs, it’s a good idea to work on hills at least once a week during the pre-competition period of training. The idea is to choose a steep hill and surge up the incline at what feels like race pace. After jogging to the bottom, repeat the process, progressively increasing the number of ascents per workout over time.
Six speed principles
The general principles for improved speed, which athletes running distances from the mile to the marathon can use, are as follows:
A) Choose a reasonable goal for your race, and then work on running at velocities which are actually faster than your goal over short work intervals.
B) Also train at your goal pace in order to enhance your neuromuscular coordination, confidence, and stamina at your desired speed.
C) At first, utilise long recoveries, but as you get fitter and faster shorten the recovery periods between work intervals to make your training more specific and realistic to racing. Also move on to longer work intervals, as you are able.
D) Don’t forget that one-mile (or any-distance) training is not all speedwork. You also need to work on your aerobic capacity and lactate threshold, conduct some easy-pace runs to burn calories and permit recovery from difficult sessions, and ‘base-train’ with increasing volume before you embark seriously on your speedier training. The base running ensures that your body is strong enough to handle the tougher work and consists of relatively more moderate running and less speed.
E) Although your faster-than-goal pace and goal-pace workouts will build leg-muscle power and economy, you must also work on hills to maximally upgrade your explosiveness and efficiency.
F) A key point: the greater the range of motion at your hips, the faster will be your race times. So, be sure to work on your flexibility, but only after you’ve warmed up properly. Do your suppleness exercises after a good warm-up and before you carry out your really hard work, not just at the ends of your sessions. By doing that, you’ll actually use your upgraded range of motion when you train, not just when you’re sitting around at home, school, or the office.