Running can be a solitary activity. No one can run for you. You have to lace up your shoes and get out the door all on your own.
But when you run the mile, even when you run solo, you’re running alongside countless others that have given the mile a shot before you. From Roger Bannister to a third-grader in gym class, the mile is something that we all share.
And here’s the best part—by running the mile, you can get stronger and faster than ever, while having fun doing it.
Components of a Fast Mile
The mile is a simple event driven by complex physiology. But at it’s core, mile performance can be broken down into just a few variables.
Running economy: how much energy it takes to go a given pace.
You can improve your running economy quickly by doing short, fast strides during a few runs each week. To start, in the context of a normal run, do 4 to 10 repetitions of 20 to 30 seconds fast, with 1 to 2 minutes of easy running between them. Focus on running the fastest pace you can go while staying totally effortless—for most people, it will be around 800 meter race pace, but might be close to mile pace for experienced runners.
Velocity at VO2 max (vVO2): how fast a runner goes at maximal aerobic capacity.
VO2 max usually equates to an effort you could hold for 7 to 15 minutes, depending on your physiology—think of it as smooth, but unable to talk between breaths. Short intervals between 30 seconds and a few minutes with equal rest or below can improve vVO2.
Aerobic endurance: cardiovascular ability, with miles per week being a solid proxy.
All running performance rests on a base of aerobic development. To run a fast mile, just like running fast at any other distance, 80% of your running should be easy and conversational, maximizing how much you run while staying healthy.
Running Your Fastest Mile in Just Two Weeks
Here is how to use the components of a fast mile:
Run strides 2 to 3 times per week. In the second half of some of your easy runs, do 4 to 10 by 20 to 30 second strides faster than mile pace.
Do 1 or 2 workouts a week focused on running mile effort or a bit slower, targeting vVO2.
Run consistently 4 to 6 times per week, with all mileage easy outside of your strides and workouts.
While there is no perfect template, here is a plan for a 25 mile-per-week runner that you can scale up or down for your background.
2-Week Mile Breakthrough
Day 13: 4 miles easy with 6 x 20 seconds fast/2 min easy
Day 12: 2 miles easy warm-up, 2 x 3/2/1 min at 5k/3k/mile effort with 2 minutes easy between intervals and 5 minutes easy between sets, 4 x 30 seconds faster than mile effort with 3 min easy recovery, 2 miles easy cool-down
Day 11: rest and recovery
Day 10: 4 miles easy
Day 9: 4 miles easy with 4 x 30 seconds fast/90 seconds easy
Day 8: 2 miles easy warm-up, 4 x 2 min at 3k effort/1 min easy, 5 min easy, 4 x 30 seconds at mile effort/1 min easy, 2 miles easy cool-down
Day 7: rest and recovery
Day 6: 5 miles easy with 6 x 20 seconds fast/1 min easy
Day 5: 2 miles easy warm-up, 8 x 1 min at mile effort/1 min easy, 5 min easy, 6 x 30 seconds at faster than mile effort/2 min easy, 2 miles easy cool-down
Day 4: 4 miles easy
Day 3: 5 miles easy with 6 x 20 seconds fast/40 seconds easy
Day 2: rest and recovery
Day 1: 4 miles easy with 4 x 30 seconds at mile effort/2 minutes easy