Coach and former professional runner Lauren Fleshman kicks off our Last Mile Workout of the Week (or as it’s more fondly known, WoW) to help you finish fast and strong.
“LAST MILE, BEST MILE!”
If I could teleport to the sidelines of every race you line up for this year, that is what I would scream into my cupped hands as you ran by. I’d set up an archway of huge balloons at the exact spot marking one mile to go at every one of your 5k’s, 10k’s, halfs, marathons, or trail races, and I’d call in the local high school marching band and aerial dancers and acro yogis, and I’d hand out barrels full of cowbells to the family and friends and randos who would gather there to shake them until they got blisters.
That is what I would do because there is no better feeling than racing the last mile like you mean it, or as my dad told me once, “like your heart’s a’blazin!” It’s the feeling that makes a race different from any other day you get out there. No matter your speed, or place in the pack, or what has happened up to this point, The Last Mile is there waiting for you, inviting you to take it up a notch, to go to that place that celebrates the work you’ve done, the goal you were brave enough to shoot for. The Last Mile is about finishing whatever story unfolds on race day with a kickass last sentence, because you’re worth it.
As a coach (and former pro runner), mastering The Last Mile is my jam. I’ve got a bunch of workouts I use towards this aim, and this one is a great place to start. It will help you physically and mentally change gears when you see that there’s one mile to go. Over the chorus of spectators yelling “almost there, hang on,” you’ll be thinking, “Last Mile, Best Mile! Let’s do this!”
The Workout: “Three Gears”
This workout teaches you how to change gears deliberately, with control. Rather than bust out like a bat out of hell with a mile to go (that won’t end well), we’re going to work on changing gears deliberately and smoothly so you have the confidence to do it (and do it well) on race day.
3 x 9-minute continuous progression run divided into three parts: 4 minutes, 3 minutes, and 2 minutes, building speed gradually with each part.
Recovery: 2-3 minutes jog between each 9-minute interval.
How to do it
Find an open path, road, track, or trail where you can run free from stoplights and obstacles. Warm up with an easy 10-15 minute jog, loosen up any tight bits with a few stretches or strides if you wish (or whatever makes you feel ready to start a workout).
Pick a place to begin and start! You’re going to do three sets of a 9-minute long interval that breaks down as follows: the first 4 minutes are at half marathon pace/effort (what is current for you, not a PR pace from five years ago, or a dream pace for five years from now). After running this pace for 4 minutes, change gears to a pace about 10 seconds per mile quicker for the next 3 minutes. Change gears again to a little bit quicker than that for the final 2 minutes.
After the 9 minutes is done, walk or jog and catch your breath for 2-3 minutes. Repeat this 9-minute interval two more times like this. Refine your paces as you get the hang of it to make sure you are changing gears smoothly and feeling in control. It should feel challenging as you build each one, but manageable.
Optional cherry on top: At the end of the three sets, if you feel up to it, do what we call “a hot minute.” One minute after your last 9-minute rep, punch it by running a 1-minute interval very strong at the end. This exposes you to lactate, which is a good training stimulus and is a way to finish the workout feeling pretty freakin’ uncomfortable (if you’re into that sorta thing).
Why it works
When you can master moving through your gears deliberately, attacking the last mile of a race will feel natural. You’ll learn how to break that last mile into a few pieces, building momentum, and working into the toughest bit at the very end, when the finish line is in your sights.
Relief is a universal feeling at any finish line, but there is a waterfall of other feelings awaiting the runner who leaves it all out on the course, who loses (or finds) themselves in the last mile by trying their best, in the moment, free from self-consciousness.
“LAST MILE, BEST MILE!” Go get it, friends!