If you just can’t seem to ever see yourself getting excited about running a marathon — or just need a change of pace from those long, grueling, endurance runs that training for a longer race requires — here’s some good news: the mile race is making a comeback.
“The mile inspires the very best in all of us; it is incredibly accessible to all ages and ability levels,” says Matthew Rosetti, co-founder of Brooklyn Running Company, one of the sponsors of the inaugural Brooklyn Mile, a 1600-meter foot race that made its debut in Williamsburg in August of 2016.
From an entry point into the sport of running, to a thrilling race distance with a compelling history for competitive runners, the mile is an amped-up alternative to 5ks and 10ks, which seem to have reached a saturation point, Rosetti says. With over 900 registries (despite having just a month-long registration window), the Inaugural Brooklyn Mile wasn’t just a success: it’s a nod to the strong demand for this race distance. And thanks to organizations like Bring Back the Mile, an organization whose mission is to re-popularize and celebrate the mile distance in America, we can only expect mile distance events to continue to grow.
Want to toe the line of this trend? Whether you’re a seasoned runner looking to improve your time, or a newbie runner excited to test their limits in their first race, here are nine expert-backed ways anyone can increase their speed at this distance.
1. Perfect Your Form
Improving your form will make each and every step you take a little more efficient, thus helping your speed. In order to perfect your form while running at mile pace, Anthony Pena, a Runstreet track coach, recommends practicing form drills before your workout.
“[Form drills] before your workout help improve your arm movement, how your legs move, and how you plant your foot,” Pena explains. “Over time, you want to be able to improve all three to become as efficient as possible.”
Head Coach and co-founder of Educated Running, Patrick Hammond, specifically recommends drills like high knees, skips and lunges to improve your speed and mechanics. You can see a complete video of warm up drills here.
2. Hit The Track
Pena also recommends incorporating track workouts at your goal mile pace into your regime, which can improve your speed in addition to teach you to run as relaxed as possible to become more and more efficient over time.
“Not only will your body adapt to running at that pace, but you’ll be able to run more efficiently,” Pena explains. “An example of a typical mile workout would be 8 x 400-meter repeats at your current mile pace, with two minutes of recovery. If you can complete this workout while hitting your goal time, you should be ready to attack your next mile race.”
3. Incorporate Speed Training Into Your Workouts
Speed training is the key to getting faster, says Marnie Kunz, a Brooklyn-based run coach and founder of social running group Runstreet. Kunz recommends doing interval training — or intense bursts of speed, alternating with short periods of rest — at least once a week.
“Intervals are the backbone of your mile speed training,” Kunz says. “Intervals improve your speed and oxygen efficiency, and they train your body to run at your goal mile pace.”
Begin with one interval workout a week, and gradually build up the interval distance. (For example: start with four, 200-meter interval bursts at your mile pace with 200-meters of a walk recovery. Add a 400 after your four 200s for the second week’s workout, then do two 200s and two 400s at your goal mile pace the next week).
4. Go Steep
One of the best workouts you can do to increase your pace and speed up your mile time is short, steep hill sprints, says Susie Lemmer, a Chicago-based RRCA-certified run coach.
“Think 60 to 90-seconds of effort at inclines of 10 percent, with recovery jogs of equal length or up to two minutes,” Lemmer says. “This type of workout will help increase your power, leg turnover, and strength.”
5. Stride It Out
Cat Fitzgerald, a physical therapist and running consultant at Custom Performance in New York City, proposes following up your track workout with four to six “strides” on a flat, even surface.
Strides are 100-meter accelerations: the first 30 meters are the acceleration phase to top end speed, the middle 40 meters should be concentrated on maintaining that speed, and the final 30 meters are a deceleration down to a stop.
“Strides are an effective way to combine clearing metabolic waste in the legs following runs, and improve your running form,” Fitzgerald says. “Strides do not, and should not be, all-out sprints.”
6. Strength Train
Although building mileage is important, runners tend to neglect strength training and core work, which is a mistake, says Jessie Zapo, founder and coach of Girls Run NYC.
“Runners should include strength training and core strengthening in their routine, and can do this however they prefer,” Zapo says. “I recommend that my runners take a Yoga for Runners class once a week and mix up some of their workouts to include some strength based work. “
Lemmer emphasizes core and strength training, too.
“By developing a strong, stable core, you are creating a center of power that will increase your running efficiency and also act as your backup as you start to fatigue,” Lemmer says. She recommends exercises like the Pallov Press, forearm planks with leg lifts, Romanian Deadlifts, and plie goblet squats.
7. Cross Train
Don’t run yourself into the ground.
“Spinning or cycling are great exercises to prepare for running a mile because of their natural inclination to increase leg turnover faster than normal running [does],” Fitzgerald says. “A typical runner’s cadence is 160-to-180 steps per minute, while spinning or cycling can be 200 plus steps per minute. This quick leg turnover with elevated heart rate will enhance leg speed while warming up the legs for a length static stretch session post-ride to promote recovery.”
Lemmer also encourages swimming and yoga as excellent cross training activities to develop cardiovascular fitness, increase lung capacity, and learning breath control.
Completing a set of cool down stretches post-run is incredibly important to improving your speed, Hammond says.
“Stretching is essential to not only recovery, but also to your flexibility,” Hammond says. “The more you stretch, the more flexible you are. The more flexible you are, the greater range of motion you will have when you run, and the more efficiently you will be able to run fast.”
9. Learn To Breathe Efficiently
Breathing is an important part of running, and something that you can get better at over time, Zapo says. While it can be common for runners to struggle with breathing when they first start doing speed work, Zapo encourages her runners to find their breath and try to relax into a slightly uncomfortable place.
Some experts say to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, but critics argue that breathing in and out through your mouth is the most effective way to inhale and exhale oxygen.
Other experts vouch for the 1:2 method (one step breathing in, two steps breathing out) or vice versa. This can help you keep your breathing controlled even during hard race moments. Plus, by using a rhyming method, you can also keep track of your pace and tempo.