The Mile: breaking down the classic distance
With all its rich history, the Mile can massively benefit runners of all distances including the marathon.
By James Thie, fastrunning.com
Sir Roger Bannister, 65 years ago, became the first runner to clock a Mile inside the magic 4 minute barrier. Over the past month the running forums buzzed as 53-year-old U.S. runner Brad Barton ran inside 4:20 for a world age record. Back in May more than 11,500 entered this year’s Westminster Mile in London. The Mile is as popular as ever and there is still an interest across the globe in the 1609 meter distance!
As a self-coached athlete, I had the delight of going ‘sub-4’ myself on a cold and windy San Francisco morning back in September 2002. It was only a few weeks ago that I revisited the same track for the first time in 17 years. There was a strange sense of nostalgia and emotion as I stood in the place that I ran 3 minutes, 58.24 seconds.
It gave me a better understanding as to why I have been so proud to coach three sub-4s (3:56/58/59) and another four athletes running the 1500m equivalent (3:36/38/43/43). The Mile has provided me with many chances for trial-and-error and putting many training theories into practice.
The Mile, with all its rich history, can massively benefit runners of all distances including the marathon. World record holders such as Eliud Kipchoge and Paula Radcliffe have sped to fast 1500m / Mile times. Legends Haile Gebrselassie and Sir Mo Farah have showed that speed is a vital component of their development and training.
My belief as a coach is that every one of all abilities and standards can benefit from Mile training and races. You might just find that missing piece of your 5K to marathon training jigsaw.
The perfect blend of speed & endurance
The physiological breakdown of any event is important to fully understanding the demands on the body. Dependant on who you reference it believed to be in the range of 77% to 83% an aerobic (using oxygen) and 23% to 17% anaerobic (working without oxygen), so make sure your training represents this.
Keeping it simple for those who use heart rate or RPE anything over 80% of your maximum could be considered more anaerobic. Anything below that more aerobic. A such a weekly Mile program cannot just be either speed or running slowly. You need a mix and balance between all extremes. It was getting the blend right that led Steve Scott (most sub-4 Mile races in history with 137!) to highlight how fun, but also challenging training for the Mile can be.
Thie’s recipe for success
An ability to run at your goal Mile pace is of course key. However remember that it is critical to also run faster for a shorter distance and then longer for further than a Mile.
I was always a fan of Frank Horwill and Peter Coe’s multi-pace system. This uses interval training to access these paces (run a distance or time and taking recovery after each repetition to continue). I have though learned that you can combine different paces in the same sessions where previously they had been on separate days. For example one to three sessions per week with a combination of the example interval sessions below. These can be done on track, road, grass and as time or distance.
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