There are a number of different ways to improve your mile time including hills, strength training, tempo runs, and adjusting running form.
Like any goal, it's also recommended to create a training plan that you can stick to over a period of time. While striving to improve your mile time, it's also important to stay mindful and be patient with yourself. Results don’t always come in a linear progression, so it’s important to be kind to yourself should you encounter any setbacks, and exercise a positive mindset.
Running hills can be done indoors or outdoors using a treadmill or a real hill. There are a few different variations of hill running, but mostly hills are run at a certain percentage of your current mile time, such as 10 to 15 seconds slower than your current mile time. You can even do uphill ‘bounds’ where you stride up the hill in an exaggerated upward motion to work on your stride. Doing workouts with hills will condition your legs against soreness and increase performance on flat ground.
Some strength training exercises that can be beneficial for runners are planks, squats, glute bridges, Russian twists, and reverse lunges. Strength training for running is centered around the legs and the core mostly. Strength training can aid in speed, endurance, injury prevention, and balance for runners. There are many free strength training programs available for runners online and can introduce these various exercises to you in a more effective manner for training. When beginning a strength training program, it is important to learn proper form to avoid injury. Using videos and a mirror can help you to make sure that you are using good form.
Tempo runs are an exercise where the runner runs with moderate to intense effort at different time intervals. This type of training can be beneficial for your conditioning and stamina and can prepare you for faster times when you go for a new mile time. When building this into a training program, you will want to plan on about one to two times a week. The goal should be to maintain that moderate to intense effort for a certain period of time or a distance goal.
Improving Running Form
Improving running form is another effective way to decrease your mile time, and for beginners, this can make for a huge improvement in a short amount of time. Watching professionals, online tutorials, or considering a coach may be a good way for some to correct their form. Improving your running form will also help you avoid injuries and conserve energy for longer runs. Form may need to be a little different depending on if you are running on a treadmill or outside. Some things to consider include:
- Landing each stride with the middle of your foot. This helps you to run faster and avoid injury by reducing stress from the impact.
- Keeping arms and fingers relaxed. If you find you're clenching your fists, try to run with your middle finger touching your thumb.
- Engaging your core.
- Keeping your head up and focused in front of you. Don’t be tempted to watch your feet.
More Strategies to Run a Faster Mile
Other ways to improve your mile time could be your nutrition, sleep, and recovery. Runners should be consuming protein, complex carbs, and electrolytes in order to properly hydrate and fuel your body. Changing eating habits can be difficult at times, so you could start with one thing by simply trying to get more protein or hydrating more, and then polishing up your diet as you get used to the changes.
Fuel your body with the right calories before running. Try fruit, bagels, or oatmeal paired with a healthy fat like avocado or peanut butter.
Recovery is another important aspect of reaching your goals for running and decreasing your mile times. Some people run every day while others a few times a week. Part of recovery is also making sure you’re not overtraining. A faster mile time won’t come from brute force and running a mile as fast as you can every day or multiple times a week. Plan in slower days or even consider taking a day off to fully rest. Getting enough sleep and allowing your body to repair itself and recover from your workouts is essential for long term improvement.
Hydration is important for any exercise, and it begins well before your workout. Focus on hydration each day and take note of whether that might mean you need additional hydration. When running, you should have water or sports drinks available and sip a few ounces about every 20 minutes. When you’re dehydrated, it can slow you down, and it also negatively impacts your recovery.
Any goal you set for yourself requires patience and long term consistency. Create a precise plan that you can stick to over the long term using SMART goals. This means setting goals that are:
- Specific- I want to run faster.
- Measurable – I want to run a mile in X minutes.
- Achievable – I want to improve my time by X seconds in three months.
- Realistic – Running 3x per week fits my lifestyle and schedule.
- Anchored based on time - I want to improve to this time in X months.
Even setting small goals to hit more often is a great way to get to your overall end goal. If you want to shave five seconds off your mile time, perhaps starting with shaving one second is a good starting point and won’t be overwhelming to train towards.
Keeping Track of Your Progress
Journaling or or using an app for logging your training every day may also be beneficial so you can document how you felt during the session, what kind of training you were doing, and how you can improve the next session.
Being mindful and making these small adjustments day to day may prove to be very beneficial over a long timeline of achieving your faster times. Be kind to yourself, be patient, and try to enjoy the process of achieving your goal. If reaching it becomes too stressful and affects the level of enjoyment, it is okay to reevaluate and set a smaller benchmark. Hopefully you can find one thing from this guide to start with on your journey for a better mile time.