Why You Should Train For a Mile to Improve Your Marathon
by Jimmy Williams, DPT, PT
As long-distance runners, many of us run miles upon miles, but how often do we think to race a single mile? Not often enough! So many of us get locked into running more mileage and training for longer races such as 5K’s, 10K’s, and half marathons as part of our training cycle. Well I’m here to tell you that bringing back the mile will improve your running form, increase your speed, reduce unwanted movement and make you a faster runner over all distances – yes, even a marathon.
Why all this fuss about the mile?
So much of what we do from an early age is measured in miles. You may remember (perhaps not so fondly) running the mile in elementary school for gym class, and maybe you even had to continue to do so all the way through high school. When talking to another runner, they may ask, “what’s your best mile time?” The mile is a staple in American distance running and is often forgotten about as a race after high school. Although, one might argue it is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. I may be biased, but in my opinion, one of the few good things to come from the past year was the introduction of new races like the Trials of Miles track meets, that have shown how difficult and exciting running shorter distance events can be!
So why should I train for the mile?
The mile requires a different type of training than a typical marathon plan would have you do, and will inadvertently improve your marathon performance as a result. There’s a common misconception that speed work will get you injured, however when that happens, it is usually the result of too much, too soon or too fast – overtraining, in other words. Proper speed work will help improve your running economy (less effort to go the same speed), allow you to run with good form, and to hold that good form even when dealing with lactate accumulation. In a sense, training for a fast mile time will help make your marathon goal pace feel that much easier.
How can I train for a mile during my marathon prep?
All it takes is one workout a week and a few sprinkles of speed on some easy runs. Adding in one day (per week) of 4x400m repeats or 8x200m’s at mile race-pace with an appropriate warm-up, rest interval, and cool-down will be enough to improve your mile time, and you may even discover muscles you didn’t know you had if you’ve only been training for longer races.
Additionally, adding shorter effort segments such as hill repeats and strides onto your easy runs will help get the body used to running at a much higher cadence and faster pace, and will build strength without causing significant soreness. If you are new to these types of workouts, find a hill with a gradient greater than 4% and run up to the top at your mile race-pace for 10 seconds. Walk back down to where you started and repeat for a total of 4 times. You can gradually build up each week by repeating these 10 second efforts a total of 10 times to truly build strength.
For adding in strides, these can be done at the beginning or end of any run. Find a clear stretch of road that you can run without stopping. Start off slowly and gradually increase the pace to your 5k race pace and then slowly come to a stop after 20 seconds. Rest for a few seconds and repeat 4-6 times. Strides are a great tool to get the body used to building up the pace, and running at a fast interval and high cadence without inducing the build-up of lactate in the body.
What pace should I aim for in a mile race?
Well, grab your racing flats, head over to the nearest high school and run 4 laps in a counterclockwise direction, and give it a try. There you go! You’ve just completed one section of the Presidential Fitness Test and made Eisenhower smile. Keep in mind that the mile is a much shorter race than most of our typical road races and as such, it becomes much harder to knock time off, so don’t expect to PR or PB by more than a few seconds each time you run it.
Here in NYC, we just had the always fun and fast BKLYN Mile a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully you were able to get in on that action, but if not, the ever-popular 5th Avenue Mile is a great race coming up in September that runners have used for years as a tune-up for their Fall marathons. Training for this race will allow you to gain experience running at your fastest effort over a shorter distance, which will in turn help build confidence in your abilities, and necessary strength in your body that you need to run at a slower pace for a longer duration, and avoid injuries in the process. Not to mention, it will help get your body ready for the race-specific phase of training leading up to the fall marathon of your choice.
Live out of state or want to train for a mile outside of marathon training? I got you! As a running coach myself, I have all of my athletes train for a track mile, road mile, or time trial mile in the off-season to work on their top end speed, both in the brutal heat of the summer or frozen winter. It’s the best way to improve your running ability without suffering through miles and miles during the worst running seasons. Head over to www.bringbackthemile.com to sign up for your next mile race!