Before I share with you how to improve your mile run time, I need to give you a little back story. For years, I have admired those that seem to effortlessly love running. Seeing their beautiful early morning run posts about sunrises and rainbows. The selfies where they have an incredible post-run glow about them… As badly as I wanted that for me, the reality was not nearly such a pretty picture. ½ mile into a run I would be gasping for breath, have a crampy stitch in my side, with the ‘omg I am definitely going to throw up’ feeling washing over me. Hardly the runners high that I had heard about.
All of that changed last fall when I made the decision that I could indeed become a runner. First, I had to work to not hate running, then I would work to love it. The underlying goal here was that I wanted to be more fit and I really wanted to improve my mile run time. After all, the 1 mile run is a benchmark of cardiovascular fitness. And hey, most all of us can get out and run, right?!? Over time, I have developed an appreciation for running. Dare I say that I even like running now? Ok, so it is not all unicorns and rainbows with my relationship to running, but it is certainly a lot better than where I started.
It started for me with some research that I wanted to share with you. These awesome tips are from the good people at Mizuno USA. Hopefully this allows you to improve your 1 mile run time too!
Tips to Improve your Mile Run Time!
Improve your mile run time tip #1 - Learn How to Breathe
Breathing is everything. Delivering oxygen more efficiently to your working muscles will help them work stronger longer. Have you ever heard of “Belly Breathing” before? Basically you train yourself to shift the demand of oxygen intake from your chest muscles to your diaphragm in order to maximize oxygen consumption and decrease accessory muscle activity. WHAT?! Basically that means your body gets more air for less energy. Perform “Belly Breathing” by filling your stomach with air, not your chest. As you take a deep breath focus on driving your belly, not your chest, outwards. This causes a contraction of your diaphragm instead of your chest muscles and thereby increases oxygen intake. Sometimes I recommend a progression of performing this exercise first laying, then sitting, and finally standing to ensure you get it down correctly.
Improve your mile run time tip #2 - Learn How to Breathe While Running
Most of us breathe on a 4-count cadence while running. This simply means that on average we inhale for 2 steps and exhale for 2 steps. This pattern of breathing actually results in us using only 50-60% of the available air we take in (we’re turning it over too quickly and not maximizing all of it). More breathing with less efficient oxygen delivery means more work breathing and less energy to our legs. What I advise people is to try to change from a 4-count cadence to a 5-count. That means you’ll take 3 steps during inhalation and 2 steps while exhaling. This not only draws more air into your lungs, but it also keeps it there for longer; thereby helping your body to absorb more oxygen. This is vital in avoiding the “wall” that all of us have hit at one point or another. Go try it – it’s a little difficult to get down, but I promise it will be well worth it!
Improve your mile run time tip #3 - Form is Everything
Proper running form is key to maximizing energy expenditure. If you’re running with poor form chances are you’re spending a lot more energy on a lot of extraneous motion. You should have your head up, looking straight ahead. Your body should be held tall but relaxed with your shoulders back. Your arm swing should be forward/backward and not side-to-side (a problem I encounter a lot in the female population). Another big problem I encounter is people landing on their heel with their foot way out in front of them while running. This is essentially results in a negative ground reaction force – you’re “putting the brakes on” during your run. If you keep your initial contact with the ground is centered more directly under you that will assist in propelling you forward throughout the running motion.
Improve your mile run time tip #4 - Get on Track
Track running is a great way to increase speed. Some things you need to know – one lap around the track is 400 meters or ~1/4 mile. 4 times around a standard track = 1 mile. Many schools open their tracks after school is over; summer is a great season to take advantage of your local track. Take some sort of stopwatch with you and practice running faster laps. Try to make each subsequent lap faster than the one previous until you can’t do it anymore. Another great idea is to run the straights at a much faster speed than you normally would, but walk/jog the turns. This type of interval running is a great way to get your body used to running at faster speeds.
Improve your mile run time tip #5 - Head for the Hills
Hill running is a great way to increase leg strength and cardiovascular endurance. Try incorporating “hill repeats” if you haven’t done it yet. Here’s how you do it: Find a fairly steep hill that’s about 100 meters long. Start at the bottom and run hard (80% max effort) to the top of the hill. You’ll then slowly jog back down only to start running hard up the hill again. Start with 3-4 hill repeats/week; eventually you want to work up to 6-7 per week.
Improve your mile run time tip #6 - Tempo Runs
A great way to start running faster and to improve your mile run time is to start running faster (rocket science, I know!)! Tempo runs are a great way to build speed and strength as well as your anaerobic (lactate) threshold. After a 5-10 minute warm-up, run 15-20 minutes at a “comfortably hard” pace (a little faster than you would normally run). Finish with a 5-10 minute cool down. Start with 1-2 tempo runs/week and increase up to 3-4 (anything more than this might be too much and actually cause more injury than good).
Improve your mile run time tip #7 - Rest!
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “You want me to do what? One of your tips to faster is to not run?” I know, right- crazy. But here’s the truth: running hard every day will not make you faster. Rest is critical to recovery and injury prevention. You need to take one day each week where you don’t run at all. Your body uses this time to build and repair areas that have been broken down so you actually come back stronger from your rest than you would have otherwise. Trust me on this one – one day off.
Improve your mile run time tip #8 - Don't Just Run
One of the biggest problems I see in running is that people think that’s all they need to do – run. I ask people in the clinic what they do for training while running and their answer is always the same… “I just run”. What many people don’t realize is this one simple fact: you’ve gotta be strong to run!! It’s a high-impact, repetitive activity that causes a lot of breakdown if not done correctly. Strengthen key muscles in your core and legs including quads, hips, butt, back, and stomach to stay healthy and strong while running. Strengthening these areas is vital to helping carry you the distance and keep you on the strong track to the finish line.
Bonus: Stretching to improve running performance
Stretching helps to open up range of motion and increase flexibility. For runners, this is particularly important because running constantly places stress on the muscles in a repetitive motion. Maintaining mobility in the joints and muscles helps to decrease risk of injury. Runners use a large portion of their muscles to help move them forward. Arms swing and provide momentum, while lower body muscles like hamstrings and quads help provide the power to run. To help get the most out of running, and to prevent injuries proper stretching should be included in the runner’s arsenal.
Another reason to stretch is the potential for stretching to improve running performance. A study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that regular stretching can improve force, jump height and speed.
Another study published in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that runners that had done a dynamic warm up stretch saw a significant increase in hamstring flexibility and quadricep strength, all which could lead to greater endurance and speed for the runner.
Another study published in the same journal saw an increase in time till exhaustion and total running distance when runners had completed a dynamic stretch prior to running.