Tackling the Mile: Training Tips and Racing Strategies

In our opinion, there aren’t nearly enough mile races. But it’s a distance every runner should race at least once. Even runners that usually stick to longer distances!

Below, Matt Thull from ThunderDome Running explains how racing the mile benefits long distance runners and provides training and racing tips!

What’s the allure of racing the mile? Why is this distance a great mix of speed and endurance?
Even though a mile race seems short to most distance runners, there are actually more running parts to the race than many runners think. I look at the mile as having three parts and knowing there are those different parts is how the endurance and speed combo comes into play. The length of time for the three parts is different for everyone. The first part is speed and getting out there fast when the gun goes off. Next is the middle of the race – the endurance part once you settle into your “fast” but controlled pace, which for most runners is a bit slower than the fast start. Last is the speed/sprint to the finish part of the race.

How should a person train for a mile race?
The luxury of training for this distance is that there are elements of mile race training already in most runners’ day-to-day training. For example, during long runs, runners get to a certain point where they are actually recruiting fast muscle fibers. If runners do pre- or post-run strides – or even fast-finish workouts – these can help with shorter distance racing. Those areas all produce faster mile race results – without necessarily training specifically for the distance.

Really not a lot needs to change for mile racing in training. A bigger focus is the warmup for the race. It’s crucial to include enough pre-race activity and stretching since there is no messing around once the gun goes off. Runners don’t have 2-3 miles to warmup during the race like they do during long distance races.

What is a good workout to include if a mile race is on your calendar?
When someone who is NOT a miler or short distance racer thinks about workouts, they should have safety nets in them related to the rest periods and fast work. For example, if a runner wants to test out some faster 400m or 200m intervals, make the workout continuous without any standing around rest. For example, run a 400m interval and then jog a short rest time. This helps prevent runners from going too fast. Or if there is a 3-4 mile continuous run, include a couple of 90 second surges spaced throughout the run. In that case, too, runners cannot get going too fast since there is no standing rest.

It seems like as the distances get shorter, the warmup becomes more important. What type of warmup do you recommend before a mile race?
Runners should finish with a faster warmup for a mile race. If you normally run two miles for a warmup, speed up during the second mile. It should be brisk. And the active warmup stretching and strides should easily be at least 15-20 minutes of focus, compared to what sometimes happens at 5k and 10k races where runners get caught standing around too long doing not a lot of warmup prep.

What about race strategy – how should a runner approach a mile race?
No matter what each individual’s pace or goal is in a mile, there have to be different pace parts and efforts. If you say you are going to race hard from the gun to the finish of a mile race, you miss out on the shorter focused parts that will result in a faster race.

What type of shoes do you recommend? Are regular shoes okay or should runners opt for lighter flats or trainers?
Most runners should NOT change up their regular training shoes to a lighter pair for a mile race unless they are used to a lighter workout or racing pair of shoes. Light racing flats work great but at the same time runners are moving much faster than they normally do so the extra cushion of a regular training shoe is safer. The best of both worlds are shoes that have extra cushion but are super light. Like the New Balance Fresh Foam, some of the Nike Lunar models or the HOKA shoes.

Why is it beneficial for even longer distance runners to consider racing the mile?
Too many times marathon and half marathon runners fall into the trap of running slower, more relaxed training mileage because they don’t think they are “fast.” Just having a fun mile race on the schedule can hopefully shift the focus and shake things up a bit to more stride/safe leg turnover work, faster finish long runs, or doing a proper warmup. All of which will also help the longer distance work.

Thanks for chatting with us, Coach Thull! If you’re interested in improving your speed, ThunderDome Running can help. Visit thunderdomerunning.com to learn more about coaching options.

If you’re ready to put your speed to the test, consider these upcoming events:

Best of luck!

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!

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2 thoughts on “Tackling the Mile: Training Tips and Racing Strategies

  1. I love the mile! It’s my favorite race, and I, too, wish there were more of them. I’m glad you posted this, because I feel like whenever I talk to other runners about the mile, they all just end up saying something like, “A one-mile race? That’s it? Just a mile?” Yeah, I get it: it’s not that far. Not all running is distance running! I’ve gotten past the part where that’s disheartening to me, and instead I just try to encourage every runner to run the mile. To me there’s no better feeling than crossing the finish line at the end of a one-mile race. It’s a combination of relief that it’s over, and exhilaration from how hard you pushed yourself in such a short amount of time.

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