Fast Forward

In-depth one-month mile training


Posted: 6 May 2002
by Sean Fishpool and Steve Smythe

What better way to celebrate summer than to shrug off long mileage and concentrate on pure running pleasure for a month? Picture this: short sessions on grass with friends and clubmates; speedwork with short reps and long recoveries; efforts in the evening sun; easy days in between – and a shiny new one-mile PB at the end of it.

Whether you’d expect to run 10 minutes or five minutes in a one-mile time trial, it’s a fun and attainable challenge to rise to. Best of all, you can train seriously enough to give it a good shot in just a month, leaving you ready for your next goal. A month’s training will have a significant effect on your mile time no matter how much of a speed-oriented runner you are (or aren’t). While there is a significant speed-oriented (anaerobic) element to mile racing, the endurance-oriented (aerobic) capacity matters at least as much in our four-week preparation, because it can be improved more.

We’ve prepared three sets of schedules – one for runners who’ve done little or no speedwork before; one for normal runners; and one for out-and-out training monsters. If you wanted to give yourself a real flying chance of a good mile time, you could add an extra two weeks on to the schedules (see ‘The Big Build-Up’, below), but rest assured that you can get a lot done in a month.

When George Gandy, director of athletics at Loughborough University, was giving us his mid-level schedules he recalled the story of Graham Williamson, one of the athletes he coached in the mid-1980s. Williamson had been injured and was avoiding speedwork until the three weeks before a big mile race. Even then he only did a total of four sessions… and the result? 3:50.6.

Short, good-quality sessions worked for him… and they’ll do wonders for you, too. All you need is a race or a time-trial at the end of the schedules. Unless you’re a club member, there aren’t huge numbers of accessible mile races around the country, but ask your local club for details of their summer 1500m and mile calendar – or plan a race with friends at your local track. And, failing that, measure a mile on flat, smooth grass as accurately as possible, either with a Jones counter or a well-adjusted bike computer. However you do it, you’ll have a great month.

The Schedules

Here’s the tough talk: the key to these schedules is speedwork, so there’s no point in following them if you’re likely to miss many of these important days. The easiest schedule builds up to two speed sessions a week; the other schedules have three. Don’t forget: your speed doesn’t matter – it’s doing the sessions that counts.

The other days are rest or recovery days, with one longer run that should be kept shorter than you’re used to. It doesn’t matter whether you swap the order of the sessions around in a week, so long as you observe two rules:

  1. Warm up and stretch before each session, and cool down afterwards. This means doing one and a half to three miles of jogging either side of the hard work; the distance depends on your level and the intensity of the session.
  2. Never do hard days consecutively. Your body needs time to recover; in fact it is in your rest days and easy days that your fitness gains are consolidated.

Want to train for longer?

If you want to extend your mile build-up to six weeks, don’t use the extra fortnight to increase your training volume. Rather, follow the four-week schedule, then spend a further two weeks improving your speed in the sessions from weeks three and four. If you have the option of doing a mile race after four weeks as a progress marker, take it up: one of the beauties of this distance is that you’ll take barely a day to recover.

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