I grew up in the era when the main evening news would be interrupted with an update from Oslo - where messrs Coe, Cram and Ovett all broke world records for the mile on separate occasions. Together they took athletics, and the mile event, forwards in leaps and bounds.
But as a Cambridge graduate there was magic and history closer to home at Iffley Road in Oxford, where Bannister became the first person to break 4 minutes. This would later be voted the greatest ever athletic achievement, and to this day more people have climbed Everest than have broken the 4-minute barrier.
The magic and charm of the distance have always captivated me, and inspired me to go down to my local track and train for it as I was growing up. Running is accessible and the running community are wonderfully welcoming, so there are no excuses not to get involved. You can do a mile effort as part of a longer run, or you can head to the local park or towpath for a dedicated effort. But for your fastest possible effort, nothing will beat the track - it’s flat, responsive and allows you to accurately pace yourself. Hopefully these tips will come in useful!
1/ Know the distance
A mile is 1609m, so you will start 9m back from the start/finish line, spread out across the track on a curved line. You’ll run 4 laps of the track (plus your initial 9m).
2/ Familiarise yourself with the track
For hardened regulars, this means paying attention to the wind during your warmup - allowing you to mentally prepare for the toughest sections of each lap (or plan when to tuck in and shelter!). For newcomers to track running, it means running a few laps as part of your warm up, taking note of how the surface feels and looking for the 200m mark to help with your pacing.
3/ Brush up on your track etiquette
Lane one is only ever for hard efforts, if you’re warming up stick to the outside lanes. If you’re running your hard mile effort, and someone absentmindedly walks across the track ahead of you - shout “track!” to let them know you’re coming.
4/ Decide on your goal pace beforehand
Don't just wing it - aim high. Choose an ambitious target and don’t talk yourself out of it as it gets closer to the event. Whatever mile pace you can run for 10k, simply taking off 20-30s for a one-off mile won’t stretch you. As an example, if you can run 7 minute miling for 10k, aim for sub 6 minutes for your single effort.
5/ Pace yourself!
Work out your 400m splits (roughly your target time divided by 4), and aim to hit them as closely (and evenly) as possible. Depending on your mental arithmetic, checking your splits each 200m can stop you from going to hard too early. [For 6:00/mi pace, your 200m splits would be 0:45, 1:30, 2:15, 3:00, 3:45, 4:30, 5:15, 6:00].
6/ Focus on the third lap
Get to halfway (2 laps) on your target pace, and be prepared to have to push harder on the third lap just to maintain the same pace. The temptation is to slow down on this lap, and it’s mentally tough to keep pushing, but if you drop off your pace you will find it very difficult to pull it back in the last lap.
7/ Try to relax and enjoy it
For most people, a single mile effort will be much shorter than they’re used to - so embrace the discomfort and know that it will be short lived. By relaxing your shoulders, your breathing, arm movement and stride will be more efficient, hopefully helping you to run a PB.
Strava, the social network for athletes, is encouraging all runners to try to run their fastest mile during June as part of the Strava Mile. Any runner who uploads a run at least one mile in distance and tags #MyMile in their activity title has the chance to win running shoes for themselves and up to ten of their Strava followers. Find out more here.