Running a mile: tips from Steve Cram

Steve Cram and Mo Farah

Ahead of running a special mile event at the Anniversary Games, we caught up with British Mile record holder Steve Cram to talk about this very important distance in running. 

RW: So Steve, any advice before we race?!

SC: Just don’t go mad! When you’re there waiting and the gun goes off, just don’t be daft.

RW: Ok, we'll try. For anyone approaching the mile for the first time as a race, what would be your first bit of advice?

SC: It’s tough for a beginner, but ideally you get to the bell tired, but in control. That’s what we learnt from the beginning – from the bell you’re either trying to maintain what’s been a good pace or you’re putting yourself into position if it’s been a slow race.  To begin with, you won’t want to worry about tactical positioning, you’ll just be looking to run as fast as you can so treat the mile as an endurance race.

You’d never go off racing a 10k or half marathon, you judge your pace and aim at what you think you’re capable of and it’s the same for the mile. Don’t go through the first 400m faster then you ever have before. 

Let’s make it easy – if you’re truing to run a six minute mile, that’s 90 secs a lap. Theoretically, 90s a lap is the perfect way to run it as the effort on each lap should increase to keep that pace. What you shouldn’t be doing is running 75 seconds and finishing with 115 seconds for the last lap.

That’s the only golden rule – don’t get carried away. Elite athletes do it!

RW: What about someone who’s very use to churning out a consistent long distance pace, how would they make the changes to running short and fast?

SC: If you look at what elite athletes do, it’s all about variety. To run a quicker 5k, you need to run a faster mile. To run a faster 10k, you need a faster 5k, you see what I mean? For a 1500m runner to get better, they need a faster 800m so that means speed work and strength. The issue that most runners will have is that most will be doing the same thing over and over again to add distance, but what I tell most people is that if you want to improve your 10k time, improve your mile time. 

If you just head out the door and run as hard as you can for a long way, your body gets used to that and you plateau so you need to vary it – hill training, intervals, fartlek, get on the track and do some reps! Some people will wonder ‘why do I need to do that if want to run a 10k?’ but Mo Farah does that when he’s preparing for a marathon so it’s the variation of training that most people won’t be familiar with. Variation of speed, moving your heart rate up and down, getting out of that steady state and feel the difference.

RW: If you were explaining to someone setting out the door and they’ve never run a mile before how do they judge it, what would you say?

SC: If you’re physically able, anyone can run a mile. To judge it, if you can’t talk after ¼ mile then you will struggle, so ease off a bit but you will need to get to know it to really judge it. If you are going to do a lot of running, the mile is the currency of our sport, so it’s worth doing. We talk about min/mile pace, weekly mileage, how many miles are you running so how you run a mile is quite important and has been ignored.

Also find somewhere where you can get your head around the distance, like three times round a cricket pitch or something, just somewhere where you can get used to laps and breaking the distance up

Just remember, your best mile time will help create a framework for all your other running, plus anyone can do a mile!