Training for the mile is something youve probably never dreamt of doing, but the change of focus and the variety in the schedule can be fun, and may also yield surprising benefits when you go back to racing over longer distances. Here are some key points to consider if you are lured by the four-lap challenge. Remember to be sensible changes to your routine should be controlled and gradual, so dont go sprinting out of your back door tomorrow, or youre more likely to end up limping to the physios couch.
1. Quality sessions
Being of a shorter duration and a higher intensity, miling requires a greater amount of anaerobic work than races of 10K and longer. This means that you have to train your body to combat the rapid onset of fatigue which results from faster anaerobic work. The best way to do this is to run interval sessions. The duration of the repetitions should be short, because youll be running at a speed equal to or faster than your desired mile time. Try 8 x 1 minute fast, with a minute of walking or very slow jogging inbetween as recovery. This should be preceded by a good warm-up and stretching exercises, and should also be followed by a gentle jog to cool down. Its best to progress by trying to increase the pace at which you run the reps in successive sessions, rather than increasing the volume, because you are after all training your body to run faster.
Running speed is dictated by two factors: stride length and stride rate. Developing flexibility of the correct muscles will help you to increase your stride length without overstraining. Theres a danger that if you over-exaggerate the length of your stride, therell be a loss of mechanical efficiency, so its important that it is the more supple muscles that give the extra length on your stride, rather than energy-sapping over-bounding. Concentrated exercise should work on the flexibility of the muscles in the hamstrings, gluteals, calves, groin and quad areas. Hold stretches for at least 30 seconds. Its very important that you stretch these muscles after exercise, too, because the increased intensity will lead to muscle tightening and stiffness. Self-massage will also help to counter this tightening.
3. Downhill running
Increasing your stride rate will also help to boost your speed. The most effective way to do this is to do some downhill running, where you are almost forced to move your legs quicker. Its important that you do this in a safe manner, to avoid the obvious injury problems. First you need to find a stretch of grass with a very gentle downslope. If youre running fast on grass, you must select an even path, as the chance of turning an ankle on uneven ground is greater at higher speed. It makes sense to do this sort of work-out when youre relatively fresh, but warmed up; following a 20-30-minute run will thus be better than after your long Sunday effort. A good way to structure the run is to stretch, and then do six to eight strides at fast speed, with a walk-back recovery. The emphasis should be on a fast pick-up of the legs.
There is a strong association between muscle strength and speed, which is partly why most sprinters are bulky creatures and marathon runners are frail waifs. Improving your strength will help to improve your miling, but you need to work on the right muscles. As youll be on your toes more in the mile than in a long-distance race, it will help to strengthen the calves with a series of calf raises. Youll also need driving quads, and half squats will strengthen these muscles. At first, your body weight alone will provide sufficient resistance, but you may start holding weights when you want to progress.
5. Tethered work
Any form of fast running that is made harder by external resistance is going to help your running speed. This sort of session is best done in pairs, and there are a number of different methods. Towing a tractor tyre is a favourite among sprinters, but may be a little excessive for the distance runner. However, harness running in pairs can work well. You dont need specialist equipment: an old bicycle inner tube around the waist can be very effective, with your partner standing behind you and holding it. If your wallet allows, you could buy a speed chute: this consists of a parachute that attaches to a waistband and offers resistance while youre running. Naturally, your efforts in any of these sessions are going to be short about 50 metres at a time, repeated several times with a couple of minutes recovery, to maintain quality.
6. Race over shorter
The best way to race faster on the track is to race more on the track. But you dont have to run endless mile races; indeed, it makes sense to vary the distances you compete at. A 3000m or 5000m race will probably be the best introduction to track racing, and as your confidence grows, you can come down a distance. If you get really serious about miling, you could even sharpen up with an 800m race! If you have a particular target in mind, it makes sense to race at least once under-distance and once or twice over-distance. If you are going to race on the track, do make sure that you have trained on the track first. This will help your muscles to get used to the new environment, as well as educating you a little in the world of pace judgement. The most effective way to run fast track times is with a relatively even pace, but this takes time and skill to learn.
7. Think like a miler!
It should be a refreshing change to have a bash at the mile, but your attitude must change to meet the new demand things happen very quickly in a race of this duration. Decide in advance what pace you want to run at and calculate your desired quarter-mile splits. When the race starts, its important not to get carried away if the field goes off very fast; you must be disciplined and run at a pace that suits you. Having said that, if you are feeling good with less than a lap to go, dont be afraid to take a risk and make a bold strike for home you may even find that you pass people up the home straight in your dash for the line!