How to Run a Faster Mile – Routine Included

Last updated on June 18th, 2020

Time to Read: 8 minutes

So you want to know how to run a faster mile. You’re going to need to work on multiple elements of conditioning to encourage more efficient speed. Following a regular regimen that includes interval training, strength training, endurance work, and mechanics is a reliable strategy to take significant time off your mile.

Our top recommendations for how to run a faster mile

Interval Training

running track

During a race, when someone is coming up to the side, we often speed up to a sprint to keep them from overtaking us. The same should be true when you’re racing against yourself and trying to improve your mile time. When you’re training for speed, and you feel like you’re slowing down, imagine that your own self is coming from behind to overtake you. Don’t let it happen.

You know your weak spots. For some people it may be at the beginning of the race. For others, it may be at the end. Many runners doing a mile experience a slump on the third lap.

To improve your mile time, you need to deliberately pick up the pace at the places that are your weak points. Interval training will condition your body to break into an effective speed when needed and will improve your running time.

You can do interval training anywhere, but the best place is the track. The advantage of using an actual track is that one lap will always be 400 meters, and four laps will always be a mile. It takes a lot of guesswork out of your training. On days you can’t get to a track, find a series of constant distances that you can run. Telephone poles are a great example.

At the track, sprint 200 meters then do an easy jog for the remaining 200 meters. Start with six of these and eventually work your way up to eight or ten.

Then, work on longer sprints. 

Run 400 meters at top speed and do an easy jog of another 400 meters. Again, you should start with six and build up to eight or ten. 

Every interval work session should contain half 200-meter sprints and half 400-meter sprints. Use a speed that you can maintain the entire target distance.

Interval training can be done several times a week. The goal here is to condition your body to maintain speed the entire distance. It’ll also build your fast-twitch muscle fibers which are critical for speed.

Endurance Training

Your goal is to run a faster mile, but for reliable speed, you need to ensure that a lack of endurance never gets in the way. Develop the capacity to run much more than one mile at a good clip. This builds both cardiovascular and mental capacity to push through what will become an ultra-short distance of one mile.

On days you are not doing interval training and sprints, set aside time to do a long run, at least once a week. If your current long run during the week is 3 miles, try adding an additional mile to this long run so you will soon be completing one long run of 7 or 8 miles per week.

Building on your longer runs will strengthen your cardiovascular system, which will give you extra power when you are running a fast mile. In addition, getting accustomed to longer distances like 7 or 8 miles will put you at a psychological advantage, because a mile will seem much shorter to you than it did when your longest run was only three miles. You then may be motivated to pick up the speed on the one-mile run.

Increase Stride Turnover

runners feet

When we run, we hit our feet on the ground at a faster pace than we do when we are walking. This becomes even more exaggerated the faster we run. There’s more to running technique than this, but this simple fact should not be ignored by runners who want to improve their one-mile runs. 

The rate that your feet hit the ground is called your stride turnover, and the faster that turnover, the faster you’re going to run.

One of the things that separates a novice runner from a champion is not just speed and endurance, but running technique. A long stride is important, but so is stride turnover. Increasing the number of times your feet hit the ground can improve your speed.

It is essential to find your stride turnover rate and then aim to improve during daily training sessions. Most running coaches encourage runners to aim for 180 strides per minute for speed. If you don’t feel that you are close to that rate, or if you are above it, simply work on improving your own turnover rate. 

To test your rate, you may want to have someone with you to help you count how many times your right foot hits the ground for one minute while you run at your regular 5K pace. Take that number and double it for your turnover rate. Garmin watches can calculate your stride rate for you.

Once you know your turnover rate, you can improve it by running for one minute and trying to increase your foot strike by one additional strike each time. Make sure you are not overstriding. Keep your feet under your hips. You may be tempted to stride out to grab more space, but it is more likely that you will lose speed rather than gain distance.

Use Muscle Tension to Your Advantage

People often think of tension as a negative thing, but the kind of muscle tension that will rev up your speed is not the same kind that you feel when you are sore after a workout. When a muscle has tension in it, it is primed for performance. It is holding energy in a potential state and is getting ready to let loose. Think of it as a coiled spring. The tighter the springs are, the more powerfully they pop out when they are released.

Far from hindering your performance, muscle tension can help you run more efficiently. Dr. Ryan DeBell, founder of the Movement Fix, says, “Muscle contractions are the type of tension you want to use to your advantage when running. For example, when a muscle contracts, it becomes stiffer. You need and want that kind of stiffness. How else would you ever be able to propel yourself forward if you didn’t create stiffness?”

To improve the potential of your muscles to contract and create tension when needed, incorporate strength training in your regimen. Speedwork in interval training will develop strength in your legs, but in addition, do plyometric exercises or weight sessions throughout the training period and 2-3 days before a race. Steve Magness in Runner’s World recommends running on hard surfaces or taking ice baths to increase muscle tension. 

One exercise you can do regularly as part of your warm-up routine is the pogo jump. This will increase strength and acclimate your body to using tension efficiently. Stand with your legs straight and feet apart no wider than your shoulders. Jump as if you were on a pogo stick and keep your body perfectly straight. Do three cycles of ten seconds each.

Run Incline Workouts

running hills

Elevating the running process is a great way to improve speed and power in a relatively short amount of time. The extension and contraction of leg muscles while moving upward and working against gravity encourages your muscles to develop the ability to break out in explosive spurts of speed. In addition, running up stairs and hills develops your anaerobic capacity, which will also help you run faster.

For a hill workout, choose a hill that has an incline of 100 or 200 meters if you can. Warm up with a jog for about 10 minutes. Run up the hill at your regular 5K pace. Run down the hill like a cool down. Beginners should repeat the process two or three times and add one more time every week to build up to ten repeats.

Some runners prefer to use a treadmill for incline workouts to have complete control over the intensity and duration of the incline. However, a treadmill incline can mimic going down a hill, which is a skill you will need to develop if you are running cross country style.

For stair workouts, You can start doing two or three flights and build in an extra flight every week. Walk down for a cool down. You may have to gradually find a building with more flights of stairs as you add on to your incline workout. Schedule your stair workout, high-intensity workout, or interval days about twice a week.

Warm Up for Speed

You can put all of your efforts into a long-term training program, but don’t let all of that work go to waste by not warming up sufficiently before your mile-run sessions or before a race. It is always a good idea to warm up thoroughly before you run to avoid injury and condition your body, but before a race, it is particularly important to prepare your body for top speed. You’ll push yourself hardest on race day, and with this comes your highest risk of overexertion or injury.

Start with a 5 minute light jog. Engage your muscles using your weight with lunges. Extend your leg muscles thoroughly by doing extended leg stretches. Prepare for speed by doing knees-up running exercises. Simply exaggerate your usual running gait by lifting your knees way up high toward your chest. You can also get your muscles moving quickly by moving your legs way back rapidly as if you are trying to kick yourself in the behind.

Routine for How to Run a Faster Mile

You can improve your one-mile speed in four to six weeks by taking the principles stated above and following this regimen.

SundayInterval training. Incline training.
MondayMile runs. Muscle tension and strength exercises.
TuesdayInterval training.
WednesdayMile runs. Muscle tension and strength exercises.
ThursdayInterval training. Incline training.
FridayLong-distance run, adding one mile a week, 8 miles max.
SaturdayRest day (yoga or active rest is also good)
Repeat this for 4-6 weeks and you will see improvement in your one mile runs

Following this plan will give you the strength, speed, interval, and endurance work that will help you improve your mile time. During your warm-up sessions before each workout, include some exercises mentioned above to refine your technique, including the pogo jump and stride turnover work.