For as much as Americans love telling every person at a dinner party that they ran a marathon last month, the mile is still the racing benchmark. “It has a legacy and a history in this country," says Brian Metzler, lifelong competitive runner and co-author of Natural Running. "Now, whether you’re fast, middle of the pack, or a novice runner, dropping that mile time is important and special because it’s a round, measurable figure.” It’s how we pace ourselves in bigger races, and measure ourselves against our fellow runners. And it’s the distance any serious runner should start at if they’re looking to get faster.
The key to a faster mile is learning how to push your body into the discomfort zone. "If you’re out running the same pace, you’re going to reach a plateau, and your body’s not going to be able to react to processing oxygen any better, because you haven’t trained that way," adds Metzler. But when you do faster workouts, you’ll get to the point where, even though you’re fatigued and you’re worn down, your body has been trained to process oxygen better so you can push through.
Key Workout: A mile warm-up, followed by 6x400m circuit, each at a pace 5-8 seconds faster than your mile pace (if you’re starting at a 6-minute mile pace at 90 seconds per lap, run each lap at 82-85 seconds with a two minute break in between.)