How To Run A 5 Minute Mile

If the running of a sub-4 mile is a benchmark for most modern-day elite athletes, the running of the mile under 5 minutes is for the ambitious amateur athlete.

For a lot of runners, the question they get asked time and time again is have you run a marathon – or indeed how many marathons have you run. 

There remains a fascination with the mile distance. Fads come and go but the mile retains its magic. The true acid test of any runner is how fast he/she can run a mile. Four laps to the mile, perfect symmetry for the perfect distance.

Nowadays there are more and more people training and preparing for longer distance events like the marathon. The type of training and preparation for running the mile is different from that needed to run well over longer distances like 10k, half marathons, and marathons.

A 5-minute mile is a big achievement. Beginners usually average 12 to 15 minutes a mile, and more experienced runners may hit 8 to 10 minutes per mile.

The 4 to 5-minute-per-mile mark is usually a mark of being an experienced and talented runner. Elite athletes can maintain this pace for a marathon-length race! But if you’re aiming for one mile at a 5-minute/mile pace, that’s quite doable for less elite runners.

Training Tips To Reach A 5 Minute Mile

5-Minute Mile Pacing – Train At The Target Pace

The mile distance comes from the imperial measurement system and is the equivalent of 1609m in the metric system. As the mile is 4 laps of a traditional running track, you’ll be attempting to run each lap in 75 seconds. 

To get used to this pace, start by running a series of 10-12 repetitions of 200m at the target pace of 75 seconds per 400m, taking a 60-second recovery.

As you get more comfortable with this pace, add 100m to the repetition and complete 6-8 repetitions of 300m, with a 75-second recovery. The next progression is 6-8 repetitions of 400m, with a 90-second recovery.

As you get fitter and close to attempting your sub-5 minute mile race, you can attempt the following session: 3 x 600m with a 4-minute recovery.

The longer recoveries will be needed as running at your target race pace over this distance will result in a build-up of high levels of lactic acid in your muscles.

Remember although the sprinting speed of the athlete is important, it is the ability to sustain the target pace over the whole distance that is key. 

Therefore, the development of speed endurance is critical. It is no good being able to run at the target pace in training with overly long recoveries as you won’t have 2 minutes rest during the race.

Speed Development: Train At Faster Than Race Pace

Working on your speed is an important part of the process and will enable you to ultimately feel comfortable running at your target race pace. One method of achieving this is to get your body used to run at speeds quicker than your target race pace.

This means that you need to have the ability to run quicker than this 5-minute mile pace for shorter distances. For instance, if you attempted to run in an 800m race or ran that distance as a time trial, you’d hopefully be able to run it around 2.20. That is an average of 70 seconds per lap. 

And if you decided to run 1 lap of the track as fast as you can 400m (100% effort), you’d be hoping to run it as close to 63 seconds or below. If you have this base speed, then the breaking of the 5 minutes for the mile is attainable. Your target 800m pace is 35 seconds per 200m or 70 seconds per 400m. 

Some useful sessions are as follows: 10 x 200m with a 90-second recovery, 8 x 300m with a 2-minute recovery or 4 x 400m. To further develop your speed, you can include the following sessions: 5 x 300m (4-minute recovery) and 8 x 200 (2-minute recovery). These should be run at your target 400m pace of 32 seconds for the 200m and 48 seconds per 300m repetition.

These sessions will be tough, and it is recommended you run very easy the days after this session. Moreover, remember that at this intensity and speed, you’ll be putting your body under a lot of stress, so don’t forget to complete a comprehensive warm-up that includes some fast strides before starting the sessions, and is important to do a proper cool down afterwards.

The Importance Of Tempo Runs

When moving from an aerobic to an anaerobic state, your body will start to fatigue with the onset of lactic acid. Tempo runs help build your lactate threshold (LT), which is critical for running faster.

Your LT is the point at which lactic begins to accumulate in muscles. This build-up of lactic acid in the muscles leads to the fatigue, burning sensation and soreness that runners experience when running hard.

If you can increase your LT by doing tempo runs, you can delay this onset of lactic acid and run faster without suffering muscle fatigue.

Start off with 2 x 10 minutes at the tempo pace of 3.45 minutes/km or 6 minutes/mile and then build up to a continuous effort of 20 minutes.

Increase Your Aerobic Capacity

The mile event is considered 50% aerobic and 50% anaerobic. Thus, in addition to the outline of the anaerobic session above, you should also dedicate some sessions to work on your aerobic capacity.

For instance, you could incorporate both 3k and 5k-paced sessions into your programme. Your target 3k pace is 3.18 minutes/km, 5.16 minutes/mile or 79 seconds per 400m.

Some of the sessions that work well are 8-12 repetitions of 400m in 79 seconds followed by a 90-second recovery. As your aerobic strength improves, you can include longer intervals such as 500m and 600m at the 3k pace with a 2-minute recovery.

In addition, try running 4 repetitions of 1000m at your target 5k pace (3.28 minutes/km, 5.32 minutes/mile or 83 seconds per 400m) with a 2-minute recovery. This will also be a good test of how well you can maintain your concentration over longer distances.

Race Strategy

Run with the Pacers. If you can find companions who are willing to help you reach the objective of completing a mile in under 5 minutes, it would benefit you greatly.

There will inevitably be a point in the race where you will be feeling uncomfortable, and you will need to maintain concentration and focus to hold your target pace.

Luckily by following the training advice described earlier, you’ll have already experienced this uncomfortable feeling and your body will be accustomed to dealing with it.

Target An Even Pace. Attempt to keep a steady speed while completing the four laps. If you move too quickly when running, such as at 72 seconds per lap, you might find yourself out of breath sooner than desired, and lactic acid build-up will make you tired.

Improve Running Form

First and foremost, you should get your running form sorted out. We all have small improvements that can be made, and your form could be the difference between making it and failing.

The easiest and quickest way to find your own flaws is to have a friend or family member video you while you’re running. Or you could use a tripod to record yourself.

Using a smartphone, it is straightforward to accomplish this and the video quality should be satisfactory for the task. The optimal technique for making a landing is to come down on the centre of your foot and have your foot in line with your hips. You should be raising your heels up until they reach the same level as the ground, if not higher.

And you should be actively using your arms to propel yourself forward, bringing your hands up to your chin on the forward swing and down to the hip on the backswing.

If you find changing your form difficult, consider hiring a running coach, even if it is just for a short period. Once your body is in the habit of running with the correct form, it’ll be much easier to keep it up without thinking.

Build Up Your Base

Building up your base fitness and endurance is extremely important. Although one mile doesn’t seem long, there’s no point in being able to run it if you don’t plan on extending it to longer races.

The only way to build up your running stamina is to train often. You should be getting in 5 days of training per week, for at least 6 to 12 weeks before even considering adding speed drills into your training.

Introducing speed training too early can invite an injury, which will only set you back on your 5-minute mile quest.

If you’re serious about this goal, accept that it will take time. You’ll need to be dedicated and consistent. Rushing through this kind of training will not only be far less effective, but you’ll have more chance of injury.

Also, once you’ve built up your endurance, you’re in the best position possible to push forward to things like 5K races at your 5-minute mile pace.

Hill Repeats

Hill repeats help you to build up strength and stamina. If you have a hill nearby (200 to 400 meters, preferably), then this type of training is ideal.

If it’s close enough for you to jog to as a warm-up, even better! If not, that’s okay. You can use an incline treadmill to get the same kind of workout.

Whether you’re on a treadmill or a real hill, begin with 4 to 5 reps up the hill. Go all out as much as you can to get to the top. Then you can jog back down, using that as your rest time. Then back to the next rep.

You should work on increasing to 8 or 10 reps in one session. This kind of training is excellent for building leg strength, stamina, and cardiovascular endurance.

Strength Training

Adding strength training to your exercise routine is an excellent way of boosting your performance. In fact, neglecting this part of training can actually have a detrimental effect on your efforts to hit that 5-minute mile.

While focusing on building muscle in the legs is important, don’t neglect the rest of the body. Balance is essential! You need to work both your upper and lower body.

If you like to lift heavy, that’s quite all right. Just make sure you’re doing it with proper form and not being too ambitious. But if you’re new to lifting weights, it’s safer and easier to focus on lower weights but more repetitions.

Use a weight that you can lift fairly easily. Your aim should be 20 to 30 reps per set and 3 to 4 sets per exercise. You should target the major muscle groups at least once a week (chest, back, shoulders, arms, and legs).

Short Speed Workouts

Start incorporating speed workouts into your training once you’ve been working on your base fitness for at least 6 weeks. These kinds of drills involve a set number of reps of a particular distance. Typically, you’ll be aiming for your 5-minute mile target pace in these sessions.

An example would be 10 to 12 reps of a 200-meter distance. Based on your 5-minute pace, you should aim to run these in 37.5 seconds each, with a minute of resting time in between each one.

If you can, it’s easiest to do these on the track so you know exactly how long 200 meters is. If you can’t, you’ll have to measure it out yourself to make sure you’re hitting the right distance.

Tempo Runs (10 Minutes or longer)

Tempo runs are sort of easy runs at a mid-range pace. They’re not at your race pace, but they’re faster than your recovery pace. A tempo run comes in at about 25 to 30 seconds slower per mile than your average 5k pace.

You may feel like this is kind of worthless. Why does a training run at this in-between kind of pace? Well, there are some specific, helpful benefits to tempo runs.


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