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How To Run a 5-Minute Mile

Whether you're a recreational runner or are training for your 11th marathon, running a five-minute mile is a worthy goal to pursue.

A 5-minute mile isn’t just another number. Like many other benchmarks, five minutes for a mile is what many would say define a serious runner. To break it, you’ll need to combine solid speed with a strong endurance base.

To get there, you need to be willing to follow the right training approach.

If you’re determined to run a mile in five minutes, here are some steps that will help you get there, from an exact training plan to racing strategy advice.

Average Mile Speed

The current world record for the fastest mile is held by the legendary Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj, clocking it 3 minutes and 43.13 seconds. The women’s record belongs to Sifan Hassan with a time of 4 minutes and 13.33 seconds.

A 5-minute mile may seem like a far cry from these world records, but it’s still really impressive. It’s also a super competitive time that only a few runners around the world run each year.

Of course, don’t take my word for it. The average mile time for a non-competitive but relatively in shape runner is around 8 to 10 minutes. A complete beginner might complete one mile in 12 to 15 minutes as they improve their endurance.

In other words, running a five-minute mile can put ahead of the average runner by up to three to five minutes.

aerial view of group of runners on a trackSource: Steven Lelham on Unsplash

The Requirements of Running a Five-Minute Mile

Before you go ahead and you start training for a 5-minute mile, there are a few prerequisites you need to have. Otherwise, it is recommended you try to attain them before reaching for this mile time.

Let’s explain each:

Your Running Experience

I hate to break it to you, but you shouldn’t expect to run a 5-minute mile right out of the gate as a beginner runner.

It takes most runners at least two years of consistent training to get there. So, at the very least, you should be running regularly for the past six months, covering at least 30 miles per week. A 5-minute mile is a challenge after all.

Your Talent

Though training helps a lot, many physiological factors directly impact athletic performance, some genetically influenced.

For example, research has reported that the trainability and value of VO2 max, which is the highest amount of oxygen uptake during intense training, to be roughly 50 percent heritable.

That’s not the whole story. Genetics also influence your balance of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibres, injury susceptibility, mobility, and overall endurance potential—all variables playing a crucial role in how fast and far you can run.

For this reason, I believe only a few runners can run a sub-5-minute mile. That’s why even if you follow the training guidelines below, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to run a mile in under five minutes.

That being said, everyone can improve their speed and endurance, no matter their genetics.

Your Current Mile Time

If your best current time is seven minutes or above for the mile, then don’t be disappointed if you had to put in extra months of training to get this down to around five minutes.

Your Motivation

Running a 5-minute mile is hard. You’ll need plenty of motivation, discipline, and consistency to achieve it.

Are you willing to do the work? The answer will determine your course of action. The fact that you’re here reading this article is a step in the right direction. The rest is up to you.

runners attempt a 5-minute mileSource: leah hetteberg on Unsplash

Training Strategies for a 5-Minute Mile

If you already are in relatively good shape and believe you have what it takes to run a 5-minute mile, the following strategies should set you on the right path.

Set A Starting Point

You cannot improve on what you cannot measure. This is especially the case when you’re trying to improve your mile time.

That’s why one of the most underrated training strategies is keeping track of running time. This not only tells you how fast—or slow—you’re improving but also motivates you to keep pushing forward.

To set your benchmark mile time, start by warming up for 10 to 15 minutes. Next, jog for a few minutes, then perform a series of dynamic exercises, such as inchworms, squats, leg swings, etc., as well as a few strides to get your body up to speed.

Next, run a mile as fast as you can – a mile is equivalent to four laps around a standard track, plus about 10 yards.

Note your time in your training schedule. This way, you can easily keep track of your progress as the weeks go by.

Know the Right Pace

The mile distance is the equivalent to 1,609 meters, for those of you who use the metric system. The mile is also equal to four laps of a standard running track with an additional 9 meters from the start line.

For a runner to break the 5-minute mile, they would need to run each lap in around 75 seconds—that’s roughly a 3.08 min/km pace or (obviously) a 5.00 min/mi pace.

On a treadmill? Running a five-minute mile is the equivalent of 12 mph (19.4 kph) on the treadmill.

Do Speedwork

Improving your speed is a vital part of the process.

  • To get your body adapted to running at such speed, perform a series of at least ten repetitions of 200-meter reps at the goal pace of 75 seconds per 400 meters. This means 37.5 seconds per 200-meter interval, then taking a one-minute jogging break.
  • As you get fitter, increase this session to 300-meter intervals and shoot for eight to ten repetitions, with 60 to 90 seconds recovery.
  • As the weeks go by and get you closer to your 5-minute mile race/test, you can try the following session: 5 X 600-meter with 2-minute recovery or 74 seconds per 400-meter.

Hill Training

To take your intervals to the next level, try hill training. Embracing the hills is a great way to strengthen your lower body and improve your anaerobic fitness.

Here’s how to get started.

Choose a hill that will take you two to three minutes to reach the top at a relaxed speed. This not only ensures that you’re building endurance but muscle as well.

Start your hill climb at a relaxed pace. Once you’re halfway, pick up the pace until you’re running as fast as you can for the remaining section. Jog down for recovery, then repeat three to four times.

Finish the session with a 10-minute jog cool-down.

It’s advised you don’t try to push your body too hard by doing too many hill reps a week. This training method is brutal and will take a toll on your body. Pay attention to how you’re feeling.

Build your Endurance

Running a fast mile also requires a strong base of aerobic conditioning. Therefore, consider the mile distance as 50 percent aerobic and 50 percent anaerobic.

That’s where long runs come into the picture.

Doing a long run per week will improve your endurance levels, which will result in faster times—whether it’s the mile or a marathon. Long runs also build mental strength. This, in turn, will help you push through fatigue and discomfort in competition.

I’d recommend that you complete a 10- to 12-mile run, shooting for an average pace of seven to eight minutes per mile.

For example, if your current longest run is eight miles and your total weekly mileage is 30 miles, add about 1-2 miles per week until your long run is around 12 miles and total weekly mileage at around 40 miles. You can accomplish this by increasing your total mileage by up to 10 percent each week.

Increase Your Lower Body Strength

Speedwork and long runs build a very solid base, but stronger leg muscles can make the difference when your cardio wanes.

Here’s the truth: lifting weights is a great way to get faster. Strength training can help you increase your stride length, thus improving your sprinting speed. It also protects against injury and offers plenty of other benefits for runners.

And please don’t take my word for it. Research out of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning has reported that runners who lift weights regularly experienced improvements in their VO2 max, lactate threshold, running economy, and muscular tendon stiffness.

At a minimum, I’d recommend lifting two to three times per week. Some of the best runner-friendly strength exercises include:

female runner sprints to build enduranceSource: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Race Day Tips

Feel ready to race? Perfect. Follow these strategies to make sure you’re making the most out of your mile race/test.

Warm-up properly

I cannot emphasize this enough. At a minimum, perform a 15-minute dynamic warm-up (just like described above) to increase your heart rate, activate your muscles, and get the motion down and into your body.

Get your mind in the game

Although running a 5-minute mile is primarily a physical challenge, the mental game also matters. And it matters a lot.

Make sure to breathe deep, relax, focus, and picture yourself finishing that mile in precisely five minutes or less.

Shoot for an even pace

Do your best to run each of the four laps at an even pace. For example, if you set out too fast and run for 71 seconds, you might find yourself unable to keep up the speed for the rest of the distance.

You really don’t want that.

Even if the test is only one mile, running a pretty consistent pace is vital for success.

Good luck!

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