Small gains can make a HUGE difference. In the 2% Tougher series, we ask our industry-leading experts to share their approaches to getting incrementally fitter. Every gain matters! First up: Shaving time off of your 1-mile run.
Every Spartan — and every athlete, for that matter — should incorporate the 1-mile distance into their training repertoire.
“It's not that we're trying to turn you into a sprinter,” Chris Hinshaw, a top endurance coach who has worked with more than 30 CrossFit Games champions, says. “We recognize where your priorities lie.”
Sprinting, which you’ll have to do to improve your mile time, increases something called neuroadaptation. This teaches your brain to send the signal to your feet to move faster.
“That ultimately drives a higher level of efficiency," Hinshaw says. "If you can move fast, then — when you move slow— you can move with better quality.”
But besides pure performance gains, doing more high-intensity speed work can help you age more gracefully.
“After the age of 35, we can lose up to 1% off of our VO2 max every year,” Hinshaw says.
One way that you can slow that down is by doing speed work. Convinced yet? Here’s how you can run a faster mile, make 10 miles feel like a breeze, and defy aging.
How to Improve Your Mile Time in 10 Weeks
Find relatively flat ground and head out on a 1-mile run at a pace that’s challenging, but not so challenging that you push yourself to the brink of injury.
“This will establish a benchmark so you can get a good indication of performance improvements over time,” Hinshaw says.
If you’re a beginner, retest after 5 weeks and after 10 weeks. For more experienced athletes, retest only after 10 weeks.
TIP: Hinshaw recommends a “parabolic” pacing strategy, which means that you run the first three 400-meter segments of the mile in the same amount of time — rather than going out super fast and slogging through the last half mile — and push the pace on the final lap. The goal is to finish strong and build confidence.
Phase 1: Strength and Power (Weeks 1, 2, and 4)
Distance athletes that suddenly add in speed work see a dramatic increase in stride length, which can up their risk for such injuries as a hamstring pull, Hinshaw says. Prevent that by starting with hills.
“It’s safer because the foot doesn't have to reach so far to make contact with the ground," he advises. "It actually puts you into a perfect foot strike — landing more on the ball of your foot — which leads to better energy transfer.”
Beyond injury prevention, short hill sprints with adequate recoveries build strength and power, and set the foundation for the faster-paced intervals that are coming up next.
TRY IT: Do this one time per week. Find a hill that you consider steep and challenging to run up. Run 12-second sprints up, and then walk back down, recovering for a total of three minutes. Repeat five or six times.
Phase 2: Pure Speed (Weeks 3 and 5)
Now, take it to flat ground. This is where that neuroadaptation we mentioned earlier comes in.
“The purpose of doing pure speed sprinting is to improve the signal from the brain down to the feet,” Hinshaw says.
TRY IT: Do this one time per week. Find flat ground and sprint 100 meters (or 15 seconds). Rest for three minutes (or until you’re completely recovered), and then repeat for a total of five intervals.
Phase 3: Speed Endurance (Weeks 6 and 7)
“You’re ready for what we call speed endurance, which is taking your pure speed and testing your ability to endure,” Hinshaw says.
Heads-up: This is going to be much more tiring.
“You’re teaching your muscles how to stay turned on,” Hinshaw says. “You want to have an equal time (or distance) from rep one all the way to rep four, so get as much recovery as you need in order to do that.”
TRY IT: Do this one time per week. Find flat ground and run 200 meters (or 30 seconds). Rest three to five minutes, then repeat for a total of four intervals.
Phase 4: Specific Pace (Weeks 8, 9, and 10)
It’s time to put it all together.
“These workouts will help you determine your new 1-mile goal pace,” Hinshaw says.
In particular, pay attention to how long it takes you to run 800 meters. Multiply that by two to determine your 1-mile goal pace.
Week 8: Do 10 reps of 200-meter (or 30-second) intervals with a 2-minute jog in between.
Week 9: Do eight reps of 300-meter (or 45-second) intervals. Walk for 100 meters (or 75 to 90 seconds) in between each. Rest for three minutes between your fourth and fifth reps.
Week 10: Do three reps of 800-meter intervals with five minutes of rest (walk or jog as needed) in between.