Few races or time trials were as painful for me as the mile. Never lasting more than 7ish minutes, the level of effort a mile trial demands always felt brutal.
I’d do one on the track, and before the first of 4 laps was done I was wondering how in hell I was going to manage three more, let alone post a good time.
At the same time, whenever I’d try to pace myself on the mile I’d end up going far too slow out of the gate and no matter how fast I ended up by the end, the end result was always disappointing.
I’d long since figured out how to pace myself in races, but the mile always flummoxed me. The pacing and technique that served me well in 5Ks and longer didn’t work with the mile.
Any distance shorter is mostly about busting ass out of the gate and running as fast as you could. That’s easy. And that doesn’t work for 1500-1609 meters.
But I finally figured it out, how to measure out your max effort in controlled doses and run the best mile you can, on a typical 400 meter track. Once I did this I shattered my mile PR by almost half a minute, and I didn’t even want to die afterward.
The 400 Meter Track Mile:
This requires you have a fairly good idea of your 5K pace, because you’ll start out running at that pace. This also presumes you can run your 5K pace for more than a couple miles without hating your life, and of course that your approach to running 5Ks is a little more nuanced than “go out as hard as you can”.
To start: Find the mile start line (typically marked a bit over 9 meters back from the finish line in lane one). Ideally you can run this trial in or very near lane 1. This way, if someone gets in your way (not everyone practices track etiquette!), you can often go around them without impacting your time.
For every lane out, you add about 7.3 meters, and in turn about 2 seconds, to every lap… which makes the run more than a mile.
Special note if you can’t use lane 1… start halfway around the track in lane 8: In lane 8, run 3.5 laps, keep straight after 3.5 laps, and you’ll reach one mile when you run off the track.
The reason for using lane 8 and not another lane is because on most tracks it’s easy to drift off the track without slowing or adding distance if someone’s in the lane. Same goes if you must drift into lane 6 or 7.
To use other lanes, there’s all sorts of other considerations and complications that may not be worth the trouble.
This will obviously shorten lap 1 by half. When following the Lap 1 advice below, just start by assuming you’re already halfway through the lap, and run fast.
Lap 1: Quickly settle into 5K pace as you make the 1st turn. Once you’re in the backstretch, accelerate like you’re doing a stride (except a stride faster than 5K pace). Focus only on moving your feet more quickly, instead of straining or reaching farther with your steps. Just think “FASTER, SHORTER, QUICKER” instead of “HARDER”. Hold the faster effort until you get to the back turn, and then coast back into 5K effort for the rest of the lap.
Lap 2: As soon as lap 2 starts, accelerate again and keep accelerating through the 1st turn until the backstretch, where you’ll coast back into 5K pace. Get to the back turn, and then accelerate again like before. Keep your foot on the gas until you get to the home stretch, and then coast back into 5K pace until the next lap.
Lap 3: Now you get more serious, as you immediately accelerate to start the lap, and hold the faster pace all the way through the backstretch and however much you can through the back turn. Ideally, you wait until the home stretch to coast back into 5K pace, but if you need to pull up to 5K effort during the back turn then do what feels best. This is the one spot where I advise discretion instead of specifics. The key minimum is to keep that faster pace through the 1st half of the lap into the back turn.
Lap 4: Now it’s time to see what you’re made of. Pick up your pace as fast as you think you can manage for one lap and give it everything you reasonably can for the final lap. It’s okay to pull back a bit on the backstretch if you feel like you’re giving too much to last until the finish, but go as fast as you can think you can hold for the next minute. If you can surge and kick down the home stretch to the finish line, then go for it. But otherwise go for as fast and steady as you can do.