The Open Road Mile: Modifying the mile strategy for non-track courses

Previously I wrote about a strategy for running your best mile on a standard track. Of course, not only do many people not have access to a track, but in many situations you may be asked to run a mile on a course that definitely isn’t a track, e.g. a mile long road race, or a time trial at school, the military, as part of a fitness class, etc.

The strategy I wrote about doesn’t quite work here because it’s built around each of the four laps taken around a track. In fact, as I mentioned when discussing Lane 8, running the mile in a different lane not only changes the start and finish for your mile, but requires you adjust the strategy even then.

So what do you do when you’re running a mile on an unmarked course? Can the strategy be adjusted for that?

Totally. If you don’t have a marked course for your mile, but you at least know you’re running a full mile… this method can be modified by time.

1. Start at your 5K pace or effort and do it for 30 seconds.

2. At 30 seconds, 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 for 30 seconds.

3. Coast back into 5K pace and keep at it for 60 seconds.

4. Accelerate for 30 seconds. Then coast back to 5K pace for 30 seconds. Then accelerate again for 30 seconds.

4a. If you’re a world class runner, you could just stay fast from here and run it out. But you probably don’t need my advice if you’re that good. In fact, sub-5 minute milers can just run their mile like an interval rep with little trouble since anyone can hold a 95%-effort pace for 4-5 minutes and a full out effort isn’t too far above that. But I digress.

5. Coast back into 5K pace for 30 seconds and load up, because now (if you aren’t finishing your mile in 7 minutes or faster) the fast runs are gonna get longer.

6. Accelerate again and keep your steps fast/light/quick for at least 60 seconds. Once you get to 60 seconds, see if you can hold it another 30 seconds. Whenever you need to slow down, do it.

7. Either way, once you coast back to 5K pace stay there for another 30 seconds.

7a. If from any point forward you see your finish line, forget coasting and any other advice below, and just go for it.

8. After that, go for it, as fast as you can reasonably hold the rest of the way. If you can kick and surge through the finish line, do it. Otherwise, just finish as fast you can.

8a. If your mile goal is slower than 8 minutes, you may still have a ways to go… and you are absolutely welcome to coast back to 5K pace for 30 seconds for a breather if you need to. But speed back up after 30 seconds and keep going for it. Use the 30 second breather like a time-out in sports.

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