I know many of you who are into running enjoy the long stuff — half marathons, marathons, ultra marathons, trail running and long distance team relays. Other than an ultra marathon (a race over 26.2 miles), I have raced all of these distances as well with a modicum of success. But if you ask me what distance I enjoy racing the most — and the key word is “racing” — it would be the 1-mile run.
When I was a kid (in the ’70s and early ’80s) they still ran the 1 mile. This was then a feature event in a track meet like the 100 meters is today. And although the 4-minute mile was broken by Sir Roger Bannister in 1954, the allure and intrigue of athletes breaking the 4-minute mile, or seeing how fast they could run four laps around a track, seemed to still mesmerize the country and the world, for that matter. Names like Ryun I knew from hearing about his feats from the 1960s; Coe, Ovett, Cram and Scott had epic battles in 1980s; and Morceli and Guerouj showed the world in the 1990s how truly fast man could run a mile by setting new world records with times of 3:44.39 and 3:43.13, respectively.
The mile was no longer run in nearly all high school state meets by the early 1980s because new tracks were no longer 440 yards, but 400 meters; hence, having now a 1,600-meter race instead of a 1-mile race (1,609 meters) for convenience sake more than anything else. But people still watch in awe and wonder of people who can run a sub-4-minute mile — it’s still quite an achievement, even 60 years after it was done first in Oxford, England.
So, what am I getting at with all this mile mumbo-jumbo history?
Well, as I stated in my opening paragraph, my favorite distance to race is the mile. Why I wrote “race” is because racing a mile and running a mile are two totally different things. And while it’s a great achievement to run 13.1 or 26.2 miles, I would say 99.9 percent of you don’t race it, you run it. This sounds like I’m belittling the half and marathon distances, but hear me out. Most of us who have prepared for these distances (myself included) have one of two goals: finish or run the distance in X-amount of hours and X-amount of minutes. So, essentially, we are not really racing anyone, we are really just giving ourselves a huge time trial goal. This doesn’t mean it’s easy to meet that goal, but you’re not racing or competing against others. If your goal is to run a sub-four-hour marathon and you run 3:58, but come in 403rd — you are elated and could care less about your place.
Track running is different. While times are important, as in all running events, there is something about being on the track with eight to 16 other runners who you can see throughout the entire race that simply get your juices going. Don’t believe me? Have we not all seen the young 20-something guy at the end of a race who looks whipped, but then gets passed by a grandma and somehow finds newfound strength to kick by her just before the finish line — that’s more of a racing mentality (and a fragile ego, I might add). When you can see people right in front of you and also know exactly where the finish line is (as you do when you’re running on a track), it’s hard not to race.
“But what about 5Ks or 10Ks, Dave? I race those,” you say to yourself. “There are certain people I try to beat in those races — so I’m racing, there.” I would agree that you are racing in those circumstances; but having run distances from the 100 meters to the marathon, I can tell you, for me, there is nothing as tactical, beautiful, intense and painful as running an all out mile.
First of all, it’s just fun to run fast, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles. And running a 1 mile the right way is definitely upping the amps in the speed department. It’s a very tactical race, which causes there to be sometimes a race within the race, itself. What I mean by that, is unlike longer distances where it’s very important to stay on the proper pace to reach your target goal, the mile has some wiggle room on when to slow down, when to pick it up, when to kick, etc. When you watch a well run mile it just flows — it’s smooth. You can see real controlled speed and strength throughout this four-lap race and then be amazed by a 200- to 400-meter final kick that would make most sprinters proud. Lastly, it’s a long enough race where you need to think about what you’re doing, but short enough that you can push yourself to paces you really didn’t think you were capable of.
So, now you just have to find a mile to run and figure out how fast to run it. While there are not that many competitive mile races on the track for adults, there are running groups that have periodic mile time trials at certain times of the month or you could simply get some of your running buddies together, jump on a local track, move 9 meters behind the starting line and then run four laps and see who is your group’s “mile champion.” In regard to how fast to run a mile, if you’ve never tried one, I would suggest taking 40-60 seconds off of your 5K mile pace as a good place to start. So, if you run an 8-minute-mile for your 5K, you would try to run somewhere between 7:00-7:20 for an all out mile.
Send me some mile times — I’d love to read about how your 1-mile race went. Good luck!
• David Allison has been a resident of Ahwatukee since 2005. He has a personal marathon best of 2:27 and was a Division I athlete at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the owner of Marathon Coaching Consultants and also the co-founder of Phoenix Flyers Track Club, both in Ahwatukee. Please send comments and questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.