Top Ten Ways How to Improve Your Mile Time or 1600 Meter Performance
By Rick Morris
The mile is a very challenging distance that requires a combination of speed, endurance and stamina. Training to maximize your levels at all three phases can be a tricky proposition. Here are our top ten ways how to improve your mile time or 1600 meter performance.
The mile is a power run. If you’re going to maximize your mile or 1600 meter performance you need to develop your ability to quickly generate a lot of speed and power. That requires strong muscles. Stronger, more powerful muscles will increase your stride length and decrease your ground contact time. Think of your leg muscles as rubber bands. When a strong rubber band stretches and contracts quickly it will fly across the room with a lot of power. A weak rubber band will just flop ineffectively. You can’t do much to strengthen a rubber band but you can strengthen your muscles with a well designed and periodized strength training program. Include strength training in your year round program and you will reach new mile PR’s. This building of a strong base is a great place to start on how to improve your mile time.
Strong muscles give you the potential to generate a lot of speed and power but you need another element to finish the power equation – explosive strength. You need to be able use your strength to generate power and forward momentum very quickly. How do you do that? Simple – just include explosive strength training or plyometrics in your training program. High intensity plyometrics will train your muscles to very quickly and efficiently release the energy stored during the “loading” phase and greatly increase your power and speed while decreasing your speed sapping ground contact time.
Warm Up Dynamically
One of the myths of running that seems to hang on is that you should perform static stretching exercises before a race or training run. It has been proven that pre race static stretching not only does little to prevent injuries but it also may decrease your race performance. Pre race static stretching has been shown to decrease your muscle stiffness and reduce the ability of your muscles to produce explosive power. Static stretching may also cause a decrease in your “stretch reflex” which inhibits your muscles ability to efficiently use stored energy. A better warm up routine is to do your normal cardiovascular warm up followed by functional dynamic drills. The dynamic drills or stretches will prepare your muscles for high intensity running without reducing your performance levels. You should still do some static stretching after your race as a cool down activity and to maintain range of motion.
Build Your Endurance
The mile and 1600 meter distances may be relatively short but that doesn’t mean you don’t need a high level of endurance. One way to illustrate the importance of endurance in even a short race like the mile is to compare it to a longer race distance. If you are training for a 5K you would never consider limiting your long run to 3 or 4 miles. If the longest run you can perform is at or just further than your goal race distance you will never be able to run your goal race at a quality race pace. This also applies to the mile. If your longest training run is only a mile or two there is no way you can run a quality mile race pace. Including a weekly long run in your training routine will improve your endurance level and will get you on your way to a new PR. You don’t need to do the weekly 20 plus milers that longer distance racing requires but try to build up to between 8 and 12 miles on a consistent basis.
Be a Sprinter
This may seem like a no brainer but many milers and 1600 meter runners leave sprint training out of their weekly routine. Running at over speed or faster than race pace during practice will build your foot speed, improve your neuromuscular conditioning and make you a more efficient runner. One good way to include sprint training is by doing five to ten 100 meter strides or sprints at the end of each training session.
Hill training is one of the bread and butter workouts for mid and long distance runners. Hill running is one of the most efficient ways to build your running strength. Try to include both uphill and downhill running at least one time per week. The uphill running is great for increasing your running strength and power. Downhill running is one of the best workouts you can perform for improving your running economy, neuromuscular conditioning and muscle elasticity.
It’s obvious that mile and 1600 meter racing is physically tough. Maintaining race pace during the final lap when your legs feel like blocks of solid granite and every molecule in your body is screaming at you to stop is one of the toughest tasks in running. That’s where both physical and mental toughness will pay huge benefits. How do you build your physical and mental toughness? One way is to practice running at very high intensities when you are already in a highly fatigued state. At the end of a hard training run or repeat fight the temptation to slow down. Instead speed up to your finishing kick pace. Finishing each training run or repeat at a sprint pace will toughen you both physically and mentally as well as conditioning your central nervous system. Fast finish training also gives you the added benefit of improving your all important finishing kick.
One of my favorite inspirational quotes is “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you keep getting what you’ve always gotten.” Running is one activity where that is very true. If you keep training at your current level your performance level will stagnate. You will keep getting what you’ve always gotten. You should always be training progressively. As your fitness level increases you should be increasing the intensity and duration of your training. The distance of your long runs should increase as your endurance level builds. When doing interval training on the track you should be adjusting either your pace, the distance of your repeats, your recovery time or a combination of those training elements. No matter what your level of running and fitness is you should always be pushing yourself with progressive training.
Train for your Goal
The next time you go on a road trip just hop in your car and start driving. Don’t have any goal in mind; just get in your car and go. Where will you end up? Who knows – you could end up anywhere. You may have fun on a trip like that but you aren’t going to accomplish much. This same scenario applies to your mile and 1600 meter running. If you don’t have a goal in mind your training will be somewhat aimless and you’ll have more than a little trouble in getting anywhere. Make sure you have a goal pace or finishing time before your start training. Then design your workouts around that goal time. With a specific goal in mind your workouts will be more effective and you will have a way to measure your progress.
Dorsiflex your Foot
One of the most important and often ignored components of your training and your running mechanics is ground contact time. To develop maximal speed and power you need to minimize your ground contact time. Developing your muscle elasticity, strength and power will help you do that but you also need to put your foot, ankle and legs into the proper mechanical position to take advantage of that strength. The first motion in your stride should be lifting the front of your foot to a dorsiflexed or “toes up” position. That will initiate the “runners triad” of a flexed hip, flexed knee and dorsiflexed foot. Keep your foot in that dorsiflexed position throughout your stride, especially at touchdown. Your toes up position is similar to cocking a gun. Your foot, ankle, Achilles tendon and calf muscles are ready to load up with elastic energy and release without the energy waste caused by a toes down position.
The role of elastic energy in activities with high force and power requirements: a brief review, Wilson JM, Flanagan, EP, J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Sep;22(5):1705-15
Effect of high-intensity strength training on performances of competitive runners, Hamilton RJ, Paton CD, Hopkins WG, Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2006 Mar;1(1):40-9
Static stretching impairs sprint performance in collegiate track and field athletes, Winchester JB, Nelson AG, Landin D, Young MA, Schexnayder IC, J Strength Cond Res, 2008 Jan;22(1):13-9
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