The mile is a notorious running distance, most linked, perhaps, with a middle school or high school time trial in gym class. It's short, yes, but if done right it is hard, physically and mentally, says Olympian and five-time Fifth Ave Mile champion, Nick Willis.
"It's only a mile, but you have to be 100 percent dialed-in and focused," Willis, co-owner of Miler Method, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "You have to be willing to hurt for the whole distance."
New runners often target a 5K for their first race, thanks to its manageable distance and popularity. But covering one mile, no matter how fast, is an attainable goal for which you can test yourself as frequently as once a month, Willis says.
Average Mile Time and Pace
Like all average pace times, the average time for finishing one mile varies, thanks to factors, including age, sex and experience. It's particularly difficult to pinpoint the average one-mile time because so few people test their fitness for just one mile. But you can look at the average pace times across several distances, including the marathon, half marathon, 10K and 5K to get a better idea of where you might fall for one mile.
These running statistics break down average mile paces for men and women for the marathon, half marathon, 10K and 5K, according to the 2019 State of Running Report by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and RunRepeat.com.
The report notes that the slower pace times for 10K and 5K compared to the half marathon pace times might be due to more novice runners choosing those shorter distances over the marathon or half marathon.
2019 National Average Times for 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon
13:21 minutes per mile
11:22 minutes per mile
11:12 minutes per mile
9:21 minutes per mile
10:14 minutes per mile
9:07 minutes per mile
11:47 minutes per mile
10:48 minutes per mile
Remember: Running one mile is likely going to be faster than running multiple miles at a time. For example, if you run a 30-minute 5K (3.1 miles), you might expect to run one hard mile in about 9 minutes, or about 30 to 45 seconds faster than your 5K pace, explains sub 4-minute miler and coach, Brandon Hudgins.
"But that's a gross generalization," Hudgins, a 1500-meter runner, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Hudgins, who studied exercise science and has hands-on experience in high school physical education classes, says that the average mile time for students running a mile is roughly 10 minutes.
World Record One-Mile Times
The current IAAF world records for the outdoor mile are:
- Women's: Sifan Hassan, 4:12:33 (2019)
- Men's: Hicham El Guerrouj, 3:43:13 (1999)
Prepping for Your First One-Mile Race
Marathons, which cover 26.2 miles, require endurance, and sprints require speed and power. But the mile requires a little bit of everything.
"In order to optimally run the mile, you have to cover all facets of running," he says. "That includes speed, but your endurance and power have to be well-trained. The mile will make you a more well-rounded athlete," Willis says.
1. Time Your Fastest Mile
Before jumping into a training program, you want to make sure you can complete a full mile without stopping, Willis says. Once you've done that, you'll want to test yourself with a time trial — the fastest time it takes you to complete a mile.
2. Add Longer, Slower Runs to Your Routine
It might seem counterintuitive to add slower miles to your training, but the more you can go the distance, the faster your average mile time will get. When you have a baseline of your one-mile fitness, it's important to add endurance. "Slowly build up the amount of time you can spend running each day or every few days without injury," Willis says.
When you go for longer, slower runs or jogs, the average pace per mile should be slow enough to allow you to have a conversation with a running partner, Willis explains.
"If you're not able to talk comfortably, you're not jogging anymore. You're going too fast and then it becomes a hard, strenuous run," he says. Hard, strenuous runs, he says, should only happen, at most, three times a week.
For newbies, the jogging pace might be a walk-run: Run a mile at a conversational pace, walk a mile. "If you don't have former fitness, trying to jog for a period of time is like doing a strenuous workout because you don't yet have the fitness you need to hold a jogging pace," Willis says.
Hudgins likes to use an effort scale with his clients when gauging pace. For example, easy runs should be about a three or four out of 10, with one being the easiest and 10 being maximum effort (or in other words, feeling like you're going to throw up, Hudgins says.)
"I'm constantly battling people and their GPS watches and heart rate monitors," Hudgins says. "I love data and hard numbers, but I spend most of my time as a coach talking about running by feel. You shouldn't be looking at your watch every 10 seconds."
3. Run for the Hills to Increase Power
As you build your endurance, it's important to also increase your power and strength. Willis recommends hill running, which he calls the secret to improving speed.
"The beauty of hills is you don't get the same impact on your joints as running intervals on the track, but you still get your heart rate and muscles working just as hard," he says.
An example of a hill workout is running up a steep hill for 30 seconds and walking or jogging back down. Repeat 10 times.
In addition to building endurance over longer, slower runs, and hill workouts, Willis recommends shorter, faster intervals to get the legs used to a fast turnover. An example of this type of interval workout might be 8 x 200 meters (FYI, that's half a lap on a track) at your goal mile pace.
4. Strength Train Wisely
Hudgins reiterates the importance of hill workouts, but when it comes to strength training for mile training, he says it depends on how much time a person has. (Try tacking on this 15-minute core workout at the end of your run.)
"I'd rather you run more or do hill sprints," he says, noting that runners won't see speed improvements after strength training unless they focus on an intense program.
5. Train for the Course
While most runners who are testing their speed in a one-mile race will head to a flat, soft track on race day, Hudgins says running on more challenging terrain can help improve strength and speed.
"If you can sprint up a hill, you'll be fine on a track," he says.
But if you're running your one-mile race on the road, it's important, then, to train on terrain that mimics it or is harder than your race course, Hudgins says.
Boost Your One-Mile Pace With These Running Workouts
Improving Your One-Mile Pace
Once you've got a few one-mile races or time trials under your belt, it's time to focus on getting faster. Willis emphasizes the importance of not overtraining and giving your body time to rest and recover.
"Get in a solid block of training and then rest up, get a spring back into your legs, and that's when you'd try again," he says, recommending a trial or race each month or every two months.
Hudgins instructs his athletes to "heat and sleep" on their days off. Applying heat to muscles immediately after a workout has been shown to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), according to a July 2017 study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. Foam rolling might also help relieve tightness or soreness.
As you improve, increase your total weekly mileage to build your endurance. Focus on faster running, whether that's hills or intervals, once or twice a week and push the pace, Willis says. In other words, run those workouts faster.
"But don't push in too many areas," he says. "Try to increase the speed of your faster workouts and increase your total volume [of mileage], but keep the recovery runs the same."
Want to PR Your Next Race? Here's How to Increase Your One-Mile Pace