Racing the Mile, by Jonathan Hayden, July 2010

Back in the Day: Racing the Mile For Road Runners (Published in June, 2010, Empire Runners Newsletter) 

Do you want to brighten up your longer races and run faster? Try running the Mile on the track. With a solid strategy road runners can learn how to race the Mile with style and finish strong.

The Mile

Throughout track’s history the Mile or 1500 meters has been a showcase event. In Europe every summer the Mile/1500 Meters is one of the featured events at every professional track meet. At the Olympics, it has become a signature event like the 100 Meters. The reason is the race itself demands a balance of strength and speed. The media has focused on the rivalries between gifted athletes as they challenged both the clock and each other. Whether it’s an Olympic final or a local track meet, the Mile is always the featured event for fans and racers alike. In my opinion it’s how these athletes race the distance that sparks the fans interest.  The appeal of the Mile is that it is a tactical race.

How to Race the Mile

Watch the elite track athletes race the Mile/1500 Meters and you’ll notice that each lap represents part of a strategy. We can all learn some techniques from this that will assist us in racing the distance successfully and getting the most out of our abilities.  That’s one of the reasons why watching the top milers race is so much fun. Here’s a race strategy that will help you enjoy the race and finish strong.

Lap 1- The Start: After the “gun” goes off, relax, stay calm and glide along with the pace around the first turn. Then just settle in with a group of runners at a comfortable pace and try not to change speeds very much. Stay in the first lane as much as possible and don’t let yourself drift to the outside. You will save time and distance over the race if you stay in the first lane. Think of it like riding in the peleton of a bike race or running with a large group down a narrow street. Just “sit in” and enjoy the ride. The idea is to just get comfortable with the pace that works for you and let the front runners break the wind.

Lap 2- Relax and maintain your position in the field. By this time the runners who have gone out too fast are starting to fade a bit and the rest are mostly holding their pace. You can do the same. It may feel a bit faster, but chances are you’ll be running the same pace as the first lap.

Lap 3- This is where the real race begins. With two laps to go, the pace will pick up now as racers begin to position themselves for the final lap. The stronger front runners will push the pace and those with finishing speed will just try to stay in contact. This lap is often the first moment of truth in the Mile. Can you “keep it together” while your legs start to feel the increase in the pace and you start to breathe harder? This is where your mental and physical discipline come together. Stay in contact, keep the pace reasonable and get ready for the final lap.

Finishing Lap- Racers get moving on the final straight of the third lap as the “bell” is rung. The pace will pick up going into the first turn, but don’t try to pass here, just let the pace pull you forward. On the backstretch you have a choice depending on how you are feeling. If you feel comfortable, pick up the pace and pass some runners if they are close and fall in behind runners who were further ahead before the final turn. In the final turn, remember to hold back and do not try to pass. You can waste a lot of time and energy swinging to the outside lane to get by someone. You’ll have plenty of real estate left in the final straight to pass other runners.

Coming off the Last Turn

One of the best feelings in the Mile race is coming off the last turn with something in the tank. It’s about 100 meters to the finish line and now you can accelerate twice before hitting the tape. Begin to sprint at about 90% for the first 70 meters and then in the last 30, sprint all out to the line. A lot of races are won and lost over the last 30-50 meters. It is amazing to me how many runners begin to slow down 50 meters from the finish, struggling to hold their pace. It doesn’t have to be that way if you just reserve that final flurry or all out sprint for the end.

Racing the Mile can be a lot of fun using a strategy that works for you (this is just one of them). Sticking to the plan makes all the difference between struggling and finishing strong. So give it a try this summer at some of the summer track series events and have fun racing on the track.

Jonathan Hayden

Editors Note: Jonathan (age 53) ran 5:19.9 at the first Summer Track Series Meet this June 15th,  2010

Back in the Day: Racing the Mile For Road Runners (Published in June, 2010, Empire Runners Newsletter) 

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