Workout of the Week: Mile Repeats
A classic workout to build race-specific strength, endurance, and mental toughness
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While running four fast laps around a track multiple times—or repeating a sequence of mile repeats on the road or trail—doesn’t sound all that exciting, this classic is an effective workout regardless of your training and racing goals.
Mile repeats can work wonders for 5K-10K runners, half marathoners and marathoners by manipulating the intensity, number of reps, recovery and even terrain to suit your needs. Why? At a duration of a little over four minutes (for very fast runners) up to 8 or 9 minutes, mile repeats are long enough to build race-specific strength and endurance and challenging enough to help improve your mental game when doubt sets in and focus starts to fade.
So how can you make mile repeats work for you? Use the suggested workouts below as a guideline for implementing them into your own training schedule.
Why: When preparing for 5K-10K racing on the roads, track or cross country, a set of early season mile repeats run slower than 5K-10K race pace a with short recovery between reps will help you to develop the strength to handle the faster, more intense race-specific workouts later in the training cycle. As you get closer to your goal race, say 4-8 weeks out from the event, running your mile repeats at goal race pace or faster will help you to dial in the specific endurance required to maintain goal pace for 3.1 or 6.2 miles.
When, how many and how fast: Beginning 12-16 weeks out from your goal 5K-10K, running a set of mile repeats once every two weeks is a great way to build strength and improve endurance along with regular long runs, hill workouts and tempo runs. Aiming for 5-8 x 1 mile at half-marathon pace (roughly 15-20 seconds per mile slower than your 10K race pace) with 60 seconds recovery between reps can be a great complement to (or substitute for) tempo runs in your training schedule. About eight weeks before your goal race, maintain the frequency of your mile repeats, but shift the emphasis by speeding up to 5K-10K race pace and/or reducing the number of reps and increasing the amount of recovery time between intervals. For someone focused on the 5K distance, 4 x 1 mile at goal 5K race pace (or 5-8 seconds per mile faster) with 3 minutes recovery between reps is a great workout six weeks out from race day. Two to three weeks out, 3 x 1 mile at goal 5K race pace with 90 seconds recovery between reps is a very tough session, but one that will give you a good indication as to whether or not you’re ready to maintain that pace for 3.1 miles without a rest.
For a 10K-focused runner, shooting for 5-6 x 1 mile at 10K race pace (or 10K race pace minus 5-10 seconds a mile) with 3 minutes recovery between reps is a great workout six weeks out from race day. Repeat this workout four weeks out from the race, maintaining the same number of reps but slicing 30 seconds off your recovery between each one. Finally, two weeks out from race day, do the workout one last time, but only give yourself 1:30-2:00 recovery between reps. If you can nail that one and finish strong, you’ll know you’re ready to smash your goal!
Half Marathon-Marathon Training
Why: For half marathoners and marathoners, a faster set of mile repeats can provide some much-needed punch to your volume-packed training schedule. But, you can also slow down a set of 1-mile reps and shorten the recovery to help improve your ability to dial in your race rhythm while breaking up the monotony of a long, sustained half-marathon or marathon-paced workout.
When, how many and how fast: When training for half marathon and marathon, running 3-6 miles worth of intervals at 5K-10K race pace every couple of weeks can help bring some pop back into your mileage-laden legs. Unlike 5K-10K focused runners, however, there’s not really a need to shorten the recovery during these types of workouts as you get closer to race day—the goal of these faster workouts is to help improve your efficiency, work on turnover and maintain an element of speed in your training schedule. Over the course of a 12-16 week marathon training program, doing faster workouts such as 3 x 1 mile at 5K race pace with 3 minutes recovery between reps or 5-6 x 1 mile at 8K-10K race pace with 2-2:30 recovery between reps, once every two weeks is a great complement to your more half-marathon and marathon-focused interval sessions and tempo runs.
To help develop your half-marathon and marathon-specific fitness, however, slowing your mile repeats down to half marathon or marathon pace, increasing the number of repeats and shortening the recovery between reps will help you to work on your race rhythm in small chunks. An early-season workout such as 10 x 1 mile at goal marathon pace with 45-60 seconds recovery between reps can help you dial in pace and build strength for longer tempo runs at goal marathon pace later in the training cycle. For half marathoners, a session of 5-8 x 1-mile repeats at a half-marathon pace with 60 seconds recovery between reps can be a great early season workout or even serve as a substitute for a tempo run later in your training schedule. Or, mix the two paces in an “over-under” workout: 8-10 x 1 mile, alternating between half marathon pace followed by 90 seconds recovery on the even-numbered reps and marathon pace followed by a 60-second rest on the odd-numbered intervals. The possibilities are essentially endless!