10 Ways to Run a Faster Mile

Are you hoping to improve your mile time? Whether you're a high school track athlete, a beginning-level runner, or a masters runner, making minor changes to your training routine can improve your pace.

If you don't know your current mile time (or it's been a while since you clocked your mile), start by doing a timed trial on a track to set a baseline to measure your progress.

man running on a track

Verywell / Ryan Kelly

A standard track is 400 meters for one lap (four laps equalling one mile). Some tracks are shorter and will require more laps to reach a mile. Tracks are usually marked, but if you are unsure about the size of a track, ask (or, if you are using a school track, check the athletic department's website).

Here are 10 strategies to help you shave time off your mile.


Schedule Interval Training

High-intensity interval training is a fun way to improve your speed and confidence. As a runner, incorporating speed intervals into your training schedule can help you improve your fitness and 1-mile pace.

Once a week, do speed repeats. For example, on a track, you might run several 200-meter sprints (1/2 lap) or 400-meter sprints (full lap) with a short recovery between each effort. The workout is pretty straightforward.

After a 5-minute to 10-minute warm-up, alternate between running hard for 200 or 400 meters and then easy jogging or walking for the same distance to recover. If you're doing 200-meter repeats, start with six repeats and try to work your way up to eight to 10 repeats.

For 400-meter intervals, start with two or three repeats (with a recovery lap in between each), and try to work your way up to five to six repeats. These can be performed on a track or any measured stretch of road. You can also do these workouts on the ​treadmill.

If you're running on the road, you can use lamp posts or telephone poles to mark your intervals. After warming up, try sprinting for two lamp posts, then recover for two. Repeat the pattern until you've covered a mile.

We've tried, tested, and reviewed the best treadmills. If you're in the market for a treadmill, explore which option may be best for you.


Build Endurance

If you want to run a faster mile, you'll have to run longer than a mile. You may already participate in at least one run per week that is longer than a mile, but you want to add a significantly longer one. 

To increase your running distance, gradually increase the distance you are currently running.

For example, if your longest run is 2 to 3 miles and your total weekly mileage is 10 miles, add about 1 mile per week until your long run totals 7 to 8 miles. You can accomplish this by adding up to a mile to your longest run, increasing your total mileage by up to 10% each week.

If you are training for a half marathon or full marathon, you'll continue to build your mileage on that long training day.

Doing one long run per week (in addition to shorter runs on other days) will improve your cardiovascular fitness and strength, leading to faster times. It also helps improve your mental strength, which will help you push through discomfort toward the end of a race.


Increase Stride Turnover

The rate at which your feet hit the pavement is called your stride rate or your stride turnover. You can practice improving your stride turnover to learn how to take quicker, shorter steps and improve your pace.

Most new runners have a stride turnover that is too slow. Coaches sometimes recommend reaching a rate of 180 strides per minute. However, some scientists feel that the rate is highly personalized.

You can identify and improve your rate with a simple exercise.

  • Identify your current turnover rate. Run at your 5K pace and count the number of times your right foot hits the pavement for 1 minute.
  • Double the number to get your turnover rate.
  • Use a running drill to improve it.

Run for 1-minute intervals and begin at your current stride turnover rate. Run again and try to increase your foot strike count. Repeat the sequence several times, trying to increase your foot strike count by one each time.

If you have a heart rate monitor, try to identify the turnover rate when your heart rate is the lowest. This may be the most efficient stride rate for you.

Be careful not to overstride while you are running. Your feet should land under your hips, not in front of you.


Improve Running Form

Spend a few minutes practicing proper running form at the beginning of each run. Simple warm-up drills can accentuate different aspects of good running form. This will ensure that your movement is enhanced during the body of your workout.

Try adding four to six drills that help your running form to your warm-up.

For example, a quick and efficient stride turnover helps you to run faster with less energy. Participating in a "fast feet" drill helps train your feet to move more quickly. Run in place as quickly as possible for 1 to 2 minutes to complete the drill.

Other drills include butt kicks (lifting heels behind you as if you are kicking your butt) to improve hamstring engagement or carioca drills (sometimes called "grapevines") to help improve hip stability.

After the warm-up and during your run, pay attention to posture, arm motion, and foot strike position, as these all make a difference in your speed. You don't want wasted energy and inefficient body mechanics that will slow you down. Work on your form at a lower speed to serve you well as you speed up.


Run Hills

Doing hill repeats will make you stronger and improve your running efficiency. Hill work can increase your lactate threshold to improve your mile time.

You can perform hill repeats (also called incline training) on a hill outside or the treadmill. A treadmill makes it easier to control the incline and the length of the hill, but most treadmills don't allow you to run downhill, which can be an essential part of training, especially if you are training for a race with hills.

To do hill repeats, start by warming up with 10 to 15 minutes of easy running. If you are running outdoors, find a hill with a decent incline—but not too steep. If you can, find a gradual incline that extends for about 100 to 200 meters.

Start running up the hill at your 5K effort pace. You'll want to try to push yourself hard up the hill but don't let your form fall apart. Try to keep a consistent effort. When you reach the top of your hill, turn around and recover by jogging or walking down the hill. Although more research is needed, some evidence shows running downhill too much can cause muscle damage.

The number of repeats depends on your experience and fitness level. Beginner runners should start with two to three repeats, adding one additional repeat each week over three to four weeks. Advanced runners can start with six repeats and add one each week with a maximum of 10 repeats.

After completing your repeats, finish with a 15-minute cooldown of easy running.


Climb Stairs

If you don't have easy access to hills, run stairs instead. You can use the same approach as hill repeat.

  • Find a staircase that has several flights (you want to be able to run uphill for at least 1 to 2 minutes without having to turn around and run down).
  • Run up the stairs for 30 seconds, then walk down to recover. 
  • Repeat five times.
  • Gradually work your way up to 10 repeats.

As your fitness level increases, try to run upstairs for more extended periods.


Train Consistently

When it comes to any exercise, consistency is key. In a study of female master's runners, researchers found that training consistency was key in elite ultra-marathoners. Improving your running speed over a mile isn't the same as running an ultra marathon, but the principles remain the same: training consistently improves all training measures.

Determine how often you want to train and in what ways. Some tips to stay on track include:

  • Put your training on your calendar. Planning your running helps avoid double-booking and prioritizes your training runs.
  • Try a 10- 20- or 30-day challenge. While habit formation can take seven weeks or more, starting with a timed challenge helps you overcome the initial hurdles of forming a new habit.
  • Set SMART goals. People who set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (forming the acronym SMART) are more likely to stick to those goals.

Focus on Nutrition

Your body needs to be adequately fueled to get the most out of your training. Nutrition can play a significant role in optimizing your running performance.

  • Eliminate empty-calorie foods. Sweetened sodas, candy, starchy fried snacks, and sugar-filled baked goods provide calories but are not good sources of nutrition.
  • Fill up on nutrient-dense foods like crunchy vegetables, sweet berries, and fresh fruit.
  • Build meals around lean protein, whole grains, and leafy greens.

You also want to be mindful of how much you're eating. You might feel entitled to a big indulgent meal after running, but you don't necessarily need to eat more calories than you burned.

If you're unsure how many calories you need to eat daily, you might want to work with a registered dietitian specializing in running to get personalized guidance.


Get Strong

Building muscular strength will boost your speed and provide other fitness and health benefits. You don't need to lift serious weight or hit the gym five days a week, though. You can do several bodyweight exercises a couple of times a week after your run to help add lean muscle.

Add basic whole-body moves to the end of your running workout two to three days per week. For example, after a 3- or 4-mile run, you could complete the following:

  • 10 to 15 push-ups
  • 10 front and side lunges
  • 10 single-leg squats on each leg
  • Finish with a 1-minute plank

This basic routine will help you strengthen the muscles that keep your body stable and balanced while running. It also improves the muscular strength in your upper body and core.

Doing strength training after your running workout instead of on a different day allows you to fully rest on recovery days.


Rest Well

Don't assume that running hard every day will make you faster. Training is essential, but rest is crucial.

Rest days are critical for proper recovery and injury prevention. Your muscles need this break to rebuild and repair tissue. But you don't need to lay on the couch all day for this rebuilding to occur.

A rest day shouldn't be a complete day off. Instead, it should include easy activities you enjoy, preferably those that engage muscles you don't use when running.

For example, you can take a yoga class, bike ride, swim, or visit a rock-climbing gym.

There are various ways to improve your running speed for one mile and beyond. As you work through different techniques for improvement, track your progress by keeping a running log.

Just remember that progress is not linear. Various factors, like sleep, nutrition, mental health, and weather, can affect performance. Don't hyper-focus on one running time; instead, use your data to monitor your improving fitness over time.

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By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.