Mile repeats are a simple enough workout: you run hard for one mile, recover for a bit, and repeat a few more times. The beauty of mile repeats, much like the long run, is in their simplicity: they are effective, easy to execute, and adaptable based on your ability and goals.
Mile repeats offer significant physiological benefits to runners across all distances, from the 5K to the marathon. Mile repeats increase capillary and mitochondrial density, which in turn helps more oxygen get to your muscles. Mile repeats also recruit both your fast-twitch and your slow-twitch muscles, which help you build speed and stamina. Finally, an increase in stroke volume and the amount of red blood cells helps improve your running economy, which will benefit you no matter what distance you are racing.
Like all good workouts, mile repeats not only help you improve physically as a runner – they build mental toughness. You have to be mentally comfortable with physical discomfort during mile repeats. You also learn how to pace yourself evenly, minimizing the “fly-then-die” tendencies for some runners, and how to hold a hard pace for a longer amount of time. It can be easy to crank out a bunch of 400-meter repeats at a very hard effort since you enjoy more frequent recovery intervals; the same cannot be said for mile repeats, even if the total distance of hard running is the same.
When you run mile repeats, you can adapt the number of repetitions, pace/perceived effort, duration of recovery intervals, and even where you are in your training season. The following workouts are some examples of how you can include mile repeats in your training.
5K-Paced Mile Repeats
Any faster than 5K race pace and mile repeats become less of a workout and more than a race effort. 5K-paced mile repeats work your aerobic system almost at your VO2max, therefore improving your running economy and enhancing your fast-twitch muscles. 5K-paced mile repeats are challenging no matter what your pace is, but they will make you a faster runner.
If you are training for a 5K race, you can use 5K-paced mile repeats to build race-specific fitness. At the beginning of the training cycle, run three one-mile repeats at your current 5K pace, with 3-4 minutes recovery in between. As your race approaches, run closer to goal race pace in the repeats and shorten the recovery intervals to 90 seconds.
For longer distances, 5K-paced mile repeats can be used throughout the training cycle – especially in the earlier weeks – as a way to build speed without compromising endurance.
1-2 mile warm up
3 x 1 mile at 5K race pace with 3 minute recovery in between
1-2 mile cool down
10K-Paced Mile Repeats
10K-paced mile repeats inject some speed into the mileage-heavy peak weeks of marathon or half marathon training. 4 to 6 repeats of 1 mile at 10K pace may not provide as much of a fitness-boost as 5K pace mile repeats, but the higher number of repeats at a slightly slower pace improves your slow-twitch muscle fibers, running economy, and stroke volume – all valuable benefits for half marathon and marathon runners.
For 10K runners, 5 to 6 one-mile repeats can build race-specific fitness. You can reduce the recovery intervals as training progresses and race day approaches. The short duration of recovery will give you a realistic idea of what pace you can sustain on race day and prepare you for how to pace a 10K race.
1-2 mile warm-up
5 x 1 mile at 10K pace, with 2:30-3 minutes recovery in between
1-2 mile cool down
Half Marathon Pace Mile Repeats
Half marathon pace is slightly slower than tempo pace for most runners. With the popularity of the half marathon, it makes sense to practice pacing at this effort. After introducing some shorter speedwork, beginner runners can also use mile repeats at half martahon pace to ease into continuous and slightly faster tempo runs. An example of this would be 2 to 3 miles at half marathon pace with 1-minute recovery walks or jogs in between.
Seasoned half marathoners can use mile repeats at tempo pace at the start of a training cycle, with workouts such as 4 to 6 x 1 mile at half marathon pace to prepare the body for longer workouts like 2-mile repeats or continuous tempo runs. Regardless of your ability level, half marathon pace mile repeats utilize short-rest intervals, rather than the longer recovery intervals of 5K and 10K paced mile repeats.
You can also use half marathon pace mile repeats to add in a higher volume of training near at your goal pace without as much fatigue as a continuous tempo run. For example, you might choose to run 8 x 1 mile at goal half marathon pace about 2-4 weeks out from your race, to practice a high volume of goal pace running without the risk of leaving your race in your training. Marathoners will find that mile repeats at half marathon pace allow them to work at a higher volume near lactate threshold during the peak fatigue of marathon training.
1-2 mile warm-up
6 x 1 mile at goal half marathon pace, with 1 minute recovery in between
1-2 mile cool down
It’s important to note that mile repeats are not meant to be run at race effort. You might set your mile PR during a mile repeats workout if you never run mile or even 5K races, but the focus should always be on proper pacing for the intention of the workout. The best way to tell you are running at an appropriate effort? You should always have a little bit left in your tank, rather than feeling completely wiped by the end of the workout.
Tips to Run Mile Repeats
- Pacing matters. Aim for consistent repeats, which often means holding back a bit in the first repeat and pushing slightly harder in the final repeat. Read this post for more guidance on pacing speed workouts.
- Jog or walk slow on the recovery intervals. It’s okay to walk or walk-jog if you have to. The purpose of recovery intervals is to lower your heart rate and allow your body to recover just enough to run at the same effort again.
- No track available? Any flat, uninterrupted stretch of road or trail will work.
- Always include a warm-up that includes dynamic stretches and at least 10 minutes of easy running.
Do you run mile repeats in your training?
What’s your favorite speed workout?