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How To Run Your Fastest Mile with Nick Willis

In episode 123 of A Runner’s Life Podcast, I speak with elite runner Nick Willis about how to run your fastest mile.

Nick is a New Zealand middle distance runner and the country’s only two-time Olympic medalist in the 1500 metres. He won the silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. Nick is also the first person to run a sub-four-minute mile for 20 consecutive years. His mile PB is 3:49.83. He ran his first sub-four-minute mile (3:58.15) aged 20 in 203 for the University of Michigan at the Notre Dame Meyo Indoor Invitational in Indiana. .

In this conversation we introduce the Tracksmith Amateur Mile project and see what the first week of training for a mile race looks like (transcript below)


To listen to the episode on apple podcast click here.

Hi, my name is Marcus. I’m primarily a marathon runner and in this training series, I will take you through how I’m going to try to run my fastest mile.
STOP! Let’s freeze the frame. Okay before anyone picks this up in the comment section, this is the moment that I realised that I’ve got my shirt inside out. Anyhow, let’s roll on with the video. However,
I’ve got to caveat that I have very minimal middle distance experience. So, in this episode, I’ll take you through this trial run that I’m doing for my Sunday long run. I’m also going to share my time trial and how I get on.
One of the lessons I’ve taken from running with a really experienced runner, Chris Finnell, who is one of the London Marathon Ever Presents is “you need to make sure you’re doing long runs on hilly slow routes”. So you don’t have to be absolutely killing it all the time.  I think that’s one of the big misconceptions about mile training. Obviously, you have got to get the faster work in too, but make sure that the easy runs are easy and controlled. I think it’s quite fun to do something different and get out onto the trails. It still works the legs on these hills, so it’s all good.

First Some Advice from Nick Willis

[ 1:54]
MARCUS: We are going to talk about the Mile Challenge. I did my first mile time trial today with Andy Waterman, which was a lot of fun. So you’re (Nick) going to be leading this – can you give us an introduction to who you are and what the programme is going to be?
Nick Willis Tracksmith
NICK: Sure but I’m curious to see how the time trial went for you!
My name is Nick Nick Willis. I am from New Zealand originally and I used to, well I still run the mile, I suppose. I’ve also been involved in coaching the everyday runner over the mile, along with my wife, through an online boot camp business that we’ve had for the last seven years. Now in my role at Trackmsith I have built this relationship with you Marcus. It seems like you’ve been a bit stale running the marathon lately, so my colleague Andy (Waterman) said “hey, why don’t we get Marcus running the mile to switch things up for him?” That’s the journey that we’ve embarked upon. I’m excited to see what you can do. So yeah, tell me how this time trial went Marcus.
MARCUS: I ran my first mile back in 2017 when I ran 5:53. Today we did 5:28
Well, we’ve had a few people drop like 40-45 seconds of their time, but I would say 5:10 might be a realistic but very challenging target. I wouldn’t necessarily bank on sub-five minutes but we will show you how to run your fastest mile.

Back at the Track with Marcus

MARCUS: I’m at the Lee Valley track and I’m going to do my one mile time trial. So I’ll start off by doing a 10 minute warm up. I’ll do a 10 minute tempo run, then I’ll get some strides in. Then I’ll do the mile time trial and I’ll finish with a couple laps of recovery. After that I’m going to get the spikes out and do a couple of flying 300s. I’ll let you know how I get on with my first mile This is day one.
Okay so I just finished my mile attempt – this was to set a baseline. Back in 2017 I ran on the indoor track in Lee Valley and I ran 5:53. Today I ran around 5:28. I’m feeling good about that. The first two laps felt controlled. I tried to keep it sensible. Then the last two laps I tried to push and for the last lap I just tried to give as much as I could and run quicker for the final lap. It’s really about trying to get the pace right and judge that. If you go too quick and a mile you can end up paying for it, so I tried to be very conservative. I feel like there’s a lot of room there to grow and progress and I ran that in race flats.
Afterwards the session I tried out the spikes, which are really amazing. It feels like you’ve just got rocket fuel underneath your feet and a spring in your step. It’s just incredible.  Andy and I did a couple of strides in them and you can definitely feel how much quicker they were.
Today felt really good. The first 10 minutes was just easing into it. 10 minutes afterwards we did a tempo and Andy kept that nice and controlled and then we did some strides. That was a really nice way to warm up into the mile time trial itself. Even though I only ran for just over five minutes, it still felt like an eternity. But I really want to go through it again! We’ll see how much I can push it. The key is making sure you run it as controlled as possible and don’t blow out in the first two laps. I think that’s the most important thing. So, really happy with today. Onto the next one.

A Training Plan for the Tracksmith Amateur Mile

NICK: Well, I’ve put together a training plan. I’ve just put it up on my screen here. So everything is gearing up. It’s a six week plan leading up to 12th May. That’s the date of the Tracksmith Amatuer Miles night when we’re going to have 12 to 15 Community mile races at the London Community Track. Hopefully, you’ll get as 5:00-5:10 heat. I’ll try and be the pacemaker for that race –  I’m definitely going to be pacing a handful of those races that evening.
So, six weeks back from that date, we’ve got you started on 2nd April so you’ve still got a couple of weeks until then. Until then I’d recommend just keep on steady running and go by feel – especially coming off of a marathon. If you are feeling good on a day don’t be afraid to push yourself. Maybe not quite a tempo run effort but you’re free to run by feel for the next couple of weeks. However, I would suggest that two or three times a week after a run, you find a stretch of road or a hill that’s got a good surface and run five to eight times 10 to 15 seconds pickups or strides (or wind sprints as the old school call them). These are 85 to 90% Speed efforts – we run fast but relaxed. That’s the key to getting some of the mechanics right. Running fast but relaxed  will put you in good stead when we start our first workout on 2nd April.
MARCUS: Great stuff. I’m going to share my workouts with the community so they can get involved as well. You’re going to be providing workouts they can do too.
NICK: Yes, although I’m here to help you Marcus, I know there’s a lot of other people that might be in your same boat and they might want to come along this journey as well. We’re going to have a newsletter available to sign up to on the website. In that weekly newsletter, we’ll focus on the Thursday workout, and the six weeks leading up to the race. Marcus, you’re going to be a part of an in-person workout at Regent’s Park in London. We’ve also got Ross Murray, a former Olympian for Great Britain. He’s going to be the coach and person because I’m in Michigan right now. We’ll hopefully have 100- 150 people show up to do that workout with you. The newsletter will also explain what that workout is and what we’re trying to achieve. So. if you’re not able to attend in London you can do that same workout wherever you are.
For those who want to have a full training plan to show how to run your fastest mile, I’m going to use the one that I’ve written for you as a template. Yours is at the advanced level because you’re over 45 miles a week but the novices who are  doing 15 miles or intermediate people doing 30 miles a week will have a similar structure or template that just be a different total volume of the of the workout or the overall week for mileage just so no one gets injured. If you want to have that and have full access to our conversations, that’s going to be available to Hare AC members, which is our subscription model. Ultimately, we’d love to invite everyone to come along to the Tracksmith Amateur Mile night.
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Marcus Brown
Marcus Brown
World Marathon Major Six Star finisher. LiRF U.K. Athletics Coach. On a marathon PB mission.

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