Running a 5 Minute Mile: Two Training Programs for Hybrid Athletes
"I always loved running — it was something you could do by yourself and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs." -Jesse Owens
I got into a mini debate once with my current coach, NPC Champ Reed Stevenson, a massive bodybuilder. He was explaining that bodybuilding is a mental sport because of the patience it takes.
I jokingly told him no, Grass Week at Parris Island is mental. Climbing Mt Blanca is mental. Speed reloads with a flashlight during gun quals with hands the size of a 9 year old is....humorous and mental.
Running a timed mile is mental.
This last one takes the cake. Short of a marathon (pun intended), it is by far the most gut-checking, soul-searching, character-building recreational experience I can think of to willingly put yourself through.
My Dad used to run track at Penn State. His event: the mile. Growing up, he taught me things that had a profound impact on my life both on and off the track; things he learned from his coach, John Lukas. Among them was this famous line:
"Pain is only transitory."
One of the earliest lessons I remember: "Take two identical athletes; same genetics, same diet, same drive, same training. What is the one factor that determines who will win? Oxygen intake."
From this theory he taught me several breathing exercises to increase lung capacity, certain stretches to perform, and a trick that gives a slight edge: start breathing deep before the race starts.
I also started wearing an elevation mask during runs (trainingmask.com), something many trainers remain sceptical about, yet I personally recommend. It took my running to a whole new level. There are mixed reviews when it comes to hypoxic training (IHT); I encourage you to read them. I didn’t get a red blood cell count or test my V2 max prior to starting, but what I can tell you is that 6 months after I started wearing one, I’ve never run faster. Trails that used to be challenging became effortless, and hills were nothing anymore. On top of that, when visiting my Dad in Colorado, I was already acclimated and hiking snowy trails after 2 days.
Not going to lie, though: wearing one sucks. There’s no way around it. There’s no trick to it, and it never gets easier; you just get used to discomfort. Studies show that taking an Iron supplement increases the benefits. They recommend starting with 65mg, then gradually increasing to 210mg if you’re hard core about it.
Although finishing strong is a crowd pleaser and immensely satisfying, if the race is run correctly, you shouldn’t have much left at the end. Same with the 2 mile. Too many runners have too much energy left at the finish, which is usually a sign of improper or inconsistent training. The idea is to run a consistent, steady pace from start to finish.
This is the reason I dislike HIIT training from the standpoint of a distance runner: it trains both your muscles and your mind to stop when fatigued.
As any marathoner will tell you, you must train yourself to push through discomfort and surpass the body’s natural impulse to want to stop.
Some other things I've learned over the years:
- When you want to slow down or stop, lengthen your stride instead. Keep pace the same.
- When you see a hill, let it be a trigger for you to want to take it on. Teach yourself to love hills, not dread them. Most people are intimidated by them, which gives you the opportunity to use them to your advantage. This is why I rely heavily on hill repeats for practice; they make you fearless and undaunted. Sprint up them, jog down. The same concept holds true for curves on a track, which is why a favorite drill for tempo runs is sprinting the curves, jogging the straights.
- Keep arms as still as possible for effiency. Moving them forward helps momentum when it comes to speed, but as far as distance running goes, keep them as still as possible to conserve energy.
- Never stop to walk during practice. Keep jogging even after the race is over, hill is past, or drill is complete. This does more for training your mind than anything, but again, you are training your body not to stop when it wants to.
- Push through cramps and stitches. Add more potassium, sodium, and water to diet if it becomes a problem. Get your diet right.
- When passing someone, don’t toy with the idea; pass them with full purpose and intention to break their mindset about chasing or pacing off you. Break away clean and target the next person.
- Don’t get caught up in the pack;
Run your own race.
My events were the 800m (half mile), the 4x800 relay, the 1600m (a mile- 4 laps), 4x1600, and the 2 mile. The 800 was my specialty. To me it was the perfect combination of speed & endurance. You get the excitement of a speed race, and the test of guts. I ran a 2:40 most races; I could never seem to beat it. Every race, 2:40, 2:40, 2:40, no matter what. My Dad wrote me up this program, and with its help I finally hit a 2:35 in the TN State Championship.
“If you want to run a faster race, train to run faster quarters.”
Case in point: if you want to run a faster 800, run faster 200’s during practice. If you want to run a faster mile, run faster 400’s. This translates to sprinting a lot of 200 & 400 meter repeats. Come race day, you will kill it.
My best mile was a 4:55. I ran it during the Maryville Midnight Mile in 2002.
However, it was run on a Greenway. My best time on a track was 5:30, so naturally, unsatisfied with my race efforts, I asked my Dad to write me up a plan to hit a 5 minute time on a track. Here’s the program he wrote for me:
Goal: 5 Minute Mile
Phase I: Building Stamina
For the month of January
Run 5-7 miles each day. Although the speed is not important, it’s a run and not a jog. You should be “pleasantly tired” at the end of each run. Then stretch, and run 7 “wind sprints” of 60-80 yards. You should not be at full speed on these, but what you want to do is build speed gradually to an apex, then back off slowly on each sprint. Do this after each distance run. Then take an easy 400 to push out the lactic acid. On Saturdays, stretch the distance to no less than 10 miles and skip the wind sprints and 400. Rest and relax on Sundays.
Phase II: Speed Work
Month of February – up to 30 days before you go for it
Monday: Variable intervals – telescope from 100 yards to 200 to 300 to 400, then back down again all the way back to 100 yards. Run them each at 80% effort and use a stop watch to record your times. Jog between the intervals to get your wind back, the length of the jog is the same length of the interval you just ran.
Tuesday: Overdistance – 5-7 miles with the same post-work out stretch/wind sprint regimen. Use these OD runs to concentrate on form and efficiency of movement. Strive to run fluidly and minimize your any resistance to moving forward.
Wednesday: Fixed interval – run 6X200’s (1/2 laps) at no more than 37-38 seconds, taking a 200 jog between intervals to recover. Jog as slow or as fast as you need to to be able to go into the next interval without being winded. If you can’t do 6 at that pace, just do as many as you can staying below 38 seconds. If you can do 6 easily, push it to 8 reps. You should be very tired after this workout.
Thursday: Overdistance – 5-7 miles. Run, not jog. All you’re doing here is maintaining your endurance training while letting the body recover from the faster speed of the previous workout.
Friday: Warm up well and stretch. Run the mile as if you were in a race, and make note of the time. Adjustments to work outs might have to be made depending on how fast you run and how you felt during the run. Do the wind sprint regimen after the run.
Saturday: Over distance – 7-10 miles, as fast or as slow as you want to go.
Sunday: The Day of Rest. 3-5 miles easy.
Eat a huge hot fudge Sunday, and relax
Phase III: Pace and Race Work
Month of March
Monday: Same variable interval workout, but at 90% effort for each interval
Tuesday: OD, 5-7 miles
Wednesday: Fixed interval workout. However now you move to 400’s (i.e. 440 yards, one lap) on the interval, and you want to hit each 400 exactly on 75 seconds. Even if you can run it faster – don’t. You want to learn exactly what a 75 second quarter feels like. (When you know what that feels like, you want to string 4 of them together – that’s your 5-minute mile). Try for six, with a 440 recovery jog between them. The last 2 or three will likely hurt pretty good. If you can’t do 6, do as many as you can but always hit 75 seconds. If you stay with this weekly, they will get easier.
Thursday: OD, 5-7 miles
Friday: McCurdy Killers – Run the mile as if you were competing with team mates (that’s exactly what we did in college). You should have nothing left in the tank after this race/run. Let yourself fully recover, and then… do it again. Yep, with nothing in the tank except resting till you get your wind back and feel you can go again, go full race pace again. You should have less than nothing in the tank when you’ve finished this workout. This workout is much easier when you are competing with your athletic peers. I suspect that it will be a real “mind-bender” if you do it all by yourself. Always write down your times. Take a lap to get the acid out.
Saturday: OD – long run of no less than 7 miles
Sunday: The Day of Rest and Recovery. Go to Church.
Praise and thank God that you are blessed to perform at this level!
Carbo-load with a huge pizza!
If you follow this regimen, you will go into “race day” knowing you will run no more than a 5 minute mile, likely sub-5 if you let it all out on the last 440.’
-my Dad, Jeff Deardorff
Due to it being mid track season at the time, I was under the instruction of a different coach, so remained faithful to that coach’s program. Here is a copy of our training schedule, if you can read it:
I returned to my Dad’s program years later, and this is how the training went:
Attempt 1- Got sick on midnight shift during phase II.
Attempt 2- Pulled calf during phase I due to wearing old running shoes. Went through 2 physical therapists and a massage therapist to rehabilitate & get scar tissue broken up (torture sessions).
Attempt 3- Wasn’t getting enough protein and carbs in diet and was losing muscle, so stopped during Phase II to rebuild strength. Started again with different diet.
Attempt 4- pulled hamstring during 1st day of phase II doing full field sprints. Did not warm up enough. Damnit.
Attempt 5- couldn’t follow Phase I consistently enough with leg days. Was too sore to run.
After Attempt 5, I met with Mike Morris, a track coach and triathelete, to discuss the challenge with him. After explaining my delima and showing him the program, he commented that the plan was a good one — if running was all you did. He told me that in my case, trying to do several things at once in addition to running (resistance training, squats, rowing, stairclimber, etc) (on top of a 12 hour swing shift schedule I might add), a different program might be necessary. He wrote me one based on the premise of being a hybrid athlete:
For awhile I forced myself to do recovery runs after leg day —proof miracles do happen . However, the bottom line I discovered is this:
Steady-state cardio of distance running is counterproductive if your physical goal is building muscle.
As such, this particular goal is on hold until I complete a conflicting goal: Compete in a figure competition in 2017.
I hope something I’ve written will help you with your goals. Special thanks to my Dad, my coach and biggest fan.
Never give up on your dreams,
I competed in the Battle at the Rivers in Chattanooga June 10 of this year ;). See my other blog about that particular goal. -J