Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Loving and Hating the Mile

Love and Loathing in the Mile
Most likely my two race mile season is over, unless I decide to run a road mile in a couple of weeks. The mile is a most vexing event because it is the distance at which speed intersects with endurance. Of all races I find the mile to invoke the greatest range of emotions--it's a pinball between excitement and dread, mixed with some fear. The hope is to experience some exaltation. The race can invoke fear because if you are not ready, or if you did not pace well, the last 600 meters can bring you to tears if not to your knees. I love and loathe the mile.

I love it, because getting in good shape for the mile requires you to employ a compete training program that includes distance running, endurance training, and raw speed. A good miler is a complete runner, capable of running well from 400 meters to 10k or even longer. For example, the best milers can run under 48 seconds in the 400 and many can run 28 minutes or faster (that's sub 4:30 per mile) for the 10000 meters. The race itself is very exciting, especially when you have a group of runners with similar ability and fitness level. Then tactics become paramount. You can save a lot of energy by drafting, but if the pace slows down the "kickers," those with good finishing speed, have the advantage.

The mile drives me crazy because my heart rate can skyrocket from its normal bradycardic rate of 40 beats per minute to tachycardic, if not atrial fibrulation, just by thinking about races that I have run or dream about running. Now that's just not normal, nor is it right. Therefore, I am very judicious about miling. Another downside, and contradiction, is the very training that develops you into a complete miler also can detract from your endurance training, and if you don't do it right the training can tear you down. While preparing for a peak, you actually sacrifice your endurance and get into worse shape for longer distances. At 48 I prefer 10k and above, so training for the necessary six or eight weeks to peak for a mile would eliminate most of the already short season.

Yet the mile beckons. Next year, to close out my tenure as a 40-something runner, I plan to train as a miler.

Miling Through the Age Groups
I was never a great miler and only focused on the distance for a few seasons. In fact, I have been a miler exclusively for only one year out of 30 as a runner--and that was when I was 40.

Going back to my sophomore year of college I ran the mile and the 3 mile, after moving up from a disasterous attempt at running the 880 yards as a freshman. The best I did during that sophomore outdoor season was a 4:39 on a cinder track, and that's just a guess because our coach refused to record the time, believing that you didn't deserve to have a time unless you placed in the top 6 of an invitational meet. I was 7th that night, outkicked by a couple of teammates who went under 4:35. A few weeks after that debacle of a season I went to Chicago and ran 4:17 1500 meter (equivalent to a 4:36 mile).

Didn't compete as a junior. But as a senior, I ran the mile and the steeplechase. We basically had no coach in college--workouts that year were decided by a committee of co-captains. We overtrained with speedwork that was too much, too fast, and did not allow enough recovery between workouts. Even though my training pointed toward a low 4:20s, the best that year was a 4:31 relay split at the venerable Drake Relays in 1980. So much for college. I moved on and up in distance, including the marathon.

But in 1985 and '86 I returned to the track to run several 1500 m and mile races at all-comer meets in Colorado. The focus was more to train for 5ks on the road, but consistently ran well under 4:30. For the next 12 years after that that I ran maybe a mile or two a year, but some years none at all.

It wasn't until 1998, after I turned 40, that I actually took a couple months to train exclusively for the mile. I had been injured through most my late 30s and had not been able to put together a decent string of races. It seemed that my speed had gone away, and I was resigned to plodding through 10ks, unable to break 35 minutes. I got tired of getting outkicked. With several months of training, that included base work, hills, endurance runs, and speed work, I was able to run some respectable master's-level mile times for a couple of years. This also helped bring my 10k times back down to low 34s.

You do slow down with age, but I think we sell ourself short after hitting 30. Below are my best mile times by 5 year age groups, and after age 35 is a column that give age group equivalents, using the WAVA age-graded cacluator:

I ran 4:47 as a 19 year old, and think that by training like a miler next spring and summer, I can match that at 49. I will be using the Oregon system, which is sheer genius for its adaptability.

Don't hold your breath, but stay tuned!
Age Group -- Best Time -- Age Group Equivalent#
19 and under-- 4:47 ------- NA
20-24 -------- 4:31 ------- NA
25-29 -------- 4:26* ------ NA
30-34 -------- 4:31 ------- NA
35-39 -------- 4:46 ------- 4:41
40-45 -------- 4:39 ------- 4:25
45-48 -------- 4:54 ------- 4:23
*I also ran a 4:05 1500 meter, which is about a 4:23 or 4:24 mile
#Age group equivalents are based on a calculation compared to the world's
best times for a given age.