Do you remember having to do the mile-run fitness test in school? Holy cow! I don’t know about you, but those were some of the worst times in my life. Not only did I hate the little-bitty PE shorts they gave you, but I also hated having to complete the test in front of everyone. I don’t know if it was because it was timed — or because I had those little shorts that would ride up with every step I took — or because I had to do it in front of everyone that made it all so traumatic for me, but it has taken me a long time to get over running that timed mile.
But at this point in my life I am finally over it and actually look forward to challenging myself. So, at the risk of sounding like my old PE teacher, let’s talk about how you can go about improving your mile time, whether you’re walking, jogging or running.
We all know the answer to this one: Because it will improve your cardiovascular fitness. When we set guidelines or goals for exercise, it helps us know where we are starting, what we need to do to improve, and how far we have come in the process. By challenging yourself, you feel good about what you have accomplished and you WILL get fitter!
What do you need?
The most important thing you need to invest in is a good pair of running (or walking) shoes. That means if you have had a pair of shoes for over a year or two, it is about time you get another pair. Good shoes = healthy knees, hips and back. You will also need a stopwatch (or a smartphone stopwatch app!) so that you can time yourself. Remember, we want to keep track of where we are so that we can take appropriate steps to improve and reach our goals.
Start by planning your mile-long route if you want to walk/jog/run outside. If you are planning on using a treadmill, you have it easy as far as this part goes, but you will want to add an incline of .5% to account for the outdoor elements that are missing from your indoor workout (wind and ground variation).
Now we need to figure out your current one-mile time. I would like you to warm up first by walking for five minutes. Once you are warm and your mind is in the right place to tackle that mile, go ahead and set the clock and start walking/jogging/running. Write down your time after you’ve done a mile, because that is the time you want to beat next time.
I recommend walking/jogging/running about three times a week, especially if you participate in other exercise. You don’t want to overdo it. On two of the three days, keep your pace to whatever is normal for you. Work towards beating your original time on the third day.
There are a number of ways that you can improve your speed. When I am working on speed, I normally alternate my pace throughout my jog/run. For example, one minute will be at my normal pace, and then I will speed up for 30 seconds, and so on. The most important thing to remember is to NOT slow down during that one minute — you want to keep it steady at your normal pace. So for those 30 seconds it is not a sprint, but merely going slightly faster than normal pace. Keep this up for three to four weeks and you will notice how much your cardiovascular fitness has improved to allow for greater speed, endurance and stamina.
I am currently walking but want to start jogging/running. How do I do so?
Here are my recommendations for those of you who want to start jogging/running:
First, warm up for five minutes, gradually building your pace to a very brisk walk. Then alternate walking for one minute with jogging/running for 30 seconds. Remember to pace yourself! Of course you will feel so good during the first 30-second jog/run that you will want keep going for a full minute … but trust me, you still have a mile to go. You will get there. Do that one-minute walk, 30-second run plan for the first week. The second week, try alternating walking for one minute with jogging/running for 45 seconds to one minute. The third week, take it to walking for one minute and jogging/running for one minute to one minute and 15-30 seconds. The most important thing is to increase your jogging/running time gradually. Ease your body into it and let your heart get used to pounding a little harder.
I say it time and time again: the human body is an amazing machine. You just need to train it and be nice to it! You have to practice this in order to see results and reach or surpass your goals. So work on improving your mile for a month. Let us know how it goes … and by how much you beat your original time!