Switching Things Up: Bring on Summer Speed!

English: Track and field
English: Track and field (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As you all probably know by now, I identify myself as a marathoner.  I am either in marathon training or marathon recovery year round.  True.  However, I have a little known secret.  I am also a miler.

Yes, I said it.  It sounds funny doesn’t it?  Almost not quite right.  I mean, the mile means the track.  Speedy stuff.  Elite runners – or at least high school runners – right?  No, that is not me.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Despite the lore of the sub-4 minute mile, you don’t have to be super speedy or elite to be a miler.  In fact, if you do a little investigative work, I’ll bet you can find a mile race in your area.  These races are typically open to everyone and they are FUN.  It is also incredibly refreshing to break out of routine training to hit the track and run fast!  I highly recommend it.

The first time I ran the mile was the summer after my first marathon (2006).  I was relatively new to racing and I had read an article in Runner’s World extolling the virtues of switching things up and training for a mile race.  Sure enough, I found out that the Wisconsin Track Club hosts a mile race here and our local Fleet Feet had a training program for it.  Sounds fun!  So I called my friend Anne and talked her into trying it out with me.

I admit it was scary to hit the track.  I hadn’t been on the track since I was a Freshman in high school and had been not-so-nicely told throughout the season that I was not a good runner.  I hadn’t been running fast either that season.  In fact, I was very new to racing and had only run one 5K.  But I wanted to set my sights on something new after what felt like a long marathon training season, so I was determined to get out there.

I am so glad I did.   My friend Anne and I had a blast powering through the tough workouts and pushing ourselves to new places.  It was terrific to meet so many new people.  And it was incredibly refreshing to see that all were truly welcome: we certainly weren’t the fastest runners out there, but we weren’t feeling humiliated either.  To the contrary, everyone of every ability was working hard, having fun, and celebrated by all regardless of their speed or placement.

Open Women's Start

The race we were training for was one and three quarter laps around the Capitol Square rather than on the track.  The race had several heats: open boys, open girls, women, men, masters.  Heats went off every 15 minutes.  I will never forget the pit in my stomach the first time I toed that starting line.  I was really hoping I’d be able to pull off a 6:40 mile.  I had calculated the quarter splits in my head all night the night before.  I was thrilled when I landed a 6:17.

Anne & I racing the Capitol Mile

The next year, I broke the 6 minute mark with 5:58 and a second place women’s finish ($50 to boot and it was my 34th birthday!).  Woot!  Needless to say, I have been hooked since – even though I admit I have not been able to repeat the sub-6 since.

Tuesday I started my seventh year of training for the Capitol Mile (with my friend Anne).  In honor of another fun season, I wanted to share with you my top ten reasons to switch it up, find a training group and race the mile:

  1. You get to run on the track!!  This is so much fun!  At first the idea may be daunting, but it really is fun.  I don’t have a track near me, so when I do marathon training speedwork, I throw on my Garmin, set it to beep at me when necessary, and run through my town.  The experience of working out on a track is so much more fun though.  I feel like a faster runner simply by hitting the track.
  2. You will run harder with others.  It is true.  If you are on the track with 15 other people, you WILL push yourself harder and run faster.  I love this benefit because normally I run all by my lonesome.
  3. You will meet fun new people.  I have met so many great people over the years doing this.  Many I consider to be great friends.   Just like many other running endeavors, you will form a bond with those out there sweating with you and working so hard with you that you want to die.  [Yes, I said die.  That may be a bit over the top, but miler training is hard.  It is fun, but it isn’t easy.  :)]
  4. You will get stronger.  Speed work is good for you – no matter what your favorite goal distance is.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that all of my best marathons are in the Fall after doing my summer miler training.
  5. You get to race faster than ever.  Seriously – when else are you going to bust out mile pace in a race?  It is a little scary, but it is really fun!  I never in a million years thought I could race as fast as I did until I did.
  6. Anyone can do it.  It is true.  Even if you consider yourself slow or a back-of-the-packer.  Some people will finish in the 4:xx range, others in 11:xx.  It’s all good and we are all out there to have fun and do our best.  The accomplishment is your own and the value in pushing yourself is the same.
  7. The camaraderie is wonderful.  No matter what your pace, if you are training with a group for the mile, they are going to want to see you have an awesome race.  And they are going to be cheering their heads off for you on race day.  The mile is the perfect distance for friends and families to watch too since it isn’t long (much unlike the marathon).
  8. Your kids can do it!  You all know I am a big advocate of getting kids running.  Well the mile is perfect for this.  My boys have done it since they were 5 (before that, they did the associated kid’s dash).  Now, they train with me for it too!  How awesome is that?  Not only do I get to run on the track, I get to run with my kids on the track!

    Me and Jake running the Capitol Mile in 2008
  9. It is a cool accomplishment.  Admit it, one thing many of us love about running are the accomplishments.  We thrive on setting goals, making plans, working hard and then putting it all out there on race day to try to capture our dreams.  Breaking out of the marathon or 5K or 10K or whatever you are used to to reach for a new goal is fun and very fulfilling.
  10. You just might surprise yourself.  Hey, maybe you are a fast-twitch maven after all.  You’ll never know if you don’t give it a shot!
Big smiles after breaking the 6 minute mark
With that, I will leave you with my infamous YouTube debut from the 2007 Capitol Mile.  I came in 2nd – a good minute after the winner (she was very fast with a 4:5x) so be patient.  🙂
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Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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  1. The only “mile” I have raced in the past few years is our time trial and a 1500 m on the indoor track. I think a road mile would be a fun change of pace! It definitely pays off to address all sides of running, not just the marathon endurance monster within 🙂

    1. You should try it! I bet you could bust out a wicked fast mile! I can envision you and Salty training together too. Hmmmm…. Maybe next summer. 🙂

  2. I’ve only done the time trial, but it’s hard. Ok, maybe it just feels hard when you go out in 76 (4:44 pace!) and end up running 5:2x!

    That photo of you and Jake is priceless! What a cutie (and wow, how time flies!!!)

    1. I did that one year (go out way too fast). I certainly was not at a4:44 pace, but I was a good 20-30 secs per mile than I had any business doing for the first quarter. Ouch. That race REALLY hurt.

      Thanks re the photo – I found so many of them when I was writing this post. My boys are awesome (not that I am biased or anything). 🙂

    1. That is what is so fun about it – at the time I started, I had never even run near a 7 minute mile before and would never have thought I could run that fast. You never know until you give it a try! 🙂