How Long Does it Take to Run a Mile? (Plus Tips From an Expert Coach)

If you’ve fully devoted yourself to running the fastest mile possible, you’ve invested lots of time and energy in the task. You’ve learned to cross-train and build lower body muscle mass through strength training. That’s to say nothing of the countless high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts that you’ve used to improve your VO2 max and optimize your overall running performance.

But how long does it take to run a mile, on average? Once we cover those numbers, I’ll take you through a conversation I had with Lee Whitaker, certified as an Elite Coach by USA Track & Field. From there, you’ll get the best tips for running your fastest mile yet.

How Long Is a Mile?

Depending on your level of running experience and the approach you choose, a mile may feel like either a very long distance or a very short distance. Regardless of whether you sprint your mile or casually walk it, the distance remains the same. A mile is 1,609.34 meters, which is the equivalent of just over 32 regulation Olympic swimming pools.

How Many Laps Is a Mile?

If you’re running on a traditional outdoor track — which is 400 meters in circumference from the innermost lane — it will take you just a smidgen over four laps around the track to complete a mile. If you’re using a standard 200 meter indoor track, it will take just over eight laps around the track for you to run a full mile.

How Long Does it Take to Run a Mile?

Thanks to the team at RunningLevel, we have access to a very thorough breakdown of the amount of time it takes people of various ages and genders to complete their one-mile runs. The finish time of each age group and sex assigned at birth is recorded, along with the experience level of the runner, which starts with beginners and extends all the way to elite athletes.

For Adults

Adult runners span the gamut from trained athletes who have extended their running careers well into adulthood to people who have casually taken up distance running later in life. This is reflected in the wide range of average times, which also include the fastest mile times ever recorded in competition. 

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For Kids

The average mile times in the kids’ category can be particularly wide-ranging, as the recorded race results in the 10-year-old category predate the onset of puberty for many children. Moreover, on the high end of the age distribution, the 20-year-old group includes college-aged athletes, including several capable of contending for world championships and Olympic medals.

Tips for How to Run Your Fastest Mile

Once all of your strength training and preparation has been completed, the time will finally arrive for you to put yourself to the test and run the fastest mile your body can produce. As much as you might like to, treating your mile run as an all-out sprint is not a recipe for success. To record your best possible time, you’ll have to be a bit more tactical than that.

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To get you the best tips for running your fastest mile, I chatted with expert running coach Lee Whitaker. Not only has Whitaker coached several state champions at the high school level, but he is also an elite ultra-distance runner who regularly finishes at the top of the leaderboard when running distances of 100 miles or more. 

Know What a Fast Mile Feels Like 

Part of your preparation for running a faster mile is learning what it feels like to move at your fastest sustainable pace. Forcing your body to power through the buildup of lactic acid and a pounding heart rate is also a valuable part of the mental preparation for running a mile. 

Pushing yourself for minutes at a time is a daunting task, and you need to familiarize yourself with the peak level of discomfort you can tolerate throughout your one-mile run.

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“If you’ve done the training and everything, hopefully you have gotten a good idea of what your time could be or should be,” says Whitaker. “You need to know how your body needs to feel during a fast mile. If you’re going to try to run a five-minute mile, you need to know what it feels like for your body to run the five-minute mile, and you need to know that that’s even in your wheelhouse. Get an understanding of your capabilities so that you can plan appropriately.”

In other words — don’t try for your fastest mile ever if you’ve never run at or near that pace before. Familiarize yourself with running at your target pace during training and draw from those experiences on race day.

Watch Your Splits

In lieu of having a coach standing by to shout your times to you, it’s probably in your best interests to actively check your time splits at critical checkpoints. That way, you can have a precise idea of whether your average pace has you on target for a favorable finish.

Once you get going, you want your 400 splits to be pretty even,” advises Whitaker. “For a beginner, that’s kind of what you’re trying to shoot for. A four-minute mile is just easy math; you want your running speed to get you as close to that one-minute mark as possible each time you come around the track, because once you get too far behind, it’s very difficult to make up the lost time. You can make up little small amounts, but you can’t make up big chunks later in the race.”

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How do you do all that? Again, it’s about developing a good idea of what your body is capable of during training. “Identify what your split-time targets are ahead of time, and try to stay pretty close to even splits when you’re actively running your mile,” Whitaker suggests.

Get a Good Start

It’s often said that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. While that’s still true while you’re running a mile, take advantage of a unique feature of your body’s energy systems to get out to an excellent start. That way, you’ve given yourself a little leeway when fatigue starts to set in, and it becomes more of a struggle to maintain a quick mile pace.

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“Our bodies have a few seconds of energy that comes from our ATP [adenosine triphosphate] stores, so we can leverage that when we first start a race,” says Whitaker. “That means you’re not starting too conservatively, and you’re using that ATP system to get those first few steps off the line so that you’re not wasting that opportunity. So there might be a second or two that you can gain just in those first few meters by getting a fast start, and then you can settle into even pacing.”

In other words, don’t push it all out at the beginning — you’ll fatigue more quickly — but find a burst of initial speed for a couple of seconds before settling into your race pace.

Make Sure You Aren’t Running More Than a Mile

An underrated feature of running a mile on a track is that a mile is only a true mile if you run right along the track’s innermost edge. For every lane you inhabit outside of that line, the length of your lap extends by roughly seven meters. This means that it’s possible to travel significantly more than a mile by the time you complete four trips around a track if you haven’t been taking the most efficient path.

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“If you’re on the track, you want to be as close to the inside [of the track as possible to make sure you’re running the shortest distance possible,” says Whitaker. “It’s important not to run longer than a mile if you can help it. If you’re running out on a road, just like any road course, make sure you’re taking your tangents and other things and basically not running too far. You don’t want your mile to turn into a mile plus 10, 20, or 30 meters. That means you want to run the most efficient route around the track.”

Think of it a bit like arching your back in the bench press — you’re shortening your range of motion. You’re still completing a rep, but more efficiently.

Draft Off Other Runners

If you’re running a mile during a race, there’s a high likelihood that you’re going to be sharing the track or roadway with several other runners. While the presence of competitors can be a distraction, there are ways to use it to your advantage.

“If you can find someone that’s running a little faster than the pace that you need to go, it can be hugely advantageous to draft behind them,” says Whitaker. “The energy savings from drafting are a huge benefit at any speed. Running behind somebody that’s just a little bit faster than you might just give you the edge that you need to get through the barrier that you’re trying to break.”

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New runners, fear not. Drafting is not cheating — experienced runners know and expect this to happen during races. You’re just improving your running economy. Just make sure you’re not completely abandoning your running pace by drafting behind someone way faster than you.

Don’t Get Boxed In

Drafting can be beneficial to your pursuit of a new personal record in the mile, but it won’t be helpful at all if your competition is physically holding you back. This means you’ll need to be keenly aware of your spacing throughout your one-mile run so that you don’t get stuck in the middle of a pack and are unable to break free.

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“When there are people on the track, everybody wants that inside position because it’s the shortest way around the track,” insists Whitaker. “If you run in lane two for one full lap, you’re essentially running seven-ish meters longer every single lap than the person that’s on the inside. People might cut you off and box you in. This can really slow down your pace. That’s another reason why it’s important to get a good start and get a good line; you can avoid getting boxed in by your competitors.”

So lace up those running shoes and lock in that running form — you’ll need every ounce of focus to avoid being kept from a fast finish line by your competitors.

The Gateway to More

A one-mile race is both a destination and a journey since it can be the jumping-off point to races of longer distances, like half marathons and full marathons. Once you build endurance and confidence, and you get the hang of a few one-mile races, you’ll be ready to string several miles together and take on some established marathon runners.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here, I’ll tackle some questions you might still have before you get running.

What is a good mile time?

What makes a good mile time is relative and can fluctuate with age, gender, and experience level. As an example, for those assigned female at birth, a 10-minute mile is slightly better than average for a 25-year-old beginner, yet borders on an elite time for 75-year-olds. However, as a single point of reference, a seven-minute mile time will move you safely out of the Novice range regardless of your age or gender.

How do I start preparing for a sub-four-minute mile?

To run a sub-four-minute mile, you must be more than one minute faster than the average elite distance runner in the world. The fastest average mile time in the elite category is held by 25-year-old cis male runners, and the time is 5:08. 
To even get close to breaking the four-minute barrier, you need to spend several years following a diligent, intense training plan to achieve a world-class fitness level. This includes having a workout program marked by high intensity, high volume, and periodization. 

What is the average time it takes for an adult to run a mile?

The average one-mile time across all ages and genders is 7:04. Remember, though, that this average time is significantly skewed by the numbers of advanced, elite, and world record-holding runners, who can sometimes clock a mile in less than four minutes. Novices under 35 range closer to the eight-minute mark, give or take a minute or so.

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