Pacing an Indoor Mile
The mile is one of track and field's most recognizable events. If you're a distance runner, the question your non-running friends are perhaps most likely to ask you is, "How fast can you run a mile?"
Although the mile has been largely supplanted by the 1,500 meters -- the distance contested in the Olympics and about 109 meters shy of a mile -- it is still frequently staged in indoor meets. Pacing yourself properly in this event, which requires both speed and endurance, is critical to success.
The First Two Laps
Most indoor tracks are 200 meters long, just shy of an eighth of a mile. Because an indoor track's turns are so tight compared to an outdoor track's, it's important in a race with more than about eight entrants to get off the starting line quickly. It's just as important, however, to settle into goal race pace, or perhaps very slightly faster, within the first 100 meters so as to avoid crippling oxygen debt early in the race.
Heading into the second lap, you will probably still be in a tight pack and jockeying for position. Try to maintain your goal-pace rhythm while staying safely out of reach of the tangle of flailing arms and legs that characterizes the early stages of a mile. Your time at the quarter-mile mark should put you a second or two ahead of goal pace -- for example, if you're shooting for six minutes, your time at the quarter should be about 1:28.
The Third and Fourth Laps
On laps three and four, your primary goal should be to settle into race pace and either hold your position or move up a place or two by overtaking runners who, as so many do, started too fast. When passing runners in an indoor race, you should try to get the job done on the straightaways so as to avoid running too much extra distance; failing this, try passing them at the end of a turn, so that you have to whole 50-meter straightaway to put enough distance to safely cut in and position yourself as close to the inside of lane one as possible.
If you've paced yourself properly, you'll start to feel taxed somewhere in the fourth lap, with the early adrenalin burst having given way, at least in part, to some seriously heavy breathing. You should not, however, feel genuine distress just yet.
The Fifth and Sixth Laps
In many respects, the third quadrant of a mile race is the toughest; you're far enough into the event to feel significant fatigue, but not close enough to the finish to start a genuine push for home. As you approach the end of lap five, be aware of your leg turnover and try to keep your stride tempo from slowing. The fifth and sixth laps of an indoor mile are often the slowest of the race for most people, so if you can pick off anyone in front of you as a means of trying to keep the pace where you want it, don't be afraid to make a small move. Heading into the seventh, you want to have a clear path in front of you and the sense of starting a long drive for the tape. If you're a couple of seconds off your goal pace three-fourths of the way in, don't panic -- this is to be expected.
The Last Two Laps
Going into the next-to-last lap, you will probably not experience the same mental boost you are apt to feel with one lap to go in an outdoor mile, despite having a quarter of a mile left to run in both instances; the psychological factor of not yet being on the last lap causes a lot of indoor milers to maintain, rather than increase, the pace with 400 meters remaining. You can take advantage of this by starting an extended "kick" to the finish beginning on the backstretch of the penultimate lap, with about 325 meters to go. By the time you reach the start of the final lap, you should be driving with your arms and preparing to launch into a full sprint. With 150 meters to go, you can pull out all of the stops and go as hard as you possibly can; if you time this right, you will "tie up," or be forced by lactic acid to slow down, the instant you cross the finish line.
L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.