When you’re new to running, your first focus may be building up your endurance. But if you want to start setting goals and seeing progress quickly, the next thing you’re probably going to consider is your mile time.
What’s a good mile time for beginners? How do you know if you’re making progress or not? Understanding your mile time could be the greatest training tool for beginner runners to make rapid progress and see improved results.
Here’s how to tell your mile time, how it compares to the average, the factors that can influence it, and some tips on improving your mile time.
How Long Is a Mile?
A mile comes from the old Roman distance unit, “mille passus,” which translates to “a thousand paces”. To give you an idea of how long a mile is, it’s equivalent to:
- 5,280 feet
- 1,760 yards
- 1.6 kilometers
- Four laps around a track
What’s the Average Mile Time?
It’s generally accepted that a beginner can run a mile in 12 to 15 minutes. Slightly more experienced, but still, amateur runners should be running around a 9 to 10-minute mile, but it depends on many different factors.
For example, the average mile time for males in their 20s is around 9:30 to 10 minutes. A woman in her 20s can expect to run a mile in 11:43 or thereabouts. Once you reach your 40s, the average time for men becomes 10:28 to 10:43, and for women becomes 12:24 to 12:41.
How Long Does It Take an Elite Runner To Run a Mile?
Hicham El Guerrouj set the world record for the fastest mile ever back in 1999, running a mile in just 3:43:13. He’s followed closely by Noah Ngeny, at 3:43.40.
The current women’s one-mile record is 4:12.33, set in 2019 by Sifan Hassan. Close behind her is Svetlana Masterkova, who set a mile time of 4:12.56 back in 1996.
For some context, Eliud Kipchoge’s average mile time in his recent 2022 Berlin Marathon win sat around 4:37 throughout the race. Running one mile at that pace is pretty amazing, but keeping it up for 26 miles is exceptional!
Here’s an interesting fact: Fewer than 50 athletes break the 4-minute-per-mile barrier each year. Of those athletes, 75% will never again reach that achievement. This means that running a 4-minute mile is almost impossible to sustain over time.
What’s a Good Mile Time for Beginners?
As mentioned above, a good mile time for beginners is 12 to 15 minutes. As you work on your pace and increase your fitness, you can expect this time to improve to around 8 or 9 minutes.
It’s important to know that while those times are average, everyone is different. If you’re currently running a mile in 20 minutes, that’s perfectly okay. The same principles apply to you—the more you work on it, the more you’ll improve.
What Factors Can Impact Your Mile Time?
A variety of factors can impact your mile time. Once you understand these factors, you can set yourself up to run a faster mile by optimizing your fitness and environment!
Your Fitness Level
The fitter you are, the faster you can run a mile. Your cardiovascular fitness dictates your endurance, so if you aren’t quite fit yet, you may need to stop to breathe, which will cost you some time.
Your muscle tone will also play a role here. The more muscular you are, the more power behind your push-off, so the faster you’ll go. On the other hand, the more excess weight you have on your body, the slower you’ll go.
Heat and especially humidity can slow you down, making you likely to dehydrate and tire more quickly. On the other hand, it can be harder to warm your muscles up properly in the cold, so you might not run your fastest mile in winter, either!
Interestingly, your core temperature can get up to 20 degrees warmer than outside weather. This means the ideal temperature for running is 50 to 55 degrees outside, with clear skies and little to no wind.
Terrain & Elevation
Flat terrain is the most conducive for running a fast mile. Hills will slow you down as your muscles are likely to fatigue faster.
Turns can also slow your time, as you’ll need to slow down marginally to execute them. Rough terrain will also lower your time, as you may need to run more carefully to stay safe.
The air pressure is lower at higher altitudes, affecting how your body absorbs and uses oxygen.
You may run slower at higher altitudes than lower ones, so keep this in mind if you travel for races!
Injuries & Recovery
If you’re recovering from an injury, you won’t be able to run as fast as usual. In fact, you should be easing yourself back into running!
But if you’re trying to make it back up to your usual mile time and not managing it after an injury, it may be because you haven’t built yourself back up to the same fitness level or muscular endurance.
How Beginners Can Run a Faster Mile
Want to improve your mile time? Here are some tips and tricks to help you get better without feeling like you’re straining.
Set a Realistic Goal
It’s easy to overdo things when you start out. As you have nothing to compare to, you might accidentally go too hard and overtrain, which can lead to nasty physical effects. Or, you may be undergoing it and not pushing yourself as hard as you can.
When you first begin, it will be experimental. Your first few mile runs may vary wildly in time, but your body is becoming accustomed to this level of exercise.
Keep in mind the average mile time for a beginner—12 to 15 minutes. That can be your initial goal until you discover how well your body deals with a mile.
Go easy on yourself. You may surprise yourself and run an 11-minute mile upfront, which is great. Or, you may be disappointed to see that it takes you 17 or 18 minutes. Either way, this is the best way to set realistic goals.
Once you know your rough mile time, you can figure out how to move forward. If you’re running an 18-minute mile, aiming for a 12-minute mile isn’t realistic.
You can aim to take a minute off your time first, and if you follow the rest of the steps here, you will see progress much faster than you thought possible!
Build a Running Base
You can’t just come out of the starting blocks without experience and expect to run a 12-minute mile. You need to have a foundation to build on, so if you’re completely new to running, you’ll need to build up a running base first.
You’ll need to first have 6 to 12 weeks of consistent running under your belt. You can then consider yourself an amateur runner at this stage, and you’ll have excellent fitness, muscular, and habitual base to build on.
Warm Up Properly
Failing to warm up can significantly hamper your performance. When your muscles aren’t warmed up before your first step, it takes them longer to become loose. Running with tight muscles slows you down, as you can’t work through your full range of motion.
Do some dynamic stretching before you run, making sure to stretch every muscle that’s involved in your run. Take 5 to 10 minutes to do this. It’s worth it, and it can noticeably reduce your mile time.
Run More Than a Mile At a Time
Although you’re only calculating your pace for one mile, don’t just stop running there if you can continue. Running longer distances does wonders for your endurance and can help to speed up your single mile time.
If you’re running a 15-minute mile easily, aim to increase your distance by 10% each week while keeping your pace the same. So, next week, aim to run 1.1 miles in 15 minutes. If you can do that, your mile time will automatically increase.
Vary Your Runs
Switching up your runs can help you to build endurance and stamina faster. You should add easy runs, tempo runs, hill sprints, intervals, and long runs to your training schedule. This can also be helpful for preventing boredom!
Learn to Breathe
Oxygen is what fuels your run! It delivers energy and nutrients to your muscles, so they can propel you forwards quickly. The way to breathe is through the nose, down to your diaphragm, and out through your mouth.
If you’re finding it hard to breathe, slow your pace. If it’s easy and you can still hold a conversation while running, then you should be able to pick up the pace.
Work On Your Lung Capacity
If you struggle with breathing while you run, there are a few steps you can take to improve your lung capacity. Training at higher altitudes can help significantly, as can incorporating swimming as your cross-training.
Smokers should also attempt to cut down or even quit smoking altogether. This can significantly improve lung capacity and your running performance.
Get Your Form Right
If you get your form correct from the start, you’ll have fewer injuries throughout your running career. Keep good posture, with your back straight and your head up, not leaning forward.
You should try to land on your midfoot or the ball of your foot, with your foot directly underneath your hips and not out in front of your body. If you have the means, getting a coach to teach you the correct form upfront is worth it.
The lighter you are, the faster you’ll run. If you’re carrying some extra pounds, losing them should help to improve your mile time.
The good news is that if you pair your increased activity levels with a healthy, calorie-controlled diet, you can easily lose excess weight.
Do Strength Training
Strength training can increase muscle strength. The stronger your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, the faster you’ll be able to push yourself through the mile. They’ll also fatigue more slowly the stronger they are.
Hitting the gym for leg day can be very handy. Exercises like deadlifts, lunges, hip thrusts, and Bulgarian split squats can build your lower body and increase your power. You may also want to do power exercises like squat jumps and box jumps.
You can also do cycling or incline walking as part of your cross-training, strengthening your leg muscles.
Don’t Forget to Rest
Rest is just as important as exercise. You should get at least one full day of rest every week, where you don’t run or do any other form of training.
You can also incorporate other recovery methods, like using a foam roller on your muscles or compression gear.
Track Your Progress
Keeping a training log will help you to see patterns and can be extremely motivating to see your progress as it happens!
Improving your mile time doesn’t happen overnight. You need a good dose of patience and consistency to ensure that you improve at a steady pace without overdoing it and setting yourself back.
Listen to your body as you run. If you feel unwell or have aches and pains, slow down! There’s no rush here—everyone improves at a different pace. You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone else on this journey.
Go at your own pace, congratulate yourself on your progress and new milestones, and above all, enjoy the process!