Medical News Today: What is the average time to run a mile?

Many factors affect the average time that it takes for people to run a mile. Age, biological sex, fitness level, and nutrition all play a role, but there are other reasons why the time varies among individuals.

For example, some studies have shown that the type of running shoe that a person wears can improve their average mile time. Other researchers have investigated the effects of consuming coffee before a run.

In this article, we explore the factors that influence average mile times and investigate how to run a faster mile.

Average mile time

person running in the forest
High intensity interval training can improve average mile times.

The Army Study Guide website lists the standards for how quickly males and females in various age groups should be able to run a 2-mile race.

The following table shows how fast, in minutes and seconds, male and female runners have to run 1 mile to be in the top 1% and top 50% of their age groups.

Males run faster, on average, than females in the same age group.

The qualifying times for the Boston and New York City marathons reflect the difference between males and females, as do the world record times for the fastest mile.

The following table shows the world record results for the fastest mile that a man and woman have run.


How to improve running time

People who wish to reduce their average mile time can try several techniques to improve their running economy. Running economy is the amount of energy that a person requires to run at a particular pace.

Researchers have identified various interventions that may help people run faster.

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Training

People who include endurance, interval, resistance, and plyometric training in their workout schedules may improve their average mile times.

Researchers believe that endurance training causes physiological responses that help people adapt to running more quickly.

Coaches often prescribe high intensity interval training and hill workouts as additional methods of improving average mile times.

Many elite athletes also choose to train in cities at high altitudes, such as Boulder, CO. High altitude training improves oxygen delivery to the muscles and helps them use oxygen more efficiently.

Caffeine

Both elite and amateur runners use caffeine to help improve their performance. Coffee contains caffeine, but this stimulant is also in sports drinks, gels, jelly beans, and other carbohydrate-rich products that are quick for the body to absorb.

A study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance evaluated the effects of drinking coffee before a 1-mile race.

The team of researchers separated 13 male athletes into three treatment groups. One group received 3 milligrams (mg) of caffeinated coffee per kilogram (kg) of body weight, while the second group received an equivalent amount of decaffeinated coffee, and the last group drank a placebo solution.

The researchers noted that the runners who drank caffeinated coffee 60 minutes before the race ran 1.3% faster than the participants in the decaffeinated coffee group and 1.9% faster than those who received the placebo.

However, these results are not consistent across studies. Another group of researchers asked some participants to drink 5.5 mg of coffee per kg of body weight and others to drink an equivalent amount of decaffeinated coffee. All participants then completed an 800-meter race, which is almost equivalent to half a mile.

The researchers found that caffeinated coffee did not improve the participants’ race performance, compared with decaffeinated coffee.

It is important to note that in both of these studies, the participants were well-trained runners, so it is unclear whether caffeine may affect the speed of untrained runners.

Learn more about the possible benefits of drinking coffee here.

Nutrition

high intensity interval training
A person may enhance their exercise performance by eating spinach.

Dietary nitrates, which occur naturally in lettuce, spinach, arugula, cress, celery, and beetroot, may play a role in exercise performance and tolerance.

When people eat nitrates, the body converts them into nitrites. The further conversion of these substances into nitric oxide takes place in conditions of low oxygen, which can occur when exercise causes the muscles to become oxygen-deprived.

Nitric oxide has many positive effects on the body that may enhance exercise performance and tolerance.

As the authors of a review article note, several studies have shown that dietary nitrates can improve exercise tolerance and lower the quantity of oxygen that the body needs during exercise.

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Other research has tested the theory that nitrates can improve exercise performance.

Researchers found that fit adults performed better on a 5-kilometer treadmill run when they ate 200 grams (g) of baked beetroot, compared with those who ate a placebo. The runners ate the beetroot, which provides more than 500 mg of nitrates, 75 minutes before the run.

Most of the research to date has used beetroot juice. However, researchers are unable to determine the exact amount that people need to consume to perform better.

Researchers agree that athletes can easily include 5–9 millimoles of nitrates in their daily diet, although there is currently a lack of evidence to suggest that this will result in better exercise performance.

Other factors

Researchers have been working with elite athletes to break the 2-hour marathon time. They have studied other factors that may improve running economy, such as:

  • consistent tailwind
  • downhill course
  • specific running shoe designs

Researchers suggest that wearing running shoes that are 100 g lighter, alternating between leading and drafting behind other runners, and racing on a course with a 42-meter elevation drop could make it possible to run a marathon in under 2 hours.

Another study tested the theory that people run faster while listening to music, which can influence both movement tempo and motivation.

In the study, the researchers asked recreational runners to run to exhaustion on a treadmill under three sets of conditions:

  • a control condition, with no auditory stimulation
  • a metronome condition, with beeps matching the runner’s cadence
  • a music condition, with the beat of motivational music matching the runner’s cadence

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The researchers believed that motivational music with a tempo equivalent to a faster running cadence would have superior effects, compared with just a metronome beat.

However, the findings did not support this belief, with time to exhaustion being consistent across the metronome and music conditions. Runners ran for more time under both of these conditions than under the control condition.

The results also indicate only a slight reduction in the runners’ perceived effort when they ran to motivational music. However, by boosting mood and arousal levels, motivational music may help people feel less pain and fatigue when running, allowing them to last longer before they reach exhaustion.

The study authors note that previous findings show that the motivational nature of the music is less important than the tempo matching the runner’s cadence.

People can try listening to music during their training to help motivate them to run faster. By choosing motivational music with a beat that matches their preferred cadence, the person may run more efficiently.


Summary

People who want to improve their average mile time can do so by training. Including endurance training, hilly workouts, and high intensity interval training in an exercise schedule can help a person improve their average mile time.

Some research indicates that including caffeine and nitrates in the diet may help with running performance. A person should be careful to take these substances at the appropriate time for their effects to influence running performance.

Besides training and supplementing the diet, other factors may also help, such as running with a tailwind and on a downhill course. People may also wish to invest in a lighter pair of shoes, which can improve running economy.

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