Run a faster mile in your fifties and beyond: “I did and became one of the fastest in the world,” says Elisabeth

This classic distance is as popular as ever and still holds meaning for every age group.

Even today, four minutes is a time associated with the mile, even though that barrier was first broken in May 1954. And while not too many of us will be looking for that kind of pace, running that distance almost insists we attach goals to it. What that time would be is almost irrelevant, be that six minutes or 10 minutes; it’s more the training and satisfaction that comes with the achievement that’s the really rewarding part.  

And, better, it’s a distance every runner can get excited about, no matter if you’re a new runner just starting in your fifties or a seasoned veteran. I get pumped up by it, but I was a sub-four-minute miler myself almost 40 years ago now, However, 49-year-old Elisabeth Sennitt Clough, who I coach, is new to the distance and was amazed at how achievable it is. She ran her best time ever this past summer – her first time ever under six minutes. And, even more significantly for this mother of three, local councillor and budding poet, it was one of the fastest in the world for her age group. 

Elisabeth Sennitt Clough running in a cross country raceCredit: Elisabeth Sennitt Clough
Run your fastest mile in your fifties. It is possible, as Elisabeth is keen to prove

Are you ready to run a faster mile?

Let’s work back from the goal to run a mile. Ask yourself how fast do I want to run? How often can I run? Where can I run? Is there anyone I can run with? Now, using a touch of common sense, mix all of them together and create the perfect formula. 

Like creating a great recipe, it’s all about making personal adjustments here and there to get it all to work. But the underlying concept is something Steve Ovett told me once. The former world-record holder for the mile described training for the distance like this: “get yourself strong enough to run three quarters of it at a steady pace and then have enough speed left to sprint the final quarter of a mile.” 

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Lay the base for your fast mile

This is the fun part, in that there’s no requirement to run fast, nor is there a definitive distance you need to run in any one week. If you run 10 miles a week, then eight of them should be nice and easy. If you do 20, then 16 at a slow pace is perfect. I still use the same principles my coach, Dick Weis, used in the 1980s. He’d just tell us to get out there and run. Stop if you want, slowing down is fine. We’re interested in simply being outside and building an aerobic base, which can only be done with slow, easy running. If you’re a numbers fan, make sure 80% of your total week’s training consists of this for at least eight weeks, but preferably 12. 

Add some strength to run a faster mile

Base training out of the way, now think about the idea Ovett talked about. You need to be strong enough to run three quarters of the distance at a steady pace. Think about efforts of around three or four minutes with a short recovery. I use five lots of three minutes with oneminute recovery as my strength workout, but it could be two minutes, could be five minutes. Your choice. Run a session like that, or similar, every 10 days or so. 

Man in plankCredit: Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images
Core strength is vital when it comes to running fast

Improve your speed and run a faster mile

I’ve found this is the area so often ignored. We’re runners, after all, and love no more than to go out and run. Adding specific speed sessions often involves no more than 10 minutes of effort, which doesn’t seem enough for many. Let me tell you; it is. Again, once every 10 days or so, run something like four sets of 4×30 seconds with 30 seconds between each effort. If you just do that workout and no other one, that’ll do. It’s all I did with Elisabeth, and she ran five minutes 59 seconds. And checking on the world rankings, that was 22nd fastest. Amazing. 

“If I can run a faster mile at my age, you can, too”

Elisabeth Sennitt Clough proves just what you can do if you turn your mind to it.

“I was 47 when I raced on a track for the first time. It was when races opened up again after the pandemic that I wanted to try something different. I signed up for a 400-metre [437-yard] race. 

“Although my legs went to jelly at 200 metres [219 yards], and I wobbled to the finish, with my legs going from side to side and my arms going forward, it was an exhilarating experience. 

“Unfortunately, in the same year, I developed a serious bone infection, which meant I had to stop running for months and undergo foot surgery. It was a slow process to regain any measure of speed in my legs, but I was supported back to fitness by a great coach in Paul (the author this piece) and group of athletes at Peterborough & Nene Valley Athletic Club where Paul is a distance running coach. 

“So, when I won a mile track race and dipped under six minutes for the first time in my 49th year, I felt a great sense of fulfilment. I’d stuck with my goal, despite a major setback. A sub-six-minute mile may not seem ground-breaking to everyone, but for me – given my lack of track experience, my age and my health history – it was an achievement. Focusing on your own goals and not worrying about what times others are running is essential.” 

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What is an average time to run a mile?

How quickly you’ll run has all sorts of provisos attached to it and, of course, if you’re a complete beginner, we recommend building a fitness base by mixing walking and slow jogging for at least six weeks. But the beauty of the mile is the distance. It’s possible to run it at a good pace, unlike, let’s say, a 10k (six miles 370 yards). If you don’t believe me, have a go at the Westminster Mile in London, or find a local one near you and find out for yourself. 

Indeed, using that race in Westminster – the mile equivalent of the London Marathon in terms of popularity as a guide, the chart below shows the average times for fast men and women and beginners at the Westminster Mile in 2022. 

Remember, this is one mile, not your pace for three or four. Give it a go and surprise yourself. You will. 

 

Age  Fast men  New to the mile  Fast women  New to the mile 
50  5min  9min  5min 45secs   

10min 45secs 

  

60  5min 30secs  9min 55secs  6min 15secs  11min 35secs 
70  6min  11min 10secs  6min 45secs  12min 45secs 
80+  6min 45secs  13min  8min  14min 50secs 

 

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Paul Larkins

Written by Paul Larkins

Published:

Paul Larkins has been a sports journalist for more than 30 years, covering two Olympic Games, one Paralympics, numerous World Championships and, most recently, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. He’s also been a magazine editor, heading up titles covering everything from running to cooking and buying tractors. But his real passion is running. As a former GB International athlete and sub-4-minute miler in the 1980s, Paul has a great understanding of life-long fitness and the benefits it can provide.