December – One mile at a time…

December is not a month we usually associate with running goals. It’s often a wind down month, the off-season after a year of races and challenges. So if you are taking your foot off the gas after a busy running year, enjoy the break. But if you know your body (and your mind) would benefit from a little more activity and fresh air this month, can I encourage you to join me on a new project? This one will help keep you motivated but won’t take over your life too much. It’s time for the 1 mile challenge.

Why choose a mile?

A mile is a reasonably short, measurable and achievable distance for runners (and walkers) of all levels. You get to choose the challenge for you. Whether you are a beginner looking to run a mile non-stop, or a  more experienced runner looking to run a faster mile, you will build your running confidence as you see improvements week on week. Best of all, training for one mile can be integrated into your regular running routine, or indeed it can be the kickstart you need to make a running comeback.

Why less might be more

As recreational runners, we usually build up to 5k and then improve on distance and speed beyond that. Rarely do we look back at shorter distances. Most local races, parkruns and events focus on 5k and beyond too. But that doesn’t mean all running goals need to be tailored around these distances. This December, when time, energy and motivation can be at a premium, having new focus might be just what you need. It will give you a purpose in your running sessions, a personal challenge and indeed some well needed balance as the Christmas season kicks off. It won’t take too much time either. A stronger mile gives you a huge head start on any of your new year goals too.

How to approach the month

The starting point for your mile project is to actually find a nice clear mile route near you. I suggest you find a brightly lit, clear section of path in the second half of your local 5k route. If you are lucky enough to have access to a running track or a floodlit green area, this can work well too. Once you have the mile measure the next task is to work out your starting point. How long does it currently take you to complete that mile? Make sure you are well warmed up before you start the clock! This mile section will become your weekly check in, and as the weeks progress it will become second nature to challenge yourself on this mile section.

For Beginners

While your mile may be more walking than running right now, I suggest you follow the same guidelines as above, finding a local bright route and measure 1 mile in the middle of it. Walk as a warmup and cooldown either side of the mile markers but within the mile aim to follow a walk/run strategy with plenty breaks in the early weeks. Build slowly and gradually and by the end of the month you will be running that mile non-stop. Put less pressure on yourself at the start and once you get consistent at getting out the door 3 times per week you will really see the improvements.

For Improvers

For those of you who have been running 5k or beyond regularly this year, you can integrate this mile focus into your weekly running routine. Not every run has to incorporate this mile, but at least once per week track your time over that measured mile distance. Write it down and watch how it improves gradually. Ensure you are well warmed up and go for it. You can integrate shorter speed intervals into midweek runs too to get your body used to running faster and shorter. But remember rest and recovery are key to improving too. Running 1 mile fast is quite a mental challenge so if you prefer to measure your distance as the last 1 mile of your local parkrun, the draw of a finish line and the company of others might help keep you moving forward too.

Other ways to use a mile

If running is not for you this winter, you can still set yourself a different mile challenge where the focus is not on how fast you can complete a mile, but instead how frequently you can get out the door and walk a mile. Consider how much fresh air you currently get these days? How about walking a mile every lunchbreak, or taking 15-20 minutes each morning before you start your working day to walk 1 mile. Bring along kids on a bike or scooter too. Some of them might like the competition of the clock running too. Remember, you get to decide the mile challenge and it doesn’t have to be just about running.

For Charity

Keep an eye out for any local Christmas charity events that can add a little more inventive to your mile challenge. The GOAL mile is a long standing charity running event in Ireland, a festive 1 mile charity run taking place in many towns across this country this Christmas. Find your local one and add an extra focus to your mile challenge by signing up, supporting the charity while also giving yourself a chance to ‘race’ your mile and see what you can do when you are running with a crowd. This also is a great family opportunity to get everyone out to run or walk over the festive season.

Finish the year on a high

I set this mile challenge for my running groups as they launched into our winter term in mid-November. Already at 3 weeks in, it is wonderful to see their progress and boost in motivation as they integrate ‘the mile’ into their training. But you don’t need to be part of a group to reap these benefits. You can start right now. Rather than wait for the wave of January challenges to flood your social media feeds next month, set your intention for the December mile. Round up friends or family if you need accountability, or choose to have it as your treat, a solo fresh air escape from them all. December will pass is a sea of festive pressures – let this challenge be your gift to yourself this festive season.

This article by Mary was first published in The Irish Times 29/11/2022.