The Mile, America’s Classic Distance

  • By TJ Murphy
  • Published Jun. 4, 2013
  • Updated Jun. 5, 2013 at 11:30 AM UTC
The mile is not just a fun distance; it can also help improve your speed in longer races. Photo: Scott Draper

Q&A With Leo Manzano

Leo Manzano has run 3:50.64 for the mile, making him the ninth-fastest American ever at that distance. But the 28-year-old sealed his status in the history of U.S. running with a relentless finishing kick in the final of the 1500m event (the mile’s metric equivalent) at last summer’s London Olympics. The Mexican-born American dashed to a second-place finish, becoming the first U.S. runner since 1968 to win an Olympic medal at that distance.

What makes the mile so special?

Leo Manzano: “It’s the ultimate race, especially here in the U.S. If you ask anybody about it, most people have a pretty good idea what a mile is all about. Everybody runs it in school. Everything here is measured in miles. Most people don’t know what the 1500m race is, even though it’s almost the same thing. But when you hear someone say they run a 3-minute, 50-second mile, they say, ‘Wow, that’s fast.’ Most runners here know how fast a mile is because every time they run, either in training or a race, is broken down by miles and pace-per-mile.”

RELATED: Manzano Wins 1500m Olympic Silver

How can anyone relate to the mile?

LM: “I’ll get a little philosophical here, but racing the mile is kind of a metaphor for life in some ways. You can’t go out too fast, and you can’t live life too fast. You have to pace yourself, and that’s the same thing in the mile, too. In second and third lap of the mile, it gets pretty hard, just like in life. Then the fourth lap is the hardest. But you have to know there is always going to be a finish and whatever your troubles or challenges are, you just have to keep pushing and you’ll be done soon enough. But it’s all about balance, too. You can’t get behind and go too slow in either one, you’ve got to live.”

How can any runner get faster?

LM: “If a runner is trying to get faster, they definitely have to work on their speed. A lot of people might think they can go out and run and run and then run fast when it’s time to race. But it doesn’t work that way and the chances of getting hurt are very high if you normally don’t run fast. One of the best ways to start approaching speed, even without doing a hard speed work session, is to do eight to 10 strides after almost every run to loosen up your legs muscles and teach the body how to get used to running fast.”

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TJ Murphy

TJ Murphy

T.J. Murphy is a 2:38 marathoner and five-time Ironman finisher. He is the former editorial director of Triathlete Magazine, Inside Triathlon and Competitor Magazine. His writing has also appeared in Outside Magazine and Runner’s World. He recently authored “Inside the Box: How Broke All The Rules, Stripped Down the Gym and Rebuilt My Broken Down Body.”

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