Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Fastest Mile of My Life

I raced my second-ever road mile over the weekend at the Loudon Street Mile in Winchester, Virginia.  My first attempt was four years ago at this same race. My time was 5:57.6. 

Why Race A Mile?
Why race a mile? Why drive over an hour to run for six minutes? Why pay money to run a mile? What's so hard about a mile? 

These are all questions I have been asked regarding this race. I decided to race this mile because I love a running challenge and I wanted to try and beat my time from 2020. Plus, I often get asked how fast I can run a mile, so I figured I should have an up to date answer.

As for driving over an hour for a six minute race, think about all the gymnasts who travel across the country or across the world to do a 10-second vault. Or the sprinters who travel worldwide for a 20-second event. My sister takes my nieces all over the USA to compete for 3 minutes in cheer. The duration of the competition is totally irrelevant to the travel time. The two are un-related. 

If that's the case, then why don't I travel farther to run 5Ks and 10Ks? Simple. Because there are plenty 5Ks and 10Ks to choose from that are relatively close to my home. I have so many options locally, that there's no need to travel. But mile races are rare. I honestly don't understand why. They're much easier on race directors. Maybe I do understand why, though. Perhaps it's because the participants don't view it as a challenge. Many people run 5Ks to cover the distance. If the distance were reduced to a mile, they probably wouldn't be as attracted to it.

The next question. Why pay money to run a mile? Easy. You aren't paying to run a mile, you are paying to compete in a running event. 

What's so hard about a mile? If you aren't a runner, this is something you won't understand. It's hard because it's intense. In order to race it at 100% effort, you need to be super uncomfortable for the entire duration. The goal isn't to "complete" the mile, but rather to run it as hard as possible. This goes back to my above point. Many people are attracted to 5K races because there is an obvious achievement in covering 5 kilometers on foot, particularly running the whole time. With a mile, that achievement may not seem as significant. 

My "A" goal was to break 5:50. I was confident I had the physical ability to do it, but I wasn't sure if I could pace it properly or maintain the intense level of discomfort that it required.

My "B" goal was a PR, so sub 5:57.

My "C" goal was under 6:00.

Before the Race
Greg and I left the house at around 6:40 for a race start time of 8:40. I had my pre-run snack in the car: almond butter filled pretzels. I didn't want to eat too much because I wanted a mostly empty stomach. I was sure to have a big dinner the night before.

I decided to wear the New Balance Super Comp Pacer. Not to be confused with the Super Comp Trainer (which has a high stack height and is meant for long runs). The two shoes are basically opposites. The Pacer weighs in at 5.2 ounces for my size 6.5. It's low to the ground and extremely responsive. Not a lot of bounce, but there is a carbon fiber plate. I wear these shoes at the track when I am running anything shorter than mile repeats. I like to get the feedback from the ground so the bouncy/cushy super shoes are not my preference at high speeds.

It took us 70 minutes to get there, and we arrived at 7:50. I got my bib and went to the bathroom. Greg and I then scoped out the course to find a good location for him to be. We found a good spot about a tenth of a mile before the finish, where he could stand on an elevated platform and have a good angle for photos. I then started my warm up. 

I almost missed the start of my most recent 5K so I was keenly aware of the 8:40 start time and what the current time was. I did not want to be scrambling again. I warmed up to the start, which I knew was less than a mile away. I took my gel 18 minutes before the start so that the caffeine would kick in just when I needed it. I drank more water at the start line and used the bathroom again. I then did some strides and dynamic stretching. I was a little worried about my hamstring because it had seized up 5 days prior during a track workout, causing me to stop the workout. But thankfully it felt like it was 100% during my shakeout run the day before the race.

Race Setup
This race was divided into heats based on predicted finish time. The "fast men" started at 8:30 and the "fast women" started at 8:40. And then there were additional mixed-gender heats for the rest of the runners, organized by time. 

My heat had about 25 runners in it and the cutoff was under 6:00. When I registered, I entered a predicted time of 5:50. 

I lined up at the very back of the heat, which was still pretty much on the line because there were so few runners. I chatted with some of the other women and we talked about what our goal times were. I really loved that this was an all-women heat and that it would be a true "race". Part of me felt like an imposter racing against these elite women, but my previous mile time was 5:57, so I legit made that cutoff. 

It was about 68 degrees, completely overcast, and humid. Given that fact that this was only a mile and it takes about 10 minutes for the humidity to zap me, I determined it was very good. On my personal weather scale, I give it an 8 out of 10 (if this were a longer race it would be more like a 4-5). But my weather scale is defined by how much the conditions impact the race. And in this case, the conditions didn't impact the race that much. Rain, however, would have really taken the score down because part of the course is on a brick surface and I can see that getting super slippery. 

The First Half
The race started and everyone bolted out. The women who said they wanted to be around 5:50 must have gone out at a 5:30 pace or faster. But I did not want to get caught up in that. My plan was to run my own race. I went out hard, but I made sure to not make it feel like a sprint. I would save the sprint for the second half. The course had quarter markers which were really nice, and they came up SO FAST. 

When I passed the halfway point I looked at the clock and it read 2:59. I was running so hard that I didn't have the headspace to analyze it too much. I knew that if I just repeated that then I wouldn't set a PR. Thankfully, I knew I would be able to speed up a lot, just like I did back in 2020. 

The Second Half
There's an incline from about 0.3 to 0.6 and then a nice drop. I'm a very strong downhill runner, so I sprinted downhill and by the time I got to the bottom I had caught up with the women who said they wanted to run around 5:50, and started to pass them. They clearly noticed and did not want me to pass them, so they sped up even more. 

I decided not to focus on them and keep my eyes squarely on the finish. The goal was to stay as strong as possible and kick with everything I had. 

I ran the second half in a time of 2:48, which yielded an official time of 5:47.1.

When I crossed the finish line, my legs and arms were on fire. They burned so much and I felt like they were just going to fall off! That was such an intense second half, at a pace of 5:36. The graph shows the course elevation and how my pace changed relative to it.

Looking at the graph above, you can see that my pace decreases at the elevation increases, and then my pace increases and the elevation decreases. I wonder if that 4:56 at the top of the graph means I was running that pace for a few seconds!

When the results came out, I realized that I placed second in the 45-49 age group. One of the women who I caught up with and passed, passed me at the very end and won the age group by 0.6 of a second! 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
That was really fun! I am so glad I did this and now I want to go back next year and aim for sub 5:45. 

  • I PR'ed by over 10 seconds and celebrated by having PR ice cream cake with Greg.
  • I beat my A goal! I knew I had the physical ability, but the question mark was execution.
  • After having logged 33,772 miles in my training log, my 33,773rd mile was faster than all of them at the age of 45.
  • I missed winning my age group by 0.6 of a second. Even though I was racing/competing, I wasn't focused on the competition. I was running my own race. Usually that is the best approach, but yesterday was the time to actually compete and gain motivation from the runners around me.
  • If I had to do it over again, I would have been slightly more aggressive in the beginning and then more competitive with the women around me at the end. But generally I am very pleased. 
  • I really love running in briefs!
Next up: more 5Ks!


  1. Congrats on yet another slice of that sweet sweet PR cake! I wish that there were more one mile races as well - they are so hard but they are so rewarding.

  2. Good for you!!! I'm not surprised. You are on fire!

  3. I have to say to be running short distances and demolishing your previous bests at your age defies science and maybe you can write another book.. "How Elizabeth shows the scientific method with running and age is bullshit." Ok that won't be the title obviously but impressive and love that you now want to go back and break 5:45. I am not feeling that at all with the short distances and I'm a smidge younger than you so I'm just amazed and proud of you!!

  4. Well done, Elizabeth! You just keep going from stregth to strength! AV