The average time it takes to run a mile changes based on sex, age, fitness level, and nutrition. Many other factors also affect mile time, including footwear and elevation.

Given the range of factors affecting mile times, it is difficult to cite a single time that represents the average of all groups. However, there are certain time standards that people can use as a baseline for comparison.

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

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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High intensity interval training can improve average mile times.

Determining the average time it takes to run a mile is tricky, as there is no comprehensive database listing average mile times. As a starting point, the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) outlines standards for how quickly males and females in various age groups should be able to run 2 miles.

The information in the following table pulls from those standards.

It shows the average running pace per mile of male and female runners based on the 2-mile run in the APFT. It also illustrates how fast, in minutes and seconds, male and female runners have to be to rank in the top 1% and top 50% of their age groups.

17–21 years22–26 years27–31 years32–36 years37–41 years42–46 years47–51 years52–56 years56–61 years
Top 1% of males6:306:306:396:396:487:037:127:217:39
Top 50% of males8:188:458:579:249:459:54no datano datano data
Top 1% of females7:487:487:547:578:308:428:489:309:51
Top 50% of females9:5110:1810:5111:3312:03no datano datano datano data

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 male and female running performance, as do the world record times for the fastest mile.

The following table shows the indoor and outdoor mile world records for men and women.

Men outdoorMen indoorWomen outdoorWomen indoor
3:43.133:47.014:12.334:13.31

Long-distance versus short-distance running

In track and field, long-distance running refers to events of 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) or more.

Middle-distance events range from 800 meters (roughly half a mile) to 3,000 meters (just shy of 2 miles). Thus, the mile is considered a middle-distance running event.

Long- and middle-distance running events require sustained aerobic energy production. Aerobic exercises increase a person’s heart rate and breathing rate over a relatively long duration. Aerobic capacity becomes an important determiner of running performance as distance increases.

Sprinting, or short-distance running, includes distances up to 400 meters, or a quarter of a mile.

Sprint performance depends on anaerobic metabolism. During anaerobic exercise, the body breaks down glucose without using oxygen, creating lactic acid.

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.

Training

Researchers believe endurance training causes physiological responses that help people adapt to running more quickly. People who add endurance, interval, resistance, and plyometric training to their workout programs may improve their average mile times.

Coaches often prescribe high intensity interval training and hill workouts as additional methods of improving running economy.

Many elite athletes also choose to train in cities at high altitudes, such as Boulder, Colorado, and Flagstaff, Arizona. 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 performance. Coffee contains caffeine, but manufacturers also add this stimulant to sports drinks, gels, and other carbohydrate-rich products that are easy for the body to absorb.

A 2018 study evaluated the effects of drinking coffee before a 1-mile race.

The team of researchers separated 13 trained male runners into three treatment groups. One group received 0.09 grams of 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 studied the effects of caffeinated coffee on 800-meter time trial performances of 12 runners who fasted overnight. The 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 roughly 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, researchers instructed the participants to fast beforehand. It’s unclear if caffeine has the same effect on running performance when consumed in unfasted states. Additionally, the participants in the study were habitual coffee drinkers, and more research is needed to determine how coffee consumption might affect the running performance of nonhabitual coffee drinkers.

Learn more about the possible benefits of drinking coffee here.

Nutrition

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A person may enhance their exercise performance by eating spinach.

Consuming dietary nitrates, which occur naturally in lettuce, spinach, arugula, watercress, celery, and beets, 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 2021 review note, several studies have shown that dietary nitrates can improve exercise tolerance and lower the quantity of oxygen that the body needs during exercise.

In a 2017 study, researchers found that adult male soccer players who ingested 140 milliliters of beetroot juice containing 800 milligrams of nitrates before exercise performed better during high intensity intermittent exercises than those who consumed a placebo.

Conversely, other studies examining the relationship between dietary nitrates and exercise performance have found no effect on performance.

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.

Other factors

Researchers have been working with elite athletes to break the 2-hour marathon barrier. As part of their research, they 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 grams 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.

In fact, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya achieved this feat in 2019, running a time of 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 40 seconds. This is an average of 4:34 per mile for 26.2 miles.

A 2020 study tested the theory that people run faster while listening to music, which may influence both movement tempo and motivation.

The researchers asked 20 young male participants to perform two randomly assigned trials of a 6-minute run test, with or without self-selected music. Each test was at least three days apart.

Participants selected a minimum of 10 minutes of music — specifically songs they felt inclined to exercise to. All chosen songs were within the 120–140 beat per minute range.

Researchers found that listening to preferred music improved participants’ 6-minute self-paced maximal exercise performance by increasing the total distance covered and decreasing blood lactate concentration.

Participants appeared to sustain higher running speeds while listening to music, but their heart rates did not increase compared to running without music.

The study’s authors theorize that the absence of significant differences in heart rate between the music and control tests, despite the increase in running speed, could mean an improvement in cardiovascular efficiency. However, further research is needed to understand the relationship between pacing and music.

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.

Precautions to take

Health experts recommend that people perform moderate-intensity exercises like running or jogging most days of the week.

However, rest is an important part of training. Not resting enough or pushing too hard when exercising can lead to poor performance, injury, and health problems.

To avoid overtraining, a person should try:

People who want to improve their average mile time can do so by training. Adding endurance training, hill workouts, and high intensity interval training to an exercise program may help a person improve their average mile time.

Some research indicates that including caffeine and nitrates in the diet may help with running performance. However, 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 shoes with the latest technology, as footwear can improve running economy. Additionally, a person may try running while listening to music they enjoy.