The Fastest Mile Ever Run: A Look Back Through History

When you talk to someone who has been running for a while, they’ll inevitably be able to tell you all about their different personal best (PB) times for various distances – 10k, 5k, 1k, and, of course, the mile. 

And whether you’re a beginner still trying to break 12 minutes or an experienced runner working towards a 5-minute mile, we all try to better ourselves over this distance. But what is the fastest mile ever run?

The current world record holder is Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco. He ran the fastest mile in recorded history with a staggeringly fast time of 3:43.13.

We’re going to look at the history of the mile, the progression of records when it comes to the mile, what it takes to run the fastest mile in the world, and the man who holds the record for the fastest mile ever run.

The Mile: A Quick History

History of the fastest mile ever run

You may not know much about the mile if you don’t live in the UK or US. Sure, you’ll have heard of a mile, and you likely know your time for the mile, but this distance is a bit strange. The UK and US both use the mile to measure distance, but it has no logic in the metric system.

The mile is 4 laps of a standard athletics track, right? Well, not exactly. A mile is 1,609 meters, which means it’s 4 laps… plus 9.3 meters. It baffles even the most mathematically-inclined runners when trying to do conversions.

The word “mile” is derived from the Latin “mille passus,” which means 1,000 paces. The mile was originally measured by 1,000 Roman strides (each stride was equal to 2 paces). 

In 1592, the English Parliament standardized the mile to equal 8 furlongs. We know – a FURLONG?! What on earth?! A furlong is a distance equal to 660 feet, making the mile equal to 5,280 feet, which is 1,760 yards or approximately 1,609 meters. 

But, on 1 July 1959, through international agreements, it was officially standardized to become 1,609.344 meters. Talk about confusing, right? Anyway, the mile distance became an official race distance in the late 1800s.

Today, the mile is officially sanctioned by the USA Track & Field and World Athletics as a non-metric record event and remains a popular event worldwide.

Progression of History’s Fastest Miles

There was no recognized sanctioning body to oversee official record times until 1912, but many fast miles were run before then.

In 1865, Englishman Richard Webster set the first fastest mile at a track event. His time was an impressive 4:36.5. His record stood until 1868, when William Chinner ran a 4:29.0, followed by Walter Gibbs, who ran a 4:28.8 in the same year.

Gibbs’ time stood unbeaten for six years until Walter Slade ran the mile in 1874 in 4:24.5. England’s Walter George took a massive chunk of time off Slade’s mile when he ran a 4:18.4 in the 1880s. Walter is widely considered to be the world’s first superstar mile runner.

In the mid-1890s, Scotsman Fred Bacon became the first non-English runner to hold the mile record. He covered the distance in a speedy 4.17.0.

The first mile record recognized and confirmed by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) was on 31 May 1913. American John Paul Jones ran it in an eye-popping 4:14.4 in Allston, Massachusetts.

The 1930s saw a spike in fastest mile times thanks to the wider media coverage of the event. In fact, this was when the mile became one of the most popular distances among athletes. Swedish athlete Gunder Hägg pushed the mile record closer to the 4-minute mark in 1945 when he ran 4:01.4.

But as recently as the early 1950s, it was believed that it was impossible to break the 4-minute barrier for the mile. 

That was until 6 May 1954, when Britain’s Roger Bannister ran a time-shattering 3:58.8 in Vancouver, Canada. Sadly for Roger, his hard-earned record would only stand for 46 days because Australian John Landy ran the mile in 3:57.9 in August 1954, also in Vancouver, Canada.

Statue of Roger Bannister passing John Landy for the fastest mile ever
CC Paul Joseph. This statue shows Roger Bannister passing John Landy in his famous ‘Miracle Mile’.

Once the 4-minute mile had been accomplished, it opened the floodgates for other runners to follow suit. The result was an ever-lower mile record time. How low? Let’s take a look!

The Fastest Mile Ever Run

The current world record for the fastest mile run by a man is a blazing 3:43.13. This phenomenal time was run by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco. His record was set on 7 July 1999 in Rome, Italy. 

Although we’ve seen several advancements in footwear technology, training techniques, and nutrition guidance, Hicham’s mile record has yet to be broken.

What about the women’s mile?

The first record set for the fastest mile for women was on 24 June 1921 when British athlete Elizabeth Atkinson completed the mile in 6:13.2. 

Her record remained untouched until another UK athlete, Anne Smith, tore through the record, running a 4:37.0 on 3 June 1967, almost exactly 46 years after the first record was set.

Fast-forward another 22 years to 10 July 1989, Romanian runner Paula Ivan set a new record by running 4:15.61 in Nice, France. Just seven years later, Svetlana Masterkova of Russia shaved over 3 seconds off Ivan’s time with 4:12.56 on 14 August 1996 in Zürich, Switzerland.

Masterkova’s record lasted for over two decades until 12 July 2019, when Netherlands athlete Sifan Hassan sliced almost 25 seconds off Smith’s 1967 record. She flew around the Stade Louis II track in Monaco in a time of 4:12.33.

The Fastest Indoor Mile Ever Run

Ethiopian runner Yomif Kejelcha holds the record for the fastest indoor mile. He clocked in at 3:47.01 on 3 March 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Another Ethiopian athlete, Genzebe Dibaba, set the fastest women’s indoor mile record of 4:13.31 on 17 February 2016 in Stockholm, Sweden.

How Fast Are These Mile Times?

Breaking any record will see you running times most consider unimaginable. But it’s still interesting to see what these times translate to in the real world.

For Hicham El Guerrouj to run his 3:43.13 record, he ran at 2:19 minutes per kilometer. That equates to a 5k time of 11:35 and a half marathon in 48:50 – a time most of us would be happy to do for the 10k!

Sifan Hassan’s 4:12.33 mile equates to 2:37 per kilometer. At that pace, she would cover a 5k in 13:05, and a half marathon would take 55:10, which is simply mind-blowing.

You can see how these times compare to ordinary runners in our pace charts.

But to answer the question – how fast are these mile times? Fast. Very fast.

What About Your Mile Time?

It’s fun knowing how fast the mile can be run, but knowing how fast you can run a mile allows you to improve your running. Knowing your mile time allows the following benefits:

  • You can set a goal and work towards it
  • Knowing your starting mile time allows you to track your progress
  • You aren’t tempted to compete with others, only yourself
  • You can monitor your pace more accurately on long runs

You can do your timed mile using a GPS watch or on a treadmill. You can then input this data into a pace calculator to determine your easy, moderate, hard, and threshold paces.

The truth is that training for a truly fast mile is even more challenging than training for a marathon. Adding speed without getting injured is a challenge in itself!

7 Tips to Improve Your Mile Time

If you have decided that you’d like to improve your mile time, we have 7 key tips to keep in mind to help you with this.

1. Include Hill Sprints

It’s never fun or easy running up hills, but it’s one of the most rewarding workouts you’ll do in your training plan. It’s also safer than flat running, as long as you maintain proper form and don’t overstride on the downhills.

Even better, hill sprints burn fat and calories at a high rate while building your lower body and core muscles.

We recommend including hill sprints twice a week. It’s very simple – run up a steep hill as fast as you can, then slowly jog or walk back to the bottom and repeat. Aim for at least 15 minutes of hill sprints per session.

2. Run Longer Distances

For most athletes, the mile isn’t their end distance. It’s normally a smaller goal within a bigger goal. When training to improve your mile time, you need to run further than just a mile – this will benefit your overall training rather than just your mile training.

Running longer distances is great for boosting your endurance and building your mental strength.

We recommend including a longer run of 4 to 6 miles at least once a week. You may need to build up to this if you’re a beginner, but even if you have to walk-run the distance, you will see many benefits. Once you can run 6 miles without stopping, you can slowly build it up to 10 miles.

3. Take the Stairs

Like hill workouts, taking the stairs is great for building leg and core strength while working on your cardiovascular system. Find a few flights of stairs, perhaps in your office building or apartment block, and run quickly without skipping any steps. 

After 2 – 3 stories, turn around and jog or walk back down. Aim for at least 15 minutes of stair climbing per session. Ensure that you wear non-slip shoes and be ready to reach out for the railing if you trip or slip – you don’t want to fall!

4. Increase Your Lung Capacity

We have all had that moment when we feel out of breath long before our legs tire. Although long-distance runs improve your lung capacity, more deliberate measures may be needed.

Here are a few ways to improve and increase your lung capacity:

  • Incorporate swimming in your training schedule, 2 – 3 times per week
  • Train at a higher altitude as often as possible
  • Quit smoking
  • Do mindful breathing exercises
  • Practice yoga

These practices will help you breathe more deeply to oxygenate your body properly.

A good way to see that you’re improving is to measure your VO2 Max capacity regularly.

5. Start Each Week With a Progress Test

Without information about where you’re at, you can’t know what you need to do to get where you want to be. That’s why monitoring your progress is important by doing a mile run at the start of each training week.

You need to run the mile on the same route each week so that the numbers can be directly compared to see if you have improved. Doing this test the day after a rest day is best, so your legs are fresh. Don’t do the progress mile after hill sprints or a long run. This will skew the result.

6. Maintain Your Form

Having the proper form when running makes running easier, making you faster while using less energy and avoiding injuries. Look straight ahead and keep your head up with your chin parallel to the ground. Don’t slouch – keep your shoulders relaxed but your spine upright.

Avoid heel striking – practice landing on the ball of your foot. Your elbows should be bent, and your arms should be at about 90-degree angles. Swing your arms back and forth in a north-south movement. Don’t clench your fists.

7. Have At Least 2 Rest Days a Week

The more you run, the harder you will find it to stop running. But rest allows your muscles, tendons, joints, and bones to recover from the effort and impact you have placed on your body during your workouts. Ironically, most people run faster after rest days, so they are important.

Rest days can be anything from an off day where you let your body have a complete break to having an active recovery day where you do light, low-impact activities, like walking, swimming, cycling, and stretching.

Final Thoughts on the Fastest Human Mile

While most of us can only dream of running the fastest mile time ever, it’s interesting to see what it takes to be the fastest mile runner in the world.

The best thing you can do is work on yourself and see where your body can be pushed to. Who knows, maybe you will be the next Hicham El Guerrouj or Sifan Hassan with some training and practice.

You’d have to break a record that is now almost 25 years old – but that’s why records exist!

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

Revel SPorts Contributor

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