The Sub 3:40 Mile Brainstorming Challenge

              Roger Bannister Breaking The First Sub-Four-Minute-Mile                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Photo Credit: Associated Press

      Random Training Thoughts For Running A 3:40 Mile

"The whole of science is nothing more than the refinement of everyday thinking."

-Albert Einstein

I read where Roger Bannister stated once that a 3:30 mile is physiologically possible someday. I don't know if he said this or not, but it got me thinking out of the box about current training methods.                                                                                                               

Running a mile in 3:30 is too hard for most people to phantom, so we will start with a brainstorming project about how to break 3:40.

So, the world record for 800 meters is just under 1:41. This means a runner would have to run two sub 1:50 800-meter runs back-to-back to break 3:40. The mile record is currently in the 3:43’s set in 1999. I often ask myself why the mile record has not been broken.                                                                                                      

For the sake of argument, let's assume the mile world record was set by someone to clean. I have no evidence to suggest otherwise. The running boards debate this topic frequently. I'm not interested in talking about it here.  I have no interest in talking about this topic without concrete facts.             

We know that no one has broken the world record in the mile for over 23 years. Two people ran in the 3:43s on the same day in 1999! No one has done this since that incredible day in 1999.

To get out of any mental mind box and status-quo thinking, you've got to take a shot at creating a plan that can do the impossible.     

What Training plan would you create to run back-to-back two sub 1:50.0 880-yard runs?

Even if you still need to develop detailed planning for this goal, thinking about this achievement gives you new insight into becoming a better coach.

Okay, I’ll go for it. Here are a few thoughts on running a 3:40 mile to get us started on this brainstorming journey.

My list is meant to be far from all-inclusive. I am just starting a fun discussion that may go nowhere, but you only know once you try. Think about what it would take to break this barrier.     

Here are my random thoughts on the subject in no particular order.                                                                        

All strategies must be ethically, legally, and morally sound if you add them.

Customize Training To The Individual

First of all, one-size thinking does not fit all. Whoever breaks the 3:40  barrier will need a personalized plan that adapts to their unique physiology.   

I would have the athlete tested in multiple areas to get a baseline of his current physiology. I would also develop a customized mental toughness plan that matches the unique emotional IQ of the person attempting to break the 3:40 mile.

I would conduct all the standard lactate threshold testing, Vo2 max tests, and muscle analysis for fast and slow-twitch fibers of the athlete who tried to break this barrier. 

To determine the raw speed of the athlete, I would conduct all the speed tests for 30-meter standing starts, 30-meter fly's, etc.

I would also see what I missed from a speed standpoint in my mid and long-distance coaching to make the possible 3:40 miler faster.

Perhaps we could learn to integrate 30-meter fly, 60-meter sprints, 90-meter sprints, and even the odd distance of 180s for distance runners that some world-class sprinters do in their training more frequently?  And I would perform some of these sprints on a hill with a reasonable incline but not too steep.       

I once coached a Paralympic Sprinter to a world record in the 200-meters. Raw speed development is normally taught in different ways in the mid and long-distance world. There is much room for improvement on the speed side of things for middle and long-distance runners.    

We need to understand better speed development from the people who coach this skill daily. Years ago, I sought out one of the best sprint coaches in the world to improve my knowledge about speed development.

I would partner with the best sprint coaches in the world to help with the 3:40-mile breakthrough. If I coached a potential 3:40 miler, I would ask the best sprinting coaches in the world to be on my team. We never do anything on our own.

Mid and long-distance coaches, including myself, need to keep up with the latest evidence-based speed training to learn how to make even more significant running breakthroughs.

Strength Training

Okay, this sub-3:40 brainstorming exercise just got a little more challenging.                                                    

Who would you recruit to help you make sure the athlete's muscles are strong enough to handle back-to-back 1:50 800-meter runs? Who is your go-to expert person for strength, the elasticity of the muscles, biomechanics, etc.?

I would also recruit a running physical therapist, a running sports massage therapist, and someone who trains the best Navy seals in the world to survive mentally tough situations based on evidence-based testing.                                                                

I would also look closely at the mental toughness of the most challenging people in the world, like the Navy Seals, to see what I've missed in my mental toughness for the sports journey. Many mental toughness strategies are too extreme for sport, but I am sure we've missed something here.

My journey of discovery would include looking for people who think for themselves and don’t follow the herd in all of the areas mentioned above. The people involved in the sub-3:40 project have thick skin to take constructive criticism and check their egos at the door.

In all those stories, I would also learn more about how the little old lady somehow moves the car off her grandson in an emergency. Most of these stories are fake. However, most likely, a few of these stories are partially true. 

The critical question is this one in crisis situations. Why do some people have more strength in times of crisis? How can you leverage what you learn for the 3:40 mile goal?           

Testing Lactate And Learning More About Physiological Reactions During Rest Periods From Intervals or Fartleks

The Ingebrigtsen brothers have the right idea. They are testing lactate levels during workouts to ensure the proper pace to meet race goals is a must for some people unless, like some Kenyans, the runner can identify sub-threshold speed and threshold pace by feel. And, for some people, double threshold workouts (two threshold workouts on the same day, one at about marathon pace and one closer to threshold pace) twice a week are essential.

We know that Hicham El Guerrouj ran many miles in his preparation period at or below his Anaerobic Threshold when he broke the mile world record.

We test to ensure we are on track in many other areas of life; why don't we test physiological reactions more during training?

Testing takes some of the guesswork out of training zones. We sometimes must train harder than we should before our aerobic system reaches its maximum level.

My gut feeling is that we must understand the benefits of fartlek, roll-on recoveries, and lactate shuffle theories to reach the next mile milestone level.

We know a positive training effect happens when we keep the recovery pace faster after a fartlek workout or interval workout at times, but we need to learn more.

I would recruit someone like George Brooks, an expert on the lactate shuffle, onto my team. My gut and intuition tell me there are still some gold nuggets yet to be discovered when running the recovery portion of a fartlek run.

Questioning The Length And Pace Of Reps

Why don't we use 700 meters as the top end for reps instead of 600 meters? Do we know the length of reps for running economy and speed? Why not experiment with the 650s?

If you look closely at Noah Ngeny's training before he finished second to El Guerrouj in the fastest mile in history, he ran his intervals and reps faster than generally acceptable guidelines.

Don't forget that Ngeny won the Olympic Gold in the 1500 meters beating El Guerrouj in the Olympic Games. Ngeny also holds the second-fastest time in the mile at 3:43.40, set in 1999 behind El Guerrouj. 

More extended Threshold or Marathon Pace runs.

Should we rethink the traditional distances for threshold and marathon pace runs for middle-distance runners?   

Should we include double-threshold days in events from 800 meters on up (I think so, depending on the physical and emotional maturity of the athlete)

How do we genuinely optimize the lactate threshold level for a 3:40 miler?


New shoe technology is already making people faster. Can we 100 percent customize shoes even more to the unique needs of a 3:40 mile race within all the rules and guidelines?                      

There are a host of issues around the new technology in shoes. People have strong views on this issue. I am not talking about this issue per se.                                                                                                 

Is there a better way to create shoes to fit the biomechanical needs of a runner who wants to break the 3:40 mile with ethical, legal, and morally sound strategies?


Are there better ethical and legal ways to recover from strenuous workouts we have not discovered yet from hard workouts?

Pacers In Mile Races

I have watched the current world record mile race many times. The pacers, i.e., rabbits in the race, were spot on in their pacing. Also, the leading pacer went a complete three laps before dropping out.

Should pacers run as far as they can before dropping out rather than dropping out a predetermined distance, like at the 800-meter mark?

Final Questions

Is a 3:40 mile possible someday? If so, how would you train the person? What new strategies would you use?                             

What are ten possibilities you would add to my list? So there is no ambiguity on this subject; it is possible someday to run a sub 3:40 mile.  It may or may not take  50  years, but it is possible.

Even if you are not a true believer in this topic, just thinking about the possibilities of how to break a 3:40 mile is likely to improve your coaching.

Questions To Get You Started

If you had a magic wand and could pick only one strategy, what would you use to get the 3:40 mile goal off the ground? Why?      

Is taking the achievable steps approach to smash a world record better?

How can you push the boundaries of your current training knowledge by being fearless in making mistakes safely?

What current training rules and rhetoric do we all follow that must be updated?

What would happen if you identified and adopted an "opposite training or physiological rule"? The concept is to think about the exact opposite of the current rule to see if that new rule and way of thinking are better. Thinking this way has changed how we view physics and other vital areas of life.

How many runners never reached their potential because a coach kept the runner in a shorter race because they were good at it but would have been much better in a longer race?

When I won and set the record in the original Ultimate Runner Competition years (10k, 400 meters, 100 meters, a mile, and marathon all ran on the same day, I had to throw out some training rules and rethink all training strategies.                                   

I was open to new possibilities because the event was different and challenging. Some of the current rules of training at the time did not apply. I had to create my roadmap. I ran the best race of my life by being open to new ideas.

I've just barely scratched the surface of this brainstorming discussion. Now it’s time to dream and create your map for the sub-3:40 challenge.

If you are a coach, please write your comments privately or contact me in whatever way you are most comfortable with your ideas. 

I will add to the list above as more people comment. I've already learned a thing or two just by asking the sub-3:40 question.         

Feel free to share this post with other coaches and athletes.

All things are possible for those who believe.


Coach Weber

Philippians 4:13

Copyright February 12, 2022

Some Comments From  Coaches, Writers, And Runners About The Possibility 0F A Sub 3:40 Mile.

Specific Ideas from me and others:

Follow a modern day Lydiard program for those who can handle the mileage with the addition of lactate testing, new shoe technology,  altitude training and other strategies here that do not  conflict with his  core methods.

Transform a 44.5 to 45.5 400-meter runner into a miler

Test lactate levels at all interval sessions

Customize shoes to the biomechanics of the invidiual

Run double-threshold workouts at least in the base training cycle

Continue altitude training 

Start young runners on easy runs,  threshold runs, and reps only. No Vo2 Max work until 14-15 years old.

Study swimming and why they are improving in that sport faster than track events

Increase short speed (alatic) earlier in the training cycle (the 30s, 60s, and 90's only)

In phase one, dedicate a project team to finding ways to break a sub 3:40 mile. Take the lessons from phase one and set a new goal (the 1500-meter world record is already under 55 seconds per 400-meter segment).

The next significant breakthrough in racing will happen when system thinkers are involved in a sub-3:40 project. People who know it is not just one thing that will make a difference are needed for this project.                                                                                 

For example, the project team must include coaches, physical therapists, strength experts, mental toughness pros, biomechanics experts, and shoe experts. It is not one thing that will make the breakthrough. It is the collective knowledge in various fields that will make it happen.

Copyright 2022, Larry Weber

What are better questions to ask in order to break a 3:40 mile?

                                        Photo Credit: Nathan Dumlao