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

Roger Banister once said that a 3:30 mile is physiologically possible someday. I don't know if he said this, but it got me thinking creatively 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.

The world record for running 800 meters is just under one minute and forty-one seconds. This means that a runner would have to complete two consecutive 800-meter runs in less than one minute and fifty seconds each to break the 3:40 mark for the 1500-meter race. The current world record for the mile race is in the 3:43s and was set back in 1999. Despite many attempts, the mile record has not been broken since then, and it remains a mystery as to why this is the case.     

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the world record for the mile was set by a clean athlete. I have no evidence to suggest otherwise. Running enthusiasts frequently debate this topic, but I am not interested in discussing it further here. I believe that without concrete facts, such discussions are unproductive.        

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 (update: until the summer of 2023 in Eugene, Oregon).

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?

Contemplating how to run a mile in under 3 minutes and 40 seconds can provide new insights into coaching.

Let's begin our brainstorming journey with thoughts on running a 3:40 mile.

Here are some random thoughts I have on the subject, in no particular order.                                                                      

All strategies must be ethically, legally, and morally sound if you add any items to this list.

Customize Training for the Individual

Personalized plans adapting to unique physiology are needed to break the 3:40 barrier.

I would conduct multiple tests in different areas to establish a baseline of the athlete's current physiology. Additionally, I would create a tailored mental toughness plan that aligns with the individual's unique emotional makeup to help them achieve their goal of breaking the 3:40 mile.

I would conduct standard lactate threshold testing, Vo2 max tests, and muscle analysis for an athlete attempting to break this barrier to measure their potential performance.

To determine an athlete's raw speed, I would conduct speed tests including 30-meter standing starts and 30-meter fly's.

To help the 3:40 miler run faster, I would look for missed speed opportunities in my mid- and long-distance coaching.

For distance runners, we can incorporate 30-meter fly, 60-meter sprints, 90-meter sprints, and even the occasional 180-meter run into our training routine. It would be beneficial to perform some of these sprints on a hill with a reasonable incline but not too steep. 

I had the privilege of coaching a Paralympic Sprinter who broke the world record in the 200 meters. However, the methods used for raw speed development are not always taught and integrated well into mid- and long-distance runners' training programs. There is room for improvement for runners who compete in middle and long-distance races. I need to do a better job of integrating raw speed development myself.

We need to better understand speed development from coaches who specialize in this skill. Years ago, I sought out one of the world's top sprint coaches to enhance my knowledge of 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.                                                    

Whom should you recruit to ensure an athlete's muscles can handle back-to-back 800-meter runs in 1:50? Who is your go-to expert on strength, muscle elasticity, biomechanics, and more?

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. 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?

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

Remember 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 surrounding 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? To clarify, I believe it is possible for someone to run a mile in less than 3 minutes and 40 seconds, and maybe even sooner than we think due to advancements in shoe technology.

Even if you are not a true believer in this topic, just thinking about the possibilities of breaking 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 and 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 (the 10k, 400 meters, 100 meters, a mile, and marathon were all run on the same day), I had to discard 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 training rules at the time did not apply, so 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 consistent 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 individual

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.                                                                                 

The project team must consist of a group of experts with diverse skills and knowledge, including coaches, physical therapists, strength trainers, mental health professionals, biomechanics experts, and shoe specialists. It is not just one skill or area of expertise that will lead to success. Instead, it is the collective knowledge from various fields that will contribute to achieving the breakthrough.

Note: The original text does not have any spelling, grammar or punctuation errors. Therefore, no corrections were made in the rewritten version.

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

                                        Photo Credit: Nathan Dumlao