Exactly How I Went From Running a 12-Minute Mile to a 7-Minute Mile

It's confession time. I've always been afraid of running. I absolutely dreaded it in high school and whenever it was mile day, I found a way to get "sick" so I could skip PE class. If I tried a little in my mile times, I could finish it in 10 to 11 minutes, but most of the time, I was averaging 12 minutes. I always had to stop for walking breaks just to get scolded by my teacher. It only made me despise running more.

Then when I started college, I found myself eating out late, and we all know I wasn't eating kale salads at 2 in the morning. The freshman 15 came on fast, and my skin was suffering, so I knew I needed to make a change. But I never thought running would be the activity to spark that change.

A close friend of mine loved running, so I decided to join one time and was shocked at how far I was able to go even though I couldn't keep up with the pace. The feeling of the cold, crisp, fresh air against my face and the breeze flying through to cool me was incredible. I was on what they call it a runner's high by the end of it.

This is how it all started, and now running outdoors has become my therapy. It challenges me to get better, to take in and appreciate my surroundings, and to improve my health each and every day. These are some tips and tricks I learned and picked up along the way in my journey.

Start small

You're not going to run a mile in less than eight minutes overnight. It took me almost three years — it could be a shorter or longer time for you. When I first started going to the gym, I prioritized building my endurance. I'd get on the treadmill and force myself to run at the start of a song and not stop until the song was over. Sometimes the song was two minutes and sometimes it was four minutes. The point is that I was setting small goals to make sure I accomplish them and go bigger from there.

Practice sprints

Sprinting is key for any running-related goals, whether it's running longer distances or running faster. High-intensity short-interval exercises build muscle and burn fat to increase speed, power, and endurance. I'd incorporate these into my weight-training days because I'd find that I had a little energy left over at the end of my session. Doing a few sprints on the treadmill will make sure you burn out the energy left over for your workout.

Get a running buddy

Having someone to run with was the most encouraging and supporting part of getting into running. Not only does it hold you accountable for training, but it pushes you to go faster and longer. Bonus is if your running buddy is faster than you, you'll have the extra challenge of trying to keep up.

Eat clean

You might not think that this is important, but trust me. Try running first thing in the morning after a heavy dinner and overeating. You'll notice that you feel dragged down by your body and sick in the stomach to go any further. If you need to eat something before running, try a banana or some nuts. Meal options like protein with sweet potatoes will also fuel your workout with a healthy source of carbs.

Challenge yourself

If you're thinking at the end of a workout, "Oh that was easy," then you're not challenging yourself enough and won't see improvements as much. For example, if I was running outdoors, I'd map out the path I want to take to make sure I'm going far enough and set a final destination so I wouldn't stop until I get there. You could also set a time in mind that you'd like to finish the run and pace yourself to make sure you make it in. Another way I love to challenge myself is running on paths that have a mix of incline and decline to increase my heart rate and build stamina.

Run outside

I find that when I run outside, I'm more likely to run longer distances and go faster. Plus, I love gazing through all the streets and neighborhoods, just letting my mind wonder. I find that when I run on a treadmill in the gym, I'm more likely to end it short just out of pure boredom. Figure out what works better for you. Some prefer running on treadmill more because there's less terrain.

Create a fire playlist

Having a playlist that will pump you up for your run is a must! Sometimes I find myself in that last mile to go, I'm starting to slow down, starting to get tired, and then my song comes on. All of a sudden I have this burst of energy, and I feel like I can keep running forever.

Warm up with dynamic stretching not static stretching

This is something a lot of people don't know but is so important to avoid injury. Static stretching might just slow you down and tighten your muscles more than loosen them up. Instead, you want to warm your body up with dynamic stretching like walking lunges or hip circles. You could also walk at a brisk pace or do a light, slow jog for a few minutes.