Bring Back the Mile!
Not many sports have it: It's what Ryan Lamppa calls the "Roger Bannister moment." Bannister was the first person to break the 4:00-minute mile on May 6, 1954 on Oxford's Iffley Road Track, finishing in 3:59.4. It was that moment, after decades of debate about whether it was humanly possible to cover 5,280 feet in under 4:00 minutes, that made Bannister an icon in the annals of sporting history.
While many others have since broken 4:00-minutes, Bannister's name is the one evoked by people who know little else about running. Indeed, when Forbes Magazine looked at the greatest individual athletic achievements of all time, a panel of experts from all corners of sports voted Bannister's sub 4:00-minute mile to be the most significant.
That moment has prompted not just the athlete, but the mile race itself to transcend that individual feat and even the sport of running. Its importance led Ryan Lamppa to create the "Bring Back the Mile" campaign, organized in hopes of reigniting interest in the mile race. "At that time it was all about doing the impossible and achieving a big dream," he says.
Despite the distance's rich history, the mile fell out of favor in the 1980s largely for the sake of convenience. New tracks were 400 meters instead of 440 yards, so it was simply easier to do four laps. The 1,600-meter race was then born, which replaced the mile (1,609 meters) at the high school level in almost every state and continues to be one of the main distance events. Since the United States and the U.K. are the only two countries to use the mile as a unit of measurement, the closest widely-run race on the collegiate and elite levels is the 1,500-meter race.
Even still, the mile endures. Nearly everyone who has been through physical education in junior high school has run a timed mile. Some high school meets include exhibition mile races and there have always been a few post-collegiate mile events around the country to celebrate the historical distance. Little by little, the mile seems to be gaining a greater foothold as it creeps back into the American running conscience. In February 2013, a 16-year old phenom from Bronxville, New York, named Mary Cain got attention for breaking the girls' American high school record in the mile, finishing in 4:28:25 at the Wanamaker Mile.
Finishing second and besting many of her rivals, mostly collegiate and professional runners, performances like these remind people why they love the mile. "The 4 minutes or so it takes for them to run a mile is the near-perfect window to hold people's attention," says Lamppa. As he contends, watching Cain's accomplishment or one like American record-holder Alan Webb's 3:46:91 performance, is nothing short of exhilarating.
Even with a loyal band of followers, it wasn't until last year that Lamppa's "Bring Back the Mile" campaign began to make a sure-footed push towards promoting the distance on all levels of competition. What's more, the organization recently announced its inaugural "Bring Back the Mile" Tour, which features 13 mile-long races on roads and tracks around the country.
From Boston to Santa Barbara, the group is hoping to draw elites and newbies alike to reconnect with running the "magic of the mile." In addition to showcasing some of the brightest talent in American distance running, the organization also hopes to attract new runners through one of the most accessible races around. While a 5K or 10K might intimidate a novice runner, a mile may feel more achievable. "The mile could be one gateway drug to get people moving," adds Lamppa. "By engaging people and making them more aware of the mile and its history, we hope to inspire people to run."
Will you sign up to run a mile race this season? Do you remember your timed mile in school?
— Mackenzie Lobby, Running Reporter
Mackenzie Lobby is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and photographer with a master's in kinesiology from the University of Minnesota. She has run 10 marathons and is a USATF-certified coach and a self-certified local food hound. When not writing, she's running around the city lakes or picking produce at her local farmer's market. For more about Mackenzie go to mackenzielobby.com.