Bring Back the Mile

Look at any list of the top sporting accomplishments of all time, and Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile will be near the very top.  It was the culmination of a quest that captivated the world, and an iconic moment that ultimately transcended sports.  On a blustery spring day at Oxford University’s Iffley Road track, Bannister accomplished a feat that many observers considered physically impossible.
On the 440-yard tracks of the day, the one-mile race and Bannister’s accomplishment had an especially elegant symmetry to it: four laps, one minute per lap.  Races were timed by sweep-arm stopwatches, and a runner on four-minute pace would circle the track in perfect synchronicity with the second hand of the watch.  
The one-mile race lends itself to dramatic execution, much like a four-act play, or a symphony in four movements.  A successful race requires a strong opening, a solid, thoughtful effort through the second lap, and perseverance and determination through the third. The final lap then builds upon these with a final crescendo toward the suspenseful – sometimes tragic, sometimes inspirational - conclusion.
Sadly, despite its elegance and noble history, the mile has never been contested at the Olympics or World Championships.  Instead, we have the 1500 meters.  It’s a strange race where runners start on the far side of the grandstands, and spectators have no sense of the runner’s pace throughout the event.  John Landy, one of the most famous milers in history, has said, “It’s a shame we’re stuck with the 1500m.  There’s nothing graceful about it.  It’s ugly.  It has no elegance. The mile is a vastly better race.”
Through the 1970s, United States high school and college runners raced the mile on 440-yard tracks, but with the advent of 400-meter ovals, most of them now race the 1600m.  (Only one state, Massachusetts, has never officially converted to metric races.) This distance is roughly 99.4% of a mile, falling short by only 7 yards – but it’s also something of an odd distance, lacking the symmetry or cultural resonance of the classic one-mile race.
It may not be coincidence that interest in track has diminished since the mile was phased out over the past 30 years – but a runner named Ryan Lamppa has started a grassroots effort to “Bring Back the Mile”.  Ryan is a Harvard grad and a founding director of the Running USA organization, and his goal is to “return the mile to prominence on the American sports and cultural landscape.”  His goal is to create a national movement, and it’s one that is rapidly gaining momentum in the track community.
The list of supporters and organizations endorsing the campaign is a who’s who in the running and sports world; Sports Illustrated magazine, the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Running Times magazine, Road Runner’s Club of America,, as well as many of America’s best former distance runners including Jim Ryun, Don Bowden, and Marty Liquori. 
The website has mile news, state federation petitions, history, athlete snapshots, all time record lists, and the “I AM THE MILE” engagement page.  They’re also reaching out through social media to spread the enthusiasm for reviving this classic event.
Ryan is from California and is petitioning the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) to replace the 1600m with the mile in high school meets. We’re pulling for him to succeed, and we’d love to start watching one-mile races during the spring track season.  In the meantime, we’ll be wearing our “I AM THE MILE” shirts and doing as much as we can to support his efforts. 

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