“Nothing is harder than the mile. NOTHING! Not the 100 meters or the 10k or even the marathon. The mile, or it’s metric equivalent, the 1,500 meters, demands the ultimate combination of speed and strength. In training, I run sprints till I drop and I also cover distance as far as 20 miles. I train in pain because I race in pain and if you can’t tolerate pain, you may as well quit. You won’t be a miler.” – From The Miler –
This is one of my favorite quotes, from one of my favorite books, The Miler, by Steve Scott. Not only is it a true statement but, it has always resonated to me personally. Any man, woman or child can run a mile but, to race one, that is an entirely different beast.
Being a distance runner, be it for recreation, weight loss or competition, you will encounter many and many miles throughout your journey, however, there is only ONE mile that will test every physical, emotional and mental fiber in your body.
The mile in it’s standard measurement is 1609 meters or, 4 laps and 9 meters of the traditional running track.
4 laps of cat and mouse strategy and trying to outsmart and hopefully, out kick, the others. When it’s done right, coming off that back turn, the chest is pounding, lungs burning beyond belief, legs beginning to overflow with lactic acid and growing more wobbly with each step that draws you closer to the finish line. Your vision begins to narrow and everything seems to be closing in around you….the sounds of the crowd are now deafened by the pounding of your heart and the panting of your breath. Just as you believe you have nothing left to give, you draw on your last reserves of energy and, the Miler Gods, beaming down with pure joy and excitement, grant you that last potent accelaration…the kick needed to propel you forward and the one that thrusts the dagger into the hearts of the runners next to you.
To say I love the mile, would be an understatement. For as long as I have been running, the mile has been my favorite event. I have dabbled in just about every other distance but, nothing gets me as amped up as the mile. It has been the marquee event of the track and field world for years and it will always rank number one in my heart and soul.
I began running the mile by way of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. At age ten, we were required to do a number of push-ups, sit-ups and then run the mile. I remember the first timed mile I ran. Our P.E. coach would have us run the perimeter of this old dike around our school. Being one who always wanted to prove myself, my coach told me to try and keep up with the two stud athletes in my grade, Nathan Sayers and Matt Edens. These guys were the undisputed jocks and excelled in every sport they played. To say I was intimidated, would be putting it mildly. Because Coach Strait was also a high school track officiant, he had the starter’s pistol and all. I still remember “toeing the line” in my cheap, non-running Walmart shoes. Nervous as hell, the worst thought going through my head was, not whether I could or couldn’t hang with Nathan and Matt but, that Matt’s twin sister Mandy, was also a stellar athlete. I could live with getting 3rd place to our top athletic studs but, would literally die if I ran out of gas chasing them and Mandy passed me as well!
As the gun sounds, the lump in my throat went away and we were off like lightening bolts. Of course at that age, no matter the distance that lies in front of you, the typical reaction is to just go out sprinting…i mean, after all, it was JUST a mile!
Within a few hundred feet, we settled into a more reasonable pace (basically, NOT A SPRINT). The way the dike was set up was so that it created a horseshoe around the school. Coach had marked it off so that we would run a half mile along the majority of it, loop around a cone and make the half mile run back to the start. Not that I knew anything about the various distances then but, there were key trees lined up along the way that Coach said were about X distance or Y distance into the mile. After a few minutes, I see the cone up ahead and I am currently sitting a few yards back behind Matt and Nathan, feeling relatively comfortable (even though I didn’t really know how I was supposed to feel). As we make the u-turn around the cone, Nathan takes the lead and I move with him….we are starting to pull away from Matt and thankfully, Mandy still was a good way from the turn around point. As Nathan speeds up, so do I. Here I am, thinking to myself, you’ve got 2nd in the bag, maybe just relax and secure your silver medal and go away happy, knowing that you nearly beat the best. Then, as we are nearing the old “pump house” that marked the final turn before the straight away, I hear Coach yelling, “Kick Dennis, Kick!!” KICK?? What the hell does that mean, Coach?
Coming out of the turn, firing on all cylinders, we sprint madly to the line…..in the narrowest of margins, Nathan beats me!
Yes, I was beaten that day but, The Miler in me was born and it has been in my blood ever since. Over the years, I have raced the mile many times but, since that very first one, I have never been out kicked. Yes, I have been outright beaten a few times but, if I am near the front with 200 meters to go, I’ve never lost. I’ll put my kick up against anyone in that final stretch.
I am not getting any younger and even though my PR mile of 4:17, ran 14 years ago, will likely remain my PR, I still can throw down a respective mile from time to time. Just last Saturday, I was able to go 4:35 and I know that my fitness is capable of a sub 4:30 right now with good pacing and a strong competitive field.
With that said, I wouldn’t mind racing a few more miles over the coming months, trying to chase down some old ghosts in the process.
But maybe, after all these years, it’s time to move on and let go of the mile….
“…Or we can blaze! Become legends in our own time, strike fear in the heart of mediocre talent everywhere! We can scald dogs, put records out of reach! Make the stands gasp as we blow into an unearthly kick from three hundred yards out! We can become God’s own messengers delivering the dreaded scrolls! We can race dark Satan himself till he wheezes fiery cinders down the back straightaway….They’ll speak our names in hushed tones, ‘those guys are animals’ they’ll say! We can lay it on the line, bust a gut, show them a clean pair of heels. We can sprint the turn on a spring breeze and feel the winter leave our feet! We can, by God, let our demons loose and just wail on!”