Monday, December 24, 2012

Rave: Middle Distance and the Mile

It seems that in recent years, interest in the Mile (or 1500 meter) race in track and field has waned significantly.  The glamour events on the track are now the sprints and long distances (10,000 and of course, the marathon).  Back in the day, it was the Mile that was glamour event while there was little interest in the long distances.  In the movie Prefontaine, the title character resisted his coach's plan for him to run longer distances and once said: "Nobody cares about the 3 Mile."  Nowadays, I'll bet that we're more likely to hear a super talented college athlete say "Nobody cares about the 1500."

Let's consider the world record progression:
Most casual fans know that Roger Bannister was the first man under the 4 minute barrier in 1954.  Twenty years later, John Walker of New Zealand broke 3:50.  Morceli of Algeria dipped under 3:45 in 1993.  Since then, in almost 20 years, the world record for the Mile has dropped by only 1 second with El-G's 3:43:18.

In the 10,000 meters:
-The 27 minute barrier was broken for the first time in 1993 (26:58) and the current record is an amazing 26:17.  That's right.  While the Mile record has fallen by only 1 second, the 10K mark has dropped by 41.  Why is that?  I have 2 theories.

As I've already touched on, fewer athletes aspire to be milers nowadays.  Second, with all the emphasis on more and more miles at slower paces, today's training is often not suitable for the Mile.  I believe that many 5,000 meter runners could be world-class milers if they wanted to and are willing to train for the shorter distance.  Former British great Sebastian Coe, a double gold medalist who ran a 3:47 Mile in the early '80s criticized the "more is better" philosophy in his autobiography Born To Run.  I can't quote him exactly but I do recall that he declared that the more is better is "all wrong" and what is important is "speed, speed, speed."  Follow those principles and I'll bet that we will see a sub-3:40 by the end of the decade.

  I like the Mile as a fan as well because it's so entertaining.  Sprints are over too quickly and with the staggered starts, it's difficult to see who is leading the race until the final straight.  Long distance races are run in a pack with no moves being made until the last few laps.  Some people can watch a whole marathon on television but I cannot.  The mile on the other hand is short enough to be entertaining for the entire race but long enough that you know what's going on before it's almost over.  No other event requires the blend of speed, strength and endurance that makes an elite runner.  What does it take?  Enough raw speed to run the 100 meters well under 11 seconds or at least 400 in under 47.5 combined with the endurance to run a 5,000 near 13 minutes.  That is remarkable talent.

As for me:
  I had planned to return to my roots as a middle distance runner last Spring but the plantar issues put me back to 10K-half mary mode this Fall.  Over the past 2 years, I tailored my training to run a fast time in the 10K and half mary and got the results that I wanted (sub-40 and sub-90).  I'll also add that I feel that my 3:21 full was quite respectable as well.  After 13.1 L.A. it's time to attack the Mile and 5K.  What can I do with more interval training?  If by some miracle my body is balanced by Spring, I really think I've got a shot at the 5:00 barrier (4:40 for 1500) but in my present condition, my stated goal of 5:15 is probably near the limit.  I did take 2 shots last year in solo trials and clocked a 5:18.3 in May followed by a 5:18.8 in June.  Both were run in 85 degree weather with only 1 day of rest.   To put that into perspective, that's within 10 seconds of my high school PR and if I had competition, that difference would be even less.  Marathoners often criticize my quality over quantity approach but few adult runners have been able to maintain their teenage speed as well as I have.  I will be plenty satisfied with a 5:15 Mile but if at some future date I run a sub-5:08 solo, I figure that I have to go for it.  The only major track meet in Birmingham is the BTC classic in early June but the 1500 is run in the heat of the day.  I've tried to get others to race me flat out on the track or at least help pace me but have had no such luck because it's too much of a disruption to their marathon training.


Yo Momma Runs said...

I agree that I haven't seen much press on the mile lately.
But I'm focused on distance myself, which may be why I don't notice the press. I haven't ever run the mile in an all-out effort to determine my time. Where do you time yourself? Which track?

Crazy J said...

I usually do my time trials at Vestavia HS. Sometimes Hoover or Mountain Brook but always on a track to make sure the distance is accurate. Your speed training will greatly improve your Mile time and there comes a point in which endurance alone will only take you so far.