I love track, I think it’s one of the most honest and exciting sports. I can’t think of a sport that is easier to take up personally and less convoluted to follow. All entrants in a race run a specific set distance and whoever reaches it first, wins. Simplicity. Field events too for that matter, whoever throws further, jumps higher or further than everyone else wins. Simple, and thus easy to follow and support. Yet, though it may be easy to take up and easy to understand, competing at a professional level is anything but. Elite athletes are forced to push the very limits of human ability. Striving against their own bodies just as much as the competitors, the effort often uses every bit of energy stored. Thus rendering track and field the perfect sport to relate too in my mind, easily understood through personal experience and much further appreciated for how much harder it must feel at the insane speeds, heights and distances professionals achieve. That is exciting to watch, folks. Runners, jumpers and throwers aren’t just athletes, they are gladiators in an arena of physical limits.
With all that being said, there can’t be an easier race to cheer for in a nation that measures in miles than the 5,280 foot long, 1609 meter, single mile race. At 4 laps + 9 meters around a standard track, it combines endurance and speed in an exciting battle, usually taking around 4 minutes to complete, if you’re an elite male runner and 4:30 if a top female. How could that not be exciting to watch!? No seventh inning stretch needed, no time-outs or separate quarters, just a few minutes of running fast and a dash to the finish line. Pick a favorite, scream their name on each lap and urge them across the line as they sprint down the final straight. Simple. Exciting. American.
Last night I witnessed four guys break the 4 minute mark and two girls finish in under 4:30, all on the track I regularly train on! The Adrian Martinez Classic brought out it’s best field yet, thanks in large part to the sponsorship of Hoka One One. Both “Adro Mile” races were full of top talent, professional and amateur level studs and… studettes? The local crowd was well entertained and really got into it! We saw Olympic medalists narrowly lose to up and comers, hometown high school favorites nearly break 4 minutes and a new world leading time for women in 2014. I think I’m still in shock. Here are links to Flotrack videos of said mile races; men: 4 Sub 4 on my home track! and women: 2 Sub 4:30! Though there were some other great races in 800 meter and 5000 meter lengths contested last night, nothing drew the cheers that the elite miles did. All on the anniversary of Jim Ryun’s first sub 4 minute high school mile, yesterday was a celebration of all things mile. Elite mile races were also contested in Indiana and California, with sub 4’s coming in nearly every North American time zone on the same day, surely that’s some kind of record?
My only complaint last night was with the turnout of spectators; for the level of talent who were racing there should have been well over a thousand fans, at the very least! I know that running is a niche sport and Concord, MA is certainly no city, but with a vibrant running community in New England and only being a half hour ride from Boston, local runners should have turned out en masse. New England has such a large group of runners and so much exposure to elite running that I’d like to think with better advertising, the Adrian Martinez Classic could really draw an elite field of spectators next year. I hope they continue to bring in top competitors and grow the event that way and I hope word spreads to fans of running that they need to be in attendance next year and grow the event in that manner.
If people can get excited about watching any one of the boring, pointless or violent mainstream sports on their television, we can find a way to make them fans of track and field where they can often attend for free, in person. And if we want to grow the sport, the mile is our best selling point. The public at large doesn’t give a care about horse racing during most of the year, but come Triple Crown season, they all have something to say (I mean, the California Chrome story is stinkin awesome!) The mile is our triple crown though and we need to find a way to market it to the masses! Even if they don’t stay for the 5000 meters afterwards, or understand the high jump, they can surely connect with a race that’s over in 4 minutes, even in our on-the-go have it done yesterday world. Other runners; your mission is to start following the sport on the professional level and picking favorites and tuning in whenever you can. Non-runners; start cheering for the one sport you can all take up with a pair of shoes and access to earth.