How Metrics Killed The Mile


Roger Bannister, who is the first man to break 4 minutes for the mile, spoke about the beauty of running 4 laps in under 4 minutes.  Bannister broke the 4 minute barrier on May 6, 1954. At that time, the mile was a huge international event as he and John Landy from Australia were trying to become the first man to break 4 minutes in the mile. 46 days after Bannister broke the record, Landy broke Bannister’s record. 

Today almost all of the tracks in the USA are on the metric scale. No longer can we talk about “the beauty of running 4 laps in under 4 minutes” as Bannister did for the mile. It takes 4 laps and another 9 meters to run the mile now on the metric track. It is all fairly confusing now as we have the 1500 meters (100 meters less than 4 laps = metric mile), high schoolers running 1600 meters and thinking that they ran a mile, and then the full mile.

I know the world uses the metric system and we in the United States are following the international standard in track and field. But as long as I can buy a gallon of milk or drive on our roads measured in miles, I want to promote the idea of the mile race. Americans can relate to the mile. They all have a feeling for what it is. Try to mention 5 kilometers or 10 kilometers to a non-runner and they do not really know how far that is. And even the people and runners who do know the distance, they say that is 3.1 miles or 6.2 miles. It always comes back to miles. The 5K and 10K races that are run in the USA are still marked in miles. Runners often ask me in a 5K race, “What did you run the first mile in?” It always comes back to the mile in the USA. We are familiar with it. 

The metric system killed the international popularity of the mile, but that does not mean it is totally dead. I have been traveling around North America since May running mile road races. It is a wonderful event that takes speed and strength. And if you run it to do your best, it is a painful event. The lactic acid builds in your muscles, your lungs burn with every breath, and your heart pumps faster and faster. From a fitness perspective, it is a wonderful addition to the many aerobic exercises that are propagated in the health field today. If people, who are able and healthy enough, could run one mile twice a week in addition to their normal exercises, the benefits of this workout would be amazing. I met a ultramarathoner at a recent mile race and he was saying how much more he was hurting after the mile race than after a long marathon run. If you treat the mile as a speed workout, it is one of the best workouts you can do. I have people commenting to me, “It is only a mile race?” Referring that it is not that long (as most people are accustomed to more distance in road racing), but if you really go for it…it is plenty long enough.

One of the frequent readers at www.OneMileRunner.com and staunch advocate of the mile, David Wrenn, voices many of the same feelings that I have for the mile event. Now that the 5K is taking over the 10K in running popularity due to more people being able to run the distance while avoiding the injuries and illnesses of the marathon and is less complicated to conduct a 5K event than a 10K. Why is the mile not the next natural progression?  It is even easier to arrange a one mile race for every race director and even more people are attracted to the mile as they are able to run the distance. And as David points out, “Who envies the physique of an elite marathoner?”

The one mile race today is still as majestic as Bannister mused about the mile back in the 50s. Try one out and tell me what you think. 

Posted in Author - David O'Meara, Topic - Training.

One Comment

  1. yes the mile is some thing very magical, events like the golden mile, and names such as JOHN WALKER, SEB COE AND steve cram COME TO MIND

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