The Allure of the Road Mile

By: Spencer Mahon

What’s in a mile? 4.02 laps around the track outdoors (or 8.045 laps indoors on a 200m track). A distance all runners from elites to hobby joggers know, respect, and feel comfortable asking about. The mile is the benchmark of benchmarks in distance running. You have to have the perfect blend of strength and speed. In US running, you typically only see the mile run on the indoor scene, occasionally at big meets, you will see an outdoor mile. Then there’s the road mile. 

Everyone in the United States knows about the NYRR 5th Avenue Road mile. But that’s about as far as that goes… so you would think. The road mile has seen a revival in recent years for both amateurs, sub elites, and elites alike. Is it as simple as I suggested at the start of this piece, I think not. In my experience with racing the road mile and being around road miles, there’s all the palpable excitement of not only running your race but watching the best of the best do it 20 minutes after you race. 

I ran the Inaugural Guardian Mile here in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio as it was organized by the Alexander Family (Colby, who runs for Empire Elite, and his parents are the founders). I know his dad very well as he went to my college back in the 80s and was a fantastic runner under legendary D3 coach Sparky Adams. It also gave me one final race ahead of my senior year to build off of. I ended up running my still standing mile PB of 4:31. That was 2018. I watched my friend Ian Pierson of John Carroll University race in the men’s elite field and run 4:12. Both years I saw sub 4:00 mile performances by Nick Willis.

I feel like there’s a lot that goes into the allure of a road mile race. The chance to see magic and a piece of history if someone goes under 4:00 in the mile, there’s soil records in play, there’s all the pride of high school and college teams racing opposing schools in the same race which you typically only get in a cross country meet. The professional athletes are more accessible than ever at a race of this nature, the first year the Guardian Mile happened I met the likes of Colby Alexander, Kyle Merber, Nikki Hiltz and Emily Lipari (who I believe was the winner that day) among many others. I met Nick Willis and some others the next year.

There’s this eclectic mix of everybody at a race because it’s a road race, not many “hobby joggers” frequent a track meet to race. So the eclectic mix of the average joe and the world’s best milers, the oddity of racing a mile on a famous stretch of road like 5th avenue in NYC or the Hope Memorial Bridge in Cleveland or even racing down Lower Broadway in Nashville but the ever familiar question of “what’s your PB in the mile?” is always present. Throw that all in a bowl and there’s this insanely odd thing road races that you get, that’s common ground. The same course, the same distance, same challenges. I think the aspect of commonality and surface plays a big part. Let me know what you think in the comments!