The Sir Walter Miler
And the crowd fell silent. The women’s field toed the line. In seconds the stacked women’s field would go after the coveted 4:30 mile barrier achieved by only about 66 women in history. Fans were in position, tracing the inside of the track and lining lane 3. You could hear a pin drop but the buzz of adrenaline was floating in the air. The gun went off and following moments seemed surreal.
This year was the first year I wasn’t racing in the elite field and I am thankful for that. To see the men’s and women’s elite races transpire was awe-inducing and inspiring. A humble meet with humble beginnings churning out some of the fastest times in history is mind boggling. 9 men went under 4:00 and 6 women broke 4:30. Only the Falmouth mile in 2013 was able to produce more sub 4:00 milers but when you compare the production of the two races you get two different pictures.
The Sir Walter Miler was founded in a dream. A true authentic dream that still burns in the eyes of the creator. When the crew first started the event it was the Sandman Mile which consisted of local heros, Sandy Roberts and Logan Roberts. Sandy set out to break 4 and Logan took on the pacing duties. 400 people collapsed in on the inside two lanes of the track cheering loudly as Sandy cruised through each lap. The following year under the lights at Meredith College, a small women’s college in Raleigh, NC, a light cold drizzle fell on the crowd of 1000 that made it out to witness the very first Sir Walter Miler on August 1th, 2014.
Funding for the first inaugural race came from a kickstarter where donations and shirt sales made it all possible. Since then the meet has been funded by local sponsors and small donations here and there so money and resources are spread fairly thin. But Sir Walter isn’t about the money, it is about the experience. With athletes housed by locals, they get a true taste of Raleigh and the southern hospitality. The Sir Walter Team is compromised of Sandy Roberts, former Georgetown and NC State Runner, Logan Roberts, former Baylor Runner and now UNC Assistant coach, Pat Price, a well-established member of the local running community, and Jeff Caron, the Elliptigo Elite Sales Rep. These four guys have a demeanor and approach that shows they deeply care about the athletes and the sport they love.
The goal for the race is and always has been to help these athletes reach new potential and these guys have created an atmosphere to make that happen. The world of professional distance running is grueling and the stress of needing to perform on command will make you feel like a puppet. When you lose site of the enjoyment of it all you lose the ability to perform at your best. The Sir Walter Miler is not another pressure intensified professional race, it’s fun, it’s exciting and it gives you a sense of confidence and hope for the future.
I myself ran 3 seconds slower than I did last year where I PR’d by 5 seconds. But I didn’t expect to even run as fast as I did Friday night. I owe all the credit for my race to the fans present that night. I was kind of scared and overwhelmed by my unpreparedness. I was playing the mental game to prevent myself from being upset if it didn’t go well. But in the end there is just something about the Sir Walter Miler that makes it special. That makes you step up to the plate and go for it even if you may miss.
The women’s winner, Lauren Johnson, ran 4:25.04 breaking the previous North Carolina Outdoor State record of 4:28.84 set at last year’s race. This was also the fastest time by an American this year and the 3rd best in the world. She was followed by 5 more under 4:30 including Amanda Eccleston, Heather Kampf, Cory McGee, Stephanie Brown, and Nicole Tully.
The men’s winner, Kyle Merber, also ran a state record in a time of 3:54.57. He was followed by 8 other men under 4:00, Colby Alexander, Johnny Gregorek, Graham Crawford, Ford Palmer, Drew Hunter, Mikey Brannigan, Cory Leslie, and Jack Bolas.
At the end of the night the story that captivated everyone’s attention and captured the true essence of what Sir Walter is all about was the sub 4:00 run by the Rio Bound Paralympic athlete, Mikey Brannigan. Mikey was diagnosed with Autism when he was just 18 months old. His time of 3:57.58 set a T20 world record and was the first sub 4:00 mile for any T20 athlete (a T20 athlete is a disability sport classification which broadly covers athletes with intellectual disabilities).
To think that such success should not come out of a meet so small would normally be accurate. But when you talk to the people behind this race you realize why it is. They don’t do this for their own credibility but rather to highlight the achievements of the athletes they bring in. Every year thus far I have felt blessed to be part of this event. I am lucky to be part of such a warm and welcoming community of runners. As I move forward with the rest of my season I am fueled by the hope of what is to come.