Even outside of running circles the sub four minute mile is widely revered. Those who have no idea about what might be a ‘good’ time in running know that if you can cover a mile in less than four minutes, then you must be a proper runner. Ever since I began running for the first time, almost eleven years ago now, a sub four minute mile has been a dream of mine. No matter how many hundreds of people have already achieved it (approximately 1400 people at last count), the four minute barrier still possesses a certain aura, a sense of magic. Therefore, imagine my excitement when, three weeks ago, I found out that I would have my chance to race over the mile distance.
For some reason, I have always believed that I can run three minutes something for the mile. There has never been any doubt in my mind that I could. As time ticked onwards however, I started to question if ever I would. When I first started training as a somewhat cocky seventeen year old, I remember telling my Abbey club teammates that a sub-four minute mile was not difficult. ‘Sure it’s only four laps of sixty seconds. Easy.’ The older members laughed at my naivety and looking back now, so do I. However, while it may not be easy, I have always and still do believe that, for me, it is definitely possible. Every year a list detailing every four minute miler in history is released. Every year one of my same old Abbey teammates emails it to me. ‘Where is your name?’ they ask jokingly. The response has always been the same: ‘Next year mate, next year’. Maybe with the indoor mile race coming up, this year would finally by ‘The year’.
Before the race last week I had only competed in two mile races before. One was close to ten years ago, known as the Mizuno Mile. I remember texting my brother from the finish line, ‘I just ran 3.54 for the mile!’. I conveniently left out the fact that nearly a kilometre of the race was down the steep hill at Stormont in Belfast. The other race was my one and only outdoor track mile race. I have no recollection of ever running it but judging from the poor result (4.28) I am glad it was so forgettable. These days I sometimes do several mile reps quicker in the middle of sessions.
And so it was that I found myself standing on the startline at a small meet in North London last week. After a great start to my indoor season, running a 3000m European indoor qualifying time, I was eager to do just as well in my second race. Training had been going as best as I could have hoped. Everything was geared towards the Tuesday afternoon sessions. I would travel the ninety minutes up in the car to the indoor track with John, my training partner. It would always be quiet going up, knowing the pain that lay in the immediate hours ahead. The return journey was usually a very different story, filled with euphoria in the knowledge that there was a full week until we had to make ourselves hurt as much again. Andy Hobdell, our coach, would come down to watch and advise. The week before the race we had three sets of 2km with 400m jog recovery. Finishing the last rep with a 2.30 kilometre and 55 second last 400m I was hitting speeds that I have never even come close to before. Not bad for a marathon runner! The rest of the week blended into what was essentially a long six day recovery period, interspersed with a six mile tempo run on the Thursday and short hills on the Saturday. Given the training that I had been doing there was no doubt in my mind that I was ready to run a mile in under four minutes.
And the gun went off. The pacemaker went off hard. It felt quick so I hung a few metres back behind the pacemaker in second. The laps passed, sixty seconds followed by a second sixty seconds. I hit 800m in two minutes dead. I was one or two seconds off target pace but still on for a sub four clocking. Now was not the time to panic. I knew the training I had done and the strength and speed that I had. However, as the laps went by I started to slow. The pacemaker had dropped out and I was on my own. From 2.30 at the kilometre mark, I drifted to 3.02, and then to 3.34. I crossed the line in a disappointing 4.06, taking small consolation only in the fact that I had won the race. There are many reasons why I believe I did not break four minutes. Was it the long drive up to the race, or had I not warmed up effectively. Had the strength and conditioning I had done two days previously taken the speed out of my legs. Or had I put myself under so much stress to break four minutes that when it came to the crucial point in the race my mind told myself it was not possible.
Running is a funny sport sometimes. Breaking the four minute barrier has been one of my dreams for so long that I hope I get another chance to go for it this season. Preferably in a competitive race, with other athletes pushing me to do my best. Hopefully by the time the list of milers is published this year, there will be at least one more addition, me. Following the mile race I was disappointed. But as always in athletics, there is another race around the corner to refocus my mind. For me, it is the UK trials this weekend in Sheffield. The startlist has been announced and contains some of the best runners the UK currently has to offer. I am not a sub four minute miler yet but I am fit, injury free and hopefully, have a European Indoor Championships to get ready for at the start of March. While I did not achieve my goal in the race last week, I have no doubt that there will be more opportunities in the months that lie ahead. So until then, it is simply a matter of staying healthy, training hard and continuing to dream.
For anyone who is interested below is a link to a video of the mile race: http://www.tacdistancerunners.com/lee-valley-open-meeting-wednesday-4th-february.html