There’s no getting away from miles: miles per hour… stick out a mile… miles per gallon… a miss is as good as a mile… miles better… Miles Davis.
Er, actually, you can scrap the last one, I got carried away… but the truth of the matter is that the mile simply refuses to go down without a fight, despite the best efforts of the metric interloper to banish it from the sporting lexicon.
In athletics, where metric reigns supreme, there is a battle to have the mile – all 1,760 yards of it (that’s 1,609.34m to all you philistines) – back on the block.
Hence my appointment with Steve Cram, one of Britain’s greatest-ever middle-distance runners and still wedded to the sport through his work as a coach and television commentator, at the picturesque Parliament Hill running track in Hampstead.
Here, the 56-year-old is going the extra… sorry, I really must stop this… is putting forward passionately and eloquently the mile’s case and encouraging runners nationwide to record their own personal best over the distance through a campaign running throughout June organised by online sports retailer Wiggle and Strava, the social network and GPS tracking app for athletes.
Despite the 5k Park Runs and 10k club runs in which so many of us participate, the fact is we are still most likely to measure our runs in miles and use the distance to work out our average speed.
Cram still holds the European record for the mile – a time of 3min 36.42sec achieved in Oslo’s Bislett Stadium in 1985 and part of a 19-day halcyon period where the ‘Jarrow Arrow’ broke world records over 1500m, the mile and 2000m.
In no way is Cram suggesting a return to the days of the 440 yards and its imperial cousins. However, the hallowed distance of the mile, he believes, still deserves its place at the top table of sporting competition.
“The mile is the kind of the currency of running, so everyone talks about ‘what pace do you run?’ and you’ll answer ‘oh, 10-minute miles’ or ‘eight-minute miles’,” he says. “The mile is our unit of distance here and I’d love to know how good every schoolkid is at running it.
“In the United States, the mile is still run by High School kids and college students… it’s still a big deal there and I would like to see the same thing here.
“When I was growing up there was a bit of a myth about the event, what with Sir Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile. Seb Coe and Steve Ovett were emerging when I was about 15 – these bright talents – and athletics was getting a lot of coverage. At my first meet at Crystal Palace, I ran a world record time for Under-17s over the mile. I was hooked and it’s no surprise that all these years later I’m still pushing the mile.”
Time, then, to get out on the track and try to achieve my personal best over the distance. I tell Steve that I’ll try to achieve between 7 and 7.30 minute-mile pace on my runs, which vary from Park Run 5ks to 10 miles.
After watching my running style in a couple of warm-up exercises, he confidently predicts – no, challenges – me to be running a sub-six-minute mile.
Er, hello? I’m the right side (just) of 55 and, whilst a keen runner all my life, I do like to relax with a beer or three in the evening and am constantly being chided by my offspring for hungrily ensuring they have no left-overs on their plates. Fit, yes; fat, getting there!
He moves me up the gears, pace- and distance-wise, trying to correct little bad habits (poor arm position, footfall etc). He then tells me that, for sub-six times, I should be running 200m in 44sec… and challenges me, without the cheat of a watch or phone to hand, to do just that; which just goes to prove that it’s impossible to count in your head and run at the same time.
My first time (in which I believe I have got close to the target time) is 32sec. Hopeless! Next time, he urges me to “slow it down” about three times on the final 100m stretch and I come home in… 43sec. Now that’s better, but it felt so slow, until you remember that you have four-and-a-bit laps of the track to complete at that time to achieve that goal.
“I think what this campaign is trying to do is to get people in touch with the mile again because it can help runners, from good club athletes to your average Joe, improve their times over 5k, 10k, whatever distance you like to run,” he says.
Unfortunately, dear reader (and you only have to look at the video to see what I mean), Steve won’t let me try to post my sub-six-minute time. It’s too windy, his words, not mine, although in my head I’m in full agreement. I promise to make sure I post my time at my local track.
So, no records broken – although on the jog back to the car I did manage to tweak my hamstring enough that I have not dared get out running in the days since.
For me, the mile will have to wait. For you lot, there are no excuses: go and do your best!
For June, online retailer Wiggle.com has partnered with Strava, the social network for athletes, to launch the #MyMile challenge. Upload a run to Strava with the hashtag #MyMile and if you run a PB, then you will be automatically entered into a competition to win one of more than 100 pairs of running shoes up to the value of £100. To help you on your way, Wiggle.com has recruited Steve Cram to provide top tips. For more details, follow this link