AthleteBiz (AB): Let’s start with basics: When is the event, how can people sign up to participate, and will be it live streamed?
Kyle Merber (KM): The Hoka One One Long Island Mile is being held on Wednesday, September 9th at St Anthony’s High School in Huntington, NY. There will be all-comers races are going to begin around 7pm and lead up to the elite men and women, which will begin at 8:30pm. It’s only $20 to come race, and participants can sign up on LongIslandMile.com—that comes with a race day T-Shirt and covers the $5 entry fee. And those fans who don’t live locally, but still want to watch will be able to watch the races live for free thanks to our partnership with RunnerSpace.com.
AB: You’ve assembled stellar elite field. Tell us about the top women and men that will be racing.
KM: The field is incredible, and we are extremely excited about the talent coming into town for the event. There hasn’t been a sub-4 minute mile on Long Island in 17 years [since the 1998 Goodwill Games] and we keep telling people that everyone in this field has run AT LEAST 3:56 [or the 1500 equivalent]. And the women’s field has multiple sub-4:30 milers, which will surely give some of the high school boys watching a scare. I know there is a lot of local excitement about the homecoming of Kerri Gallagher [who grew up in Queens] after her unbelievable breakout season that saw her competing at the World Championships.
AB: Share your broader goals for the event and what sparked the idea for you.
KM: The idea really stemmed from wanting to give back to the local running community that gave me so much. We have an unbelievable network of runners here, and you’ll see it with how competitive the high school teams are, or how packed out the weekend road races have come to be. My co-meet director is Brendan Barrett of Sayville Running Company. Together, we just want to help inspire the next generation of young athletes on Long Island. Something as simple as standing on the track during a sub-4 minute mile, an autograph, or a conversation could change the course of someone’s career. We are hoping to do that.
AB: Tell us about the role that Hoka One One has played in making this possible.
KM: We needed Hoka on board if this event was going to happen.
When we sat down for our presentation they gave us the green light before we could even finish the business plan. This is what Hoka is about!
Their influence in the sport has been incredible these last few years, and they just keep supporting track and field from every direction possible. And they have trusted and believed in me not only as an athlete, but also now as a meet director.
AB: A challenge for our sport is how to present it (live and on TV) in a way that is energizing and compelling. Do you have ideas on this, and are you able to apply some of them in the Hoka LI Mile event?
KM: Athletes have a story, and it’s our job to help share them. Sometimes in track and field there is too much going on that you can’t really take the time to build a plot. There are throws and jumps going on while athletes are running around the track, and the hurdles are being set up and it’s all just a lot. We aim to inform the fans of who the athletes are and to give them a specific reason to root for one individual or another. And that’s why we are releasing the fields way in advance, and having a program that will say more than just the start lists. And with just two races it’s so much simpler.
AB: The opportunity to engage the local communities where our sport’s top athletes grew up with an inspiring “hometown” competition seems vast. Do you have any advice for other T&F athletes who might want to piggy back on this idea?
KM: I hope that other athletes do! I was inspired by Nick Willis’ mile last year in Michigan, and thought it was an incredible event to be a part of and immediately wanted to figure out a way to do it myself. It adds a whole new element to the meet when a local elite who is also competing is hosting it. And I have access to certain privileges in the area that your average meet director may not have. For example, I was able to go to both Long Island sectional meetings that had every coach in the area there. And before their meeting started, I begged of them to please bring their kids, because I think it’ll make a big difference in their seasons. I have relationships here, and have been very lucky to have so many people reach out and volunteer their help. It’s meant so much, and has made the planning process that much easier.
AB: When you reflect back on the things that inspired you, as a young person growing up in LI, to take on a tough, not-in-it-for-the-money sport like track & field, what stands out? Speaking of $$$, will there be any prize money for the top pros?
KM: In 1996 I was attending elementary school in Malverne, NY. This was the same school that Derrick Adkins had attended a few years prior, and immediately after winning gold in the 400H at the Atlanta Olympics, he came back and spoke at an assembly. I not only got the opportunity to hear him speak, but to meet him and have him autograph a class certificate of mine.
I went home and told my mom to sign me up for track immediately. And the rest is history. In my 6th grade yearbook when asked what I want to be when I grow up, I said ‘Track Star.’ So I am living my dream and I want to pass that dream on.
There will be at least a $6000 prize purse in each elite race with money going five deep. We are still getting some more local sponsors, as well as gaining general sign ups, so that is expected to go up by race day (just don’t want to commit yet!). In addition, we will have a race leader bonus at 1309m for a few hundred dollars in hopes of encouraging some athletes to not wait too long to kick. It’s often done in road races, but we thought it would be fun to try it on the track.
AB: Do you have a vision for this event in future years?
KM: Hopefully if this year is a success it becomes a staple in the professional domestic scene and people start highlighting it as a race that they hope to keep coming back to. I’ve really enjoyed it so far, and I think after year one I will have a lot more things figured out. The pipe dream though is to maybe one day have a domestic mile series. There could be a few pop-up community miles across the country in August and September. We can increase the sports visibility one town at a time.
AB: How many athletes are you letting crash at your house ahead of/after the event?
KM: Hahahah! I think we are going to have 5 or 6 in addition to me. Luckily my siblings have all moved out and we have some old mattresses that we can throw down in the basement. After the event…maybe we’ll use the couches too.
AB: What is the first thing you are going to do when the event is over to finally breathe after a long season of miles and event planning?
KM: The day after the race you’ll find the athletes who are hanging around for the 5th Avenue Mile at the beach catching some of the last summer rays. And then post-5th Avenue, I am taking my two-week break and traveling around Asia with my college roommate. Last year we road tripped New Zealand. It’s a good little vacation tradition to get away from running.