from Tyler Pennel Running
Wow! What a tremendous experience!
The mile is one of the few events that many people understand. For some reason the mystique of the sub 4 mile is something that has risen beyond just the sport of running. Maybe that is because for so long it was said to be an impossible feat to accomplish. Maybe as John Landy said, “The mile has a classic symmetry…it’s a play in four acts.” And each of those acts is an easy to comprehend minute. Whatever the reason, people always want to know two things when they learn you are a runner, “Have you run a marathon and what is your mile time?”
I went to St. Louis to run the Festival of Miles on Thursday night to take a stab at a fast mile time. Training had been going fantastic, so coming in the main goal of the race was to break 4 minutes. I had taken a few stabs at the celebrated barrier a couple of years ago, only to fall agonizingly short. Now I was much fitter and more confident than before.
Standing on the line was the usual mix of excitement and nervousness, something that you have regardless of how well prepared you are. I knew that the race was set to go fast, 2:55 at 1200m, so I figured that I was going to just get on the inevitable train that would follow the pacer. When the gun sounded, we all took off and there was plenty jostling for position. After the dust had settled, I found myself at the back of the pack, right next to Aaron Braun. I could not help but think of how fitting it was that the two marathoners in the field were at the back.
On the backstretch, I think I heard Aaron mutter something in frustration of the slow pace and then begin to move up and around the pack. I could also feel that the pace was slow, and let him drag me along. By the time we finished the first lap, I was in the middle of the pack and moving forward. Passing by 409 meters in 62.4 (about 61.0 for 400m) I knew I was slow but was unworried as it was so early in the race.
True to form the rabbit had gone out fast, and only eventual winner Jordan McNamara went with him. I continued to follow Aaron and I could see we were reeling the front two in. I passed half way in just under 2:02. Rounding the corner to the backstretch, I had an idea to go to the front and have a long sustained drive to the finish line. Aaron had the same idea, and as the rabbit dropped out, both of us made a bid for the lead. Having come from farther back, I tucked on his shoulder for the curve then swung out to take the lead. Once again I had a thought of how fitting it was that the two marathoners were at the front trying to run away from the field. From there I just tried to speed up and grind the kick out of everyone else.
There is romanticism to the idea of front running, one that I truly love. It is satisfying pushing both yourself and your competition to the edge, only to see who breaks first. Prefontaine understood it. Ron Clarke understood it. Emil Zátopek understood it. But along with that feeling is an unrelenting fear, a fear that unless you can break everyone else, you will lose. Both of these are forces that drive you to put one foot in front of the other. Usually it is the high minded ideal of pushing yourself that gets you to make the initial move, and the fear begins to take over as the finish line approaches.
The last 300m of the race I was running scared. I had made my bid for the finish from far out, hoping that all I could run away from all of the milers with the ferocious kicks. My legs were starting to burn as the lactic acid was taking its toll, and I my form was starting to break down. I had no idea were the rest of the field was, but as I rounded into the homestretch, I had an awareness that I was all alone. This was also the first time I had really consciously experienced the energy of the crowd, and it spurred me to drive forward. I could see the finish line drawing nearer, but I could also feel every muscle begin to tighten. I was struggling to keep my form, but I was still in the lead! I was able to hold on until the last few meters, as Jordan flew by me. I had put everything out there and unfortunately it was not enough to come away with the win, but I knew that I had broken 4.
The last few meters, just as I was getting passed
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While I did not win, I was far from upset with my race. I had achieved my primary goal of breaking 4 minutes. Placing second in such a good field was far beyond what I had expected coming into the race. With such a fast pace scheduled, I figured I would just get on the train of guys and be pulled to sub 4.
My second goal was to go and compete, which I did. Rather than settle for just running sub 4, I ended up running for the win. I made a bold move with 500m to go, running my own race. I finished knowing I laid all of my chips on the line. As long as I do that, I cannot walk away upset, regardless of the result. Also looking back, I would not have broken 4 if I had not raced for the win. It is remarkable how fast times come when you are able to just go and race. Often runners get so wrapped up on running fast times and forget to race.
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When Pete and I sat down in February to plan this summer season out, there was an idea that everything I raced this summer was in the overall plan ending with the Olympic Trials in February 2016. We decided that focusing on running shorter races will help improve my running economy and build some confidence to compete well at the Trials. I see all my upcoming races as building momentum towards Los Angeles, and I could not think of a better way to start this cycle off than by breaking 4. Now I want to keep that momentum going into my next two races, starting with a 5000m in Portland and then a 10000m at USATF Nationals. I know I am in incredible shape and that my PRs are due for some revisions.
Before I sign off I would like to thank the people at the Festival of Miles. They did a fantastic job putting on the meet. The event went smoothly, the weather was awesome (yes I am crediting them for control of the weather), and the crowd was amazing. It was incredible that they were able to bring around 2000 people to come and watch the races. Being there, it felt more like a carnival than a long drawn out track meet. There are many events that could take a lesson or two from this meet. While I have broken 4 and my future in running lies in longer distances, I hope that I can make it back to the Festival of Miles in the Future.