We headed to Raleigh, NC to attend the Sir Walter Miler on August 3rd. We first met meet directors Pat Price and Sandy Roberts back in 2014 and we have admired the event from a distance as they have built toward Sir Walter #5 this year.
By now you've heard that Lopez Lomong led the deepest American Men's Mile of all-time with the entire filed, 13 guys, breaking four-minutes while the women's race featured three sub 4:30's with a breakout performance by Charlene Lipsey who won in 4:27.28. But the racing was only the half of it.
The meet staff and athletes staged events over the course of three days that brought elite racing and racers to the Raleigh audience in some unique ways. Here's what we liked:
Summer of Miles Podcast:
The event hosts want to bring you the stories of the athletes before the event so over the weeks leading up to race day Pat and Sandy go to great effort to bring personality to the field. They began with a roll-out episode announcing the men's and women's fields with their elite athlete coordinators Stephen Furst and Jeff Caron and then build on that excitement with interviews with many of the athletes in the field as the event gets closer. I spoke with at least one new fan who told me he had done his homework and listened to all the episodes in anticipation of the race.
Pre Race Dinner:
The athletes, sponsors, and staff gathered for a meal on Sir Walter Miler Eve . There was a welcome speech, recognition of sponsors, and instructions for athletes, but generally the message was "Welcome to North Carolina. Here is why this event is important to us. We're happy you are here." The opening address was capped off with a recitation of the first verse of the North Carolina state song, from memory, and it set the mood right. I sat at a table with a mix of sponsors and athletes and had a great time over dinner learning about Raleigh and discussing vintage Georgetown basketball with Katrina Coogan.
Run Club Mile and 4x400 Relay:
The meet directors keep the event to a short 90 minute schedule that kicks off with mile and relay heats contested between 23 running clubs from around Raleigh and beyond. It sounds simple but having each club send a delegation provided a level of camaraderie and competition that was different than just having an Open races with same athletes. You listened for your club name and watched for your colors.
Spectators are brought on to the track for the elite miles and the intimate scale of the homestretch with fans on the rail and in Lane 4 make for a great space for the athletes to take their last strides toward the starting line. As each athlete is called out they head down the gauntlet high-fiving fans lining the track. It was a detail that puts the fans in contact with their heroes in a way that can't happen at a championship or Diamond League event.
The Sir Walter Miler was a great way to cap off the competitive season in the US. The athletes were in a celebratory mood. With US nationals passed and many athletes returning from Europe the event had the feel of a victory lap. The hosts did a great job of setting it up and the athletes delivered. Before the Sir Walter Miler it had been about 40 years since local fans had seen a sub-four or sub-four-thirty mile and it is a credit to Pat, Sandy and the SWM team to bring that back for the running fans of Raleigh.