“There is a sort of magic in the drama of the mile” *

tl;dr version: this is a shamefully self-absorbed blog post in which I brag that I ran a mile in under 5 minutes the other day. If you care to learn more, read on.

In a (not altogether rare) moment of introspection back in September 2016, Mary and I were talking about our plans for the future. As our careers develop and our lives go on through the stages of adulthood, and possibly in the future parenthood (no guarantees, Mom and Dad), our responsibilities are increasing. I realized that I had a couple of regrets, self-improvement goals that I had always wanted to do but not ever committed the time to. One was that despite being relatively adept at learning languages, I had only learned one fluently (German) and one decently (Spanish). The other was that I had never run a sub-5 minute mile. The closest I came was 5:10 in college. Almost as soon as I had those thoughts, I realized that those two things did not need to be regrets. They were both attainable goals–but both are skills that fade with time, so I immediately began to pursue them. I decided to go for the athletic goal first, followed by the linguistic goal. A few days later, on September 4, 2016, we headed to the running track at Clay High School north of the Notre Dame campus in South Bend where Mary timed me in a mile run.

can you name all of my running idols?

The mile is a very interesting distance for running. It’s one of the few non-metric distances that is still contested internationally–although it’s being replaced by the 1500m or 1600m run. One mile is exactly 1609.344 m, for you metric aficionados. That’s four laps around a standard 400-meter track with a couple extra steps thrown in. It requires a unique balance of aerobic endurance and anaerobic speed. Having neither of those things in sufficient quantity, I painfully eked out a time of 5:53. That marked the first time over the next 10 months that I would wear out Mary’s patience complaining about how slow I was.

Over the next months, including all throughout the Michigan winter, I kept up a steady schedule of training. The nice thing about the mile is that you don’t need to put in hours and hours at a time, as you would for the marathon. I never did any workout longer than about 1 hour, 5 to 6 days a week. The basic plan was to do 1 to 2 track workouts a week, starting with 200 m and 300 m repeats in the first couple months, then eventually 400 m, 600 m, and 800 m repeats. I also ran 5 to 8 miles a few times a week, sometimes doing a few sprints at the end of the run, and every few weeks a tempo run which was roughly a 5K at 6-minute mile pace. At first, running 200 m at “race pace” in 37 seconds felt like a dead sprint, but gradually longer and longer distances felt–not quite comfortable, but manageable.

The original plan was to have the whole thing wrapped up in 2 or 3 months. When that proved to be ludicrously ambitious, I decided to set a deadline of my 30th birthday: July 9, 2017. With support from a loving wife and encouragement from family and friends, my time dropped to 5:33 in October, 5:28 in November, and 5:20 in December. After a weird illness in February, I reeled off 5:15 in March and 5:09 in April. It was really gratifying to see such tangible progress and to feel fitter than at any other time in my life. I knew I could not get much faster by myself on the track so I had my eye on a few local races.

In late May, when we were visiting Mary’s family in Tennessee, they all came out to cheer Mary’s sister Carol and me in a road race. I managed 5:04 that day, followed by 5:01 a few weeks later. Now for the big reveal: On June 29 (with only 10 days to spare until my birthday), Mary and I headed to the “Bring Back The Mile” track meet at Okemos High School, just a few miles south down Hagadorn Rd. from our place in East Lansing. There, I toed the line with some fast dudes, and, the usual pre-race nerves and pessimism notwithstanding, crossed the finish line in 4:59.7! What an absolute feeling!!!

I won’t bore you any more with race report details or other self-aggrandizing minutiae. I don’t often brag on myself but I felt I deserved to just this once. Now on to the next goal, learning some spoken Mandarin–after I shave a few more seconds off my time, that is! See you at the track. (Pictures below)

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(*) quote by Sir Roger Bannister


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