In running, there are a handful of classic distances: the furious, breathless speed of the 100M; the everyman’s challenge of the marathon; and, perhaps the most storied of them all, the mile. The mile requires a unique combination of speed, strength and stamina… and yet at the same time, it is a distance achievable by almost every runner.
The mile as a measure of distance has an unexpectedly complex history. The first miles were a measure used by ancient Romans. The name was originally the “mille passus”, which translates as 1,000 paces. Essentially, it was how far a Roman legionnaire would have travelled when his left foot had hit the ground 1,000 times. Of course, this meant that fit, well-fed and sufficiently motivated soldiers would cover more land in the same number of steps than others without those attributes.
This ambiguity lasted until the general, statesman and architect Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa decided in 29AD to standardise the length – using his foot as the model. A pace became five feet and a mile was fixed as 1,000 lengths of Agrippa’s foot.
Obviously, Agrippa’s aim in standardising the measure of distance was not to create a classic running competition. But his legacy was enduring. The mile became the measure adopted in many parts of the world. The problem – for athletes, at least – was that once the Roman empire had collapsed, there was very little agreement as to the actual length of a mile.
It was not until 1592, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, that the statute mile was agreed. Until that point there had been many variations – the Welsh mile, for example, comprised 9,000 paces and ended up being more than 6km in length. That would have made Sir Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minutes an improbable feat, to say the least.
Finally, in July 1959 the imperial mile was standardised to an agreed length in metres: 1,609.344m, to be exact.
As far as competition was concerned, throughout the 1700s and 1800s, mile races were magnets for gamblers. Indeed, many of the early middle-distance athletes who took part in these races became some of the first professional track-and-field competitors. But not everyone was on board with the popularity of the mile as a distance.
At the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, athletes contested the 1,500m rather than the mile. Edwin Flack from Australia won, with American Arthur Blake coming second and Albin Lermusiaux, a Frenchman, rounding out the podium.
Still, the good old mile would not be denied, and has captured the imagination of athletes and spectators alike. So much so that it is the only imperial distance recognised by World Athletics for the purposes of recording a world record.
Which brings us to modern mile racing. One of the most exciting developments is how the mile has burst out of the constraints of the track and on to the streets with the All Out Mile – a competition that took a radical approach to the usual format and gave athletes around the world the chance to see how their running could improve.
WHAT IS THE ALL OUT MILE?
The Under Armour All Out Mile was set up to challenge runners to improve their mile time – and their fitness in general – with the support of training plans and tips delivered by professional athletes, coaches and Under Armour’s Human Performance experts.
The idea was simple: runners would set a benchmark time for the mile between 30 August and 30 September 2021. They would then embark on a training programme before testing themselves again during the All Out Mile competition period between 1-11 October. By capturing their times with the MapMyRun platform, runners were able to see how they had improved and measure themselves against athletes around the world.
But in addition to this global virtual event, a pair of real-life, physical races tested runners in two major world cities. On 1 October, on a cool, dry evening in Peckham, London, athletes gathered to see how much they had been able to improve on their mile time after 30 days of specific training supported by Under Armour. The race was organised by London running collective Track Life LDN, led by Omar Mansour and Rory Knight. The team at Track Life LDN set up several training sessions and supported runners taking on the All Out Mile via virtual coaching.
Rory and Omar, both athletes and coaches, brought a wealth of experience to the runners hoping to improve their mile times. Rory is an elite fitness expert, internationally renowned for his unique style of motivation and innovative training techniques. He trained as an athlete under the guidance of Great Britain coaches, specialising in the 800m. Omar is an elite personal trainer. Between the two of them, they have amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience to help anyone whose target is to become a better miler and an improved runner.
For Omar from Track Life LDN, the mile is a distance that he believes offers every runner the chance to improve: “I’ve always been excited by the mile because no matter what distance you are training for, you can test your fitness in a way that is quick and measurable.”
“When I was training at the highest level,” says Omar. “I would use the mile to build speed-endurance. And I think everyone can do the same. That is why I think there should be more mile races. It is dramatic and exciting. And despite the fact that a mile is over quickly, a lot can happen.”
RACING THE MILE
In London there was a palpable sense of tension as the athletes arrived. This race would be the culmination of all their training. Runners stood around chatting or stretching, making a few last-minute adjustments to their kit or getting tips about the course from locals who knew the streets. As the official start time approached, Rory and Omar called all the athletes together for some warm-up drills and final words of encouragement. Then they led the runners down to the start line. And with the hoot of a horn, the race was on.
The route had been designed as two laps around the streets of Peckham, so the runners would come back through the start-finish area to be greeted by confetti cannons and shouts of encouragement from those who had come to support. The racing was fast and furious, with tight turns keeping the runners focused, and there was a celebration at the end for everyone who had taken on the classic distance.
Ultimately the All Out Mile was a huge success. The races in London and Chicago were a celebration of fast running, community and music. The real-life events brought together athletes from different backgrounds while at the same time, runners around the world took on the challenge of seeing how fast they could run a mile and how much their speed could improve with specific, focused training. That is one of the key qualities of the mile – it is a distance at which everyone can have a go. Runners lined up against Crossfit athletes, basketball and football players. All-comers were welcome and the competition on both sides of the Atlantic was fierce. Yet at the same time – as we saw in London – there was a great sense of camaraderie.
The Under Armour All Out Mile built on a tradition of mile racing. The global challenge took a distance that is steeped in athletics history and brought it right up to date. Online training resources and a challenge that allowed runners to set their best times using Under Armour’s MapMyRun technology, meant that anyone, anywhere, could take part. And this is why the mile is such a great challenge. No matter a person’s level of fitness or experience, even if they can’t commit to hours and hours of training, seeing an improvement is within reach.
As Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile in under four minutes, once said:
“I found longer races boring. I found the mile just perfect.”
We could not agree more.
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH UNDER ARMOUR
Keep an eye out for the UA All Out Mile returning in the Spring of 2022.
Photography by Jack Atkinson – www.knowjack.com