Making the Most of Your Mile: Music City Distance Carnival
Sub-4 at 40, shoestring budgets and supporting dreams
By Bring Back the Mile
Editor's note: Anthony Whiteman (GBR) not only won the Music City Distance Carnival Swiftwick Mile at the age of 40, but became the first Masters athlete to run a sub-4 minute Mile outdoors. Whiteman covered the distance in 3:58.79. Watch more video of 2012 Music City Distance Carnival on flotrack.org
NASHVILLE - The Music City Distance Carnival enters its 10th year in 2012. The Distance Carnival not only hosts some of the best distance runners in Tennessee, but regularly draws U.S. Olympians and has had 15 other nations represented among its participants. The meet can boast the fastest outdoor Mile ever recorded in Tennessee (3:57.26, Jason Jabaut, 2007) and has produced 15 sub-4 minute Miles.
Organized by race director, Dave Milner and thanks to sponsors such as Pilot Travel Centers, the Music City Distance Carnival has become Tennessee's premiere track meet. The 2012 edition includes a special attempt at a feat never accomplished on an outdoor track - Anthony Whiteman's attempt to become the first person over 40 to run a sub-4 Mile outdoors.
We spoke with Dave and Anthony on the eve of the event on their drive back from the Festival of Miles in St. Louis.
BBTM: The Music City Distance Carnival is part of the newly formed Cubic Zirconia League. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Dave: (Laughs) It was my not so subtle way of saying that my meet is operated on a shoestring budget. I think my budget is about what a rabbit at a Diamond League meet would make. My friend, Brad Yewer, an agent, suggested I get it on a T-shirt. If I had any money left, I would!
BBTM: You are in your 10th year; congratulations. What was the vision for starting Music City and what did you do to make it a major event on the Track & Field calendar?
Dave: I started the meet in 2003 as a tribute to a dear friend of mine, Kibby Clayton, who was instrumental in the Nashville running community in the 1990s. She died from a brain tumor at age 56. The running club of which she had been director wasn't doing anything to honor her memory and I wanted to put on a running event that I thought she would have got a kick out of had she been able to see it.
I didn't have the money to put on a road race, and there was (and still is) a dearth of quality track meets in the South. Basically it was a series of seeded 5000 meter heats back in 2003, and it has just gradually grown from year to year. For the last two years, Pilot Travel Centers has been my biggest sponsor, and they have allowed me to grow the meet substantially, but I'm still a long way from where I would like the meet to be, quality-and numbers-wise.
BBTM: This year you have a really special opportunity for fans. Anthony Whiteman, a two-time Olympian from Great Britain will attempt to be the first person over 40 to run sub-4 outdoors. How did that come together?
Dave: This really is the story of the meet. While I always get excited whenever any one breaks 4:00 at my meet, especially when it is their first time under the barrier, folks at the meet this year have an opportunity to witness something pretty remarkable. Only one runner over the age of 40 has ever ran a sub-4:00 mile - Eamonn Coghlan back in 1994. No master has ever cracked the barrier outdoors.
Anthony Whiteman is a 40-year-old Englishman who has already run 1:48 and 3:45 for 800 meters and 1500 meters respectively this season. He looks poised to be the first.
Although we have a ton of mutual friends (I'm from England too), we had never met until a few days ago, but we had talked on Facebook quite a bit. He had caught my attention with a 3:42 1500 meters clocking late last summer, just before his 40th birthday, and I contacted him in March about coming to Nashville to take a stab at a sub-4.
Nike was talking with him about potentially running Pre. When Tom Jordan decided he didn't want him, I jumped at the chance to get him to my meet. To me, a 40-year-old man going sub-4 is a great story; way more exciting and inspiring than a 22-year-old lad going 3:57. I mean, Anthony could be their dad!
I think the fans will have an emotional attachment to him because what he is trying to do has never been done. He's a first class guy, and, I hope an inspiration to runners of all ages.
BBTM: Anthony, how has your preparation gone in lead up to this race?
Anthony: I feel good; my preparation has been good. Recently I ran a 1:48.28 800 meters, which on a percentage basis puts me in position to break four minutes. But, I'm very competitive and winning the race is more important. In a way the time is superflous. If I break 4 minutes and lose, I'll be upset.
BBTM: When did you decide to go after this Mile barrier?
Anthony: It really was quite organic. After my attempt to qualify for a third Olympic Games in 2004 I stopped competing for five or six years. I got involved with a great organization, On Camp with Kelly, founded by British Olympic Gold Medalist Kelly Holmes. On Camp with Kelly seeks to help young athletes learn what it takes to become world class and to achieve their dreams. Through that I've been able to continue to be involved with the mentoring and training of athletes. And jumping into intervals here and there I figured I might be able to put on my spikes and return to racing.
BBTM: What was your first race like?
Anthony: In 2010 I ran an 800 meter race, my first time in an outdoor track race since 2004. The 11 guys in the race were all separated by just over a second, between 1:49.3 and 1:50.7. I was 8th in 1:50.1. We were all fighting for our lives and that is what I really missed. Getting in there with proper competition where everyone is killing it trying to win.
BBTM: Was it difficult for your body to return to high level training?
Anthony: I kept fit with On Camp with Kelly and also as a personal trainer, so when I came back it came back quickly. Training with the younger British elites has been motivating. It's like Top Gun where you're training with the best and I'm the veteran instructor who doesn't make any mistakes; it's all second nature. From an execution stand point I won't mess up and if the young guys do then I'll win. I have a very small window of opportunity to give the sub-4 MIle a go. I have to be careful to not make any mistakes.
BBTM: Thanks Anthony and good luck tomorrow evening.
BBTM: Dave, in addition to Anthony you have an amazing field with athletes from 24 states, two Canadians and another thirteen countries represented. What feedback do you get from athletes in coming to a 'Distance Carnival'?
Dave: Actually, I think we have about half a dozen Canadians coming. I think they come for the Country Music and Grits!
99% of the feedback I get is very positive. It's not the most organized track meet you'll ever attend, but I'm essentially a one man show, because I feel bad asking people to help with the organization of the meet if I can't pay them. Almost all the athletes that come realize that this meet is for them, nobody is getting rich, and that I genuinely care about helping the runners that come to perform well.
The meet is really geared toward athletes who are a few years out of college, still chasing the dream and struggling to make ends meet. I'll go out of my way to help those athletes rather than the ones that have shoe contracts and travel budgets.
This year, we'll have at least half a dozen athletes seriously shooting for the Olympic Games "A" standard, which is obviously exciting, with about 25-30 athletes looking to stamp their ticket to the U.S. Olympic Trials three weeks after the meet.
BBTM: If you want to see athletes get after the sub-4 minute barrier, Music City seems to be the place to be. What is it so special about that barrier and the Mile in general that brings fans to stands?
Dave: Well, I think Eugene is the place to be the first weekend in June, and Nashville is a very distant second, but, frankly, Pre is very hard to get into unless you are sponsored by Nike or one of the top few runners in the U.S. I think my meet fills a nice niche for those second tier elite runners.
I've had fifteen sub-4:00 miles at the Distance Carnival. Anthony Famiglietti was the first to duck under the barrier at my meet, and indeed in Nashville, in 2005. That's not a bad track record for a meet operated on a $7000 budget!
The 4-minute Mile is a barrier that even the most casual running spectator can understand and respect. I have kept the distance at the Mile rather than 1500m because, quite frankly, only the most ardent running fan gets excited about a 3:42 1500 meters. It doesn't have the same cache and the event lacks the neat symmetry that the Mile has.
BBTM: With T&F events not having luxury of mass participation a la road races, what was your sponsorship strategy in the community?
Dave: In 2013, my plan is to marry the two by having a 5K road race precede the track meet. That will, of cost more money to put on, but will attract a much bigger crowd, and will hopefully introduce more runners to track racing. I think many beginning and intermediate runners are a little intimidated by the track in general, and certainly racing on one in a meet. I want to change that.
But, if I am going to incorporate a road race, I'll need much more sponsorship, and will have to develop a strategy that trumps my current one of begging my mates who are runners and business owners!
BBTM: Swiftwick especially seems to be very involved this year. Are they a first year sponsor?
Dave: Yes, Swiftwick, who are headquartered in Nashville, is on board for the first time this year, and they are very excited about it. They are giving a pair of ($15 retail) socks to every participant, and are also offering a cash incentive for sub-4:00 performances in the Swiftwick Men's Mile, which is the final race of the night, at 10:00pm. One of their employees is a guy I coached in high school and he was instrumental in helping me partner with the company.
BBTM: Is the Chago's Post Race Party open to the public?
Dave: Absolutely. Chago's is a great Mexican restaurant. Distance Carnival participants (if they're over the age of 21) get their first beer free with their bib number. Last year about two thirds of the elite athletes from out of town, and a lot of local runners, went to Chago's and we basically took over the pace. I think they finally kicked us out around 3:15am. The Canadian - especially the Speed River folks - can put down some Cervezas.