Mile News

The 4-Minute Mile is still worth celebrating

February 11, 2023

After outrcry, Track & Field News brings back its first U.S. sub-4 list for 2023; Fast Forest Project is honoring the fastest U.S. Milers as part of a broader sustainability initiative

By Martin Fritz Huber, Outside

Earlier this week, word got out on Twitter that Track & Field News, the self-proclaimed “bible of the sport since 1948” would apparently no longer be updating its chronological list of Americans who break 4 minutes in the Mile. There was a statement on its website justifying the decision that read: “The advent of super-shoes has bombarded the 4:00 barrier into something no longer relevant for tracking, although many new members would have made it even without high-tech footwear.”

Ouch! Although the dramatic influx of sub-4 performances in recent years has been well-documented, to some members of the very online track community, the bible of the sport was committing a kind of heresy. Clayton Murphy, an Olympic bronze medalist in the 800 meters and 3:51 Miler chimed in to ask why a benchmark’s becoming more attainable suddenly rendered it irrelevant. Others pointed out that it was a little reductionist to chalk everything up to the rise of high-tech footwear; much has been made, for instance, about Boston’s new indoor facility that touts itself as “the fastest track in the world.” Some of the responses hinted at a generational divide, as if in refusing to acknowledge future sub-4 performances the folks at Track & Field News were acting as gatekeeping fogeys. Pro runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford responded with a dinosaur emoji. Austin Miller, who competes for Tinman Elite and who just recorded his first sub-4 Mile two weeks ago, was impressively succinct: “Lol, all these old track nerds love to blame the shoes.”

As something of an old track nerd myself, I considered writing a spirited defense of my geriatric  cohort over at Track & Field News. (Why chastise anyone for what was ultimately just a labor of love to begin with?) But there was no need. On Friday, the editors changed their mind and announced that, due to popular demand, they would continue to update the list going forward.

“The original decision was simply based on our (non-scientific) belief that the stat had lost its popularity,” the site’s editor Garry Hill told me in an email. “In retrospect I now think the opposite might be true, as modern shoes / tracks / training have combined to make a shot at a sub-4:00 now a reasonable goal for a lot more people.”

In the spirit of this week’s kerfuffle, it’s worth highlighting a venture that has found a novel way to commemorate the nation’s swiftest Milers.

Enter Ben Blankenship’s “Fast Forest” project. For a long time, the Rio Olympic 1500 meter finalist (and aspiring marathoner) had been harboring an idea to plant a tree for every American man who breaks the 4 minute mark and for every American woman who runs sub-4:30. (There’s also a non-binary category, which uses the barrier for whatever gender category the athlete competes in.) Last year, Blankenship was able to actualize this arboreal tribute in Dorris Ranch, a park in Springfield, Oregon, as part of a collaboration with the Willamalane Park and Recreation District. The park is situated a mere three miles from Hayward Field, the University of Oregon’s famed track stadium and bears the distinction of being the oldest commercial hazelnut orchard in the nation. At present, there are 756 designated hazelnut tree saplings, each bearing a small biodegradable name tag with athlete’s Mile time, the date and location of their accomplishment, and a number designating where they fall in the chronological order of barrier breakers.

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Tags: outside magazine (6) , fast forest (2) , ben blankenship (72) , bbtm news (207)

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Return the Mile to prominence on the American & worldwide sports and cultural landscape by elevating and celebrating the Mile to create a movement.

Bring Back the Mile as the premier event in the sport, and increase interest in and media coverage of the Mile for both those who love the distance as well as the general public.

Bring Back the Mile to celebrate the storied distance and to recognize the people who made and make the Mile great and to promote Mile events and the next generation of U.S. Milers.

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