Day One at the Sir Walter Raleigh Mile, shake out runs, plus a pre race dinner in three acts

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IMG_6830.jpegThe night before the Sir Walter Raleigh Mile dinner, at Runologie, August 2, 2018, photo by Jeff Benjamin

The Sir Walter Raleigh Mile is now in its fifth year. Our senior writer from Staten Island, Jeff Benjamin, has been traveling this week, from New Jersey to Raleig, North Carolina, in search of mile races. This is his first of two days of coverage on the locally supported Sir Walter Raleigh Mile. This event is one of the primo miles around the country.

We congratulate the community who has put together the Sir Walter Raleigh Mile and wish all competitors a great time this evening!

Act 1 - Arrival

"Jeff Carron sure gets around!!", I thought, as he generously came by to pick this writer up at Raleigh-Durham Airport on arrival.

One of the two Sir Walter Raleigh Mile elite coordinators alongside Stephen Furst, Carron seems to be everywhere. The Eliptigo Sports Performance Sales Manager can be seen at various running camps along with top races around the country throughout the year. Just the other day Carron was present at the first Sub-4- at The Shore in New Jersey, which was won by NJNY's Colby Alexander (3:55.84).

IMG_4238.jpegColby Alexander, Sub 4 at the Shore, July 31, 2018, 3:55.84 win for Colby, photo by Jeff Benjamin

Not only is it his energy but it's also Carron's knowledge and passion for publicizing the Sport which truly stands out. Combining that with the equal visions and passions of Pat Price, Logan Roberts and Sandy Roberts no doubt attests to the fact that the Sir Walter Raleigh Mile, founded a short 5 years ago, has blossomed into one of America's greatest Mile events.

One would think that in this era of rising commercial corporatism that there'd be some top shoe or sport sponsor involved. After all, how does an event get over 30 of the nation's top milers here, along with logistical and monetary issues such as housing, travel, prize money and other expenses?

The answer was in one word expressed by all of the organizers above -

Community.

The sponsors for this event are local businesses and individuals who, bound by their strong communal bond, have formed a bloc of support which the Raleigh Mile Leaders can rely on year in and year out. Covering travel, hotel and also having family hosts (Like the iconic Falmouth Road Race) is what has worked successfully.

From what this writer has seen, the greatest fear in bringing in a large, corporate company is that it can lead to less community involvement alongside the possibility of the event ending if that one big sponsors decides to pull out.

So, it's through this grass-roots, local support that the Raleigh Mile has thrived, and the feeling has most definitely been reciprocated by everyone as well.

Joining us for the ride was a bonafide world record holder! In the 2017 Raleigh Mile events, HOKA NJNY miler Heather set the Blue Jeans Mile World Record, running 4:58.84 in full pants! For Wilson, coming off injuries the past couple of years, that race was fun. This year, stronger and healthy again, Wilson looks ready to race in shorts!

Act 2 - Salvation

At 4pm today, fans, runners and the elite athletes were to gather at the Meredith College track for a pre-race day meet & greet, combined with some running and final track tuneups. With the track exactly 5K from the hotel, this writer was ready to opt for the Uber and then run back later when suddenly a car pulls up with Milers Jacob Thomson and Johnny Gregorek, who answered my prayers with a ride!

IMG_6824.jpegJohnny Gregorek, speaking to young athletes and fans, 2 August 2018, Meredith College, photo by Jeff Benjamin

Gregorek has had a solid season so far, as the ASICS athlete won the USATF Distance Classic at Occidental College in Los Angeles in May. However, Gregorek suffered allergies in Eugene's Pollen-loaded atmosphere at the Prefontaine Classic, a not to uncommon occurrence when competing there at certain times of the year. Gregorek and Thomson were amazed to hear the 1972 Eugene Olympic Trials story involving the Great Jim Ryun. After not making the team in the 800 meters, Ryun, who really struggled with allergies in Eugene, literally warmed up miles away from Hayward Field and was then flown to the stadium via helicopter to toe the line in the 1500 meters. Although Ryun dramatically won that trials race, this writer didn't quite get the vibe that Johnny and Jacob were open to that option!

One vibe this writer did get was Thomson's hopefulness in achieving his first sub-4 minute mile Friday night. The former Kentucky Star, who's now based up northeast with the BAA club, has a mile best time of 4:01.42. Primarily a 3K-5K Runner, Thomson's Mile was run indoors with little competition in the final stages of the race. The College graduate is finishing his long collegiate and pro debut season with the Raleigh Mile, hoping for a peak performance.

Arriving at the track, both male and female athletes greeted one another in a reunion of milers. In between some celebrating, stretching, speaking with and jogging with young local runners, most of the Milers all finished up with some kind of stride outs and even some cruise intervals consisting of 150's, 200's and 400's.

"Memory Training," is what 2016 Olympian Hassan Mead called it.

In his Rio 5K Semi, Mead was tripped up and fell, looking like he was out of the final. Despite his enormous disappointment, Mead still graciously met some fans post race and took pics and signed some autographs. As written about 2 years earlier perhaps karma played a role as he was reinstated for the Final - (http://www.runblogrun.com/2016/08/sights-and-sounds-from-rio-2016-with-jeff-benjamin.html).

Pacesetter Jesse Garn was finishing up his preparations as well. The HOKA NJNY runner knows that he is the table setter for Friday night's race, as he (along with women's pacer Jamie Morrissey) set both the splits and tone for how the races will play out.

Garn was also interested in hearing about another rabbit, Tom Byers. In the early 1980's, the long haired Byers was the pacesetter for most of the top Mile performances in the world. No second-tier miler, Byers did run 3:50.84, won the 1982 NYRR 5th Avenue Mile and once stole a 1500 race from Steve Ovett and the rest of the competitors by rabbitting and not stopping, although one thinks that Garn wouldn't fall to that temptation.

IMG_4252.JPGAmanda Eccleston, defending champion, Sir Walter Raleigh Mile, and some of the young runners who are members of her crew, August 2, 2018, photo by Jeff Benjamin

Talking with Amanda Eccleston, one was also amazed at how much dedication she has, as evidenced by her 2-inch scar alongside one ankle, the surgery which kept her sidelined and in the pool for months. But she said she's healthy and feeling good and, as defending champion (4:31.72), looks like she's just as hungry as ever.

While some of us are pursuing salvation on some kind of level, Lopez Lomong has seen it at its best and worst. The 2008 Olympian (Lomong carried the American Flag in the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing) and multiple USATF Champion arose in childhood out of the hellish world of the Sudanese Civil War/Genocide to find his salvation in America and in Running. It is a salvation he wishes to bring to others as he states so eloquently on his website -

"My story is not my own - it's the story of thousands of children who are still victims to the evil of war.

I dream to empower people to look at their lives in a new light and take action in their communities and in the world." - (www.lopezlomong.com)

Reuniting with Lopez is always a thrill, having been acquainted with him since his NY High School Days. Always positive, Lomong and I discussed how his range in distances (as evidenced this year by winning the USATF 10,000) brought to mind the great Rod Dixon. Taking out the phone and linking to YouTube (God, I love modern tech!), I then showed Lomong Dixon's great dramatic 1983 NYC Marathon victory. Lomong, who never saw the footage before, was enthusiastically enthralled and amazed by one of the most dramatic finishes in the history of marathoning, climaxing with the victorious Dixon exclaiming, "The Miler's Kick Does The Trick!" (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=llfcZUyTJGA)

Lomong didn't seem uninterested in the challenge.

"We'll see," said Lomong. "The challenge is what life's is about."

IMG_4242.JPGLopez Lomong, Jeff Benjamin, RunBlogRun senior writer, Hassan Mead, Local supporter of Sir Walter Raleigh Mile, 2 August 2018, photo by Jeff Benjamin

Act 3 - Food, Camaraderie, Tradition

The community vision of the Roberts brothers and Pat Price could be encapsulated in the pre-race dinner, held the night before the Mile. Held in the local running store known as Runologie (What a Great Name!), the Dinner was attended by most of the Milers, as Jeff Carron and others still had to get out to the airport to get others into town.

IMG_4249.JPGBen Blankenship, author Jeff Benjamin, Craig Engels, August 2, 2018, Meredith College, photo by Jeff Benjamin

NIKE Oregon Project's Craig Engels was presented with an honorary traditional plaque for last year's victorious performance.

Sitting with Lopez, Gregorek and Sarah Brown, the discussion turned to old times, current training and new challenges. For the New Balance sponsored Brown, moving with her husband/coach from her Virginia roots (she also explained that they've lived in 4 other states as well!) to the New England Boston area has been a great transition. Fellow New Balance athlete Katrina Coogan is also based in New England, coached by her Olympic dad, Mark alongside her Olympian mom, Gwen, and is looking for a solid mile on Friday.

IMG_4255.JPGA lively dinner discussion at Runologie, the night before the race, 2 August 2018, photo by Jeff Benjamin, Sir Walter Raleigh Mile

Finale

Camaraderie, Tradition, Inspiration, Salvation Humor and Good Times. These were the vibes felt pre-race day.

But the major theme of the day, which no doubt will keep recurring on Friday & Saturday -

Community.

Without it, nothing happens. Especially in Raleigh!

See You Friday Night!!

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