David Hunter is on a roll. This piece on Chris Fallon of Ohio State, and the pursuit of the four minute mile, is a fun read. The four minute mile has become a litmus test to the growing strength of American distance running. Running four laps in 60 seconds a piece has been done by just over 396 Americans in the past fifty years. Sometime this spring, we will hit 400 Americans who have broke four minutes for the mile!
America’s Sub-4:00 Fraternity
The Quest To “Break Four” Still Inspires
March 30, 2013
The 4:00 mile — there is something so perfect about that distance, that time, and that goal. 4 laps in 4 minutes, averaging less than 60 seconds for each lap. No other achievement is so well known, so perfectly crafted to inspire, and still so exclusive after more than 50 years since Roger Bannister made the inaugural break though on the Iffley Road track in Oxford on May 6th, 1954.
Other sports may claim to have pinnacle goals equal to the majesty of the 4:00 mile. But they would be wrong. Golf’s hole in one? Too much magical luck involved. Bowling’s 300 game? Too easily achieved. Basketball’s triple double, baseball’s .300 batting average or 20 win season, hockey’s hat trick – all are events to be celebrated, to be sure. But none can really compare to the dedication, the solitary achievement, and the grandeur that accompany breaking four minutes in the mile.
Running a sub-4:00 mile is held in such high regard that the sport we love keeps slavish account of all those who have achieved this special goal. Track & Field News – one of the sport’s most widely-read and respected publications – pays subtle but sincere tribute to each new American to join this exclusive club. T&FN does so by noting each new American sub-4:00 performance with a number that indicates how many Americans – including this most recent sub-4:00 performer – have now broken the magical barrier.
This year there is a special sense of anticipation surrounding new U.S. entrants into the sub-4:00 fraternity. The excitement builds as the total number of American milers who have broken 4:00 closes in on 400 – a total that will likely be surpassed sometime prior to Mother’s Day. But it wasn’t always that way. After Bannister’s groundbreaking mile in the spring of 1954, it was over three years until the first American [Cal’s Don Bowden – T&FN’s #1] turned the trick. By the 10th anniversary of Bannister’s feat, only 9 Americans had broken 4:00. Slowly, the pace of the American onslaught on 4:00 gradually rose, but ultimately plateaued. And for decades roughly 6 new American milers entered the sub-4:00 club each year. By the 20th anniversary of Bannister’s feat, 69 American milers had dipped under 4:00; by the 30th anniversary, 133 had done so; by the 40th anniversary, 196 U.S. milers had broken the barrier; and by the 50th anniversary, the total number of American milers under 4:00 had risen to 259. But since the 50th anniversary of Bannister’s legendary mile, there has been an explosion of elite miling in the U.S. Since then – not quite 9 years – 138 new American sub-4:00 milers as of this writing – over 15 new members per year – have been added to this exclusive list. In 2012 – last year alone – 23 new American milers joined the ranks of American milers who had broken four.
One of the many young American milers who has sought to join this elite group is Chris Fallon – a 5th year senior at The Ohio State University. Fallon’s progression as a middle distance runner and the evolution of what he later embraced as a quest to break four minutes is not an unusual – or even spectacular – story. It is one that is likely not dissimilar to the hard-fought progression evidenced by many of the nearly 400 Americans who have pursued the goal, worked for the break through that would grant them admittance into that special fraternity of American sub-4:00 milers.
The origin of Fallon’s running was rather simple. But it was an event that he remembers quite clearly. “Actually when I was in kindergarten, we had this little run-a-thon – running laps on the field. And I loved it,” explains the OSU star in recounting how his love affair with running began. “And from that point on, I just wanted to run.”
As he entered high school, Fallon exhibited promising – but not necessarily spectacular – running skills. “As a 9th grader, I ran the mile in the low 4:40’s. And by my sophomore year, I dropped my mile time down to 4:33,” offers Fallon. By that time, the young miler was hooked. “At that point, I was always thinking about how I could get better, what part of the race could I improve on,” adds Fallon with a flashing smile. “It always kept me hungry. Even after a good race, you’re thinking, ‘How could I go faster?'” By his junior year in high school, Fallon stepped up his game – running a 4:17 P.R. in the state meet. “As I junior, I kind of broke through. It was my break-out year, I guess.” Did your big leap forward allow you to dream about what you might be able to do, perhaps break four minutes? “I don’t think I really thought about it much,” offers Fallon. “It was always out there. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s fast.’ But after my junior year, when I began to think that I would run in college, I’d think about 4:00 and thought, ‘What? That’s good in college.’ But I really didn’t think that far out.”
After an illness-ridden final high school year temporarily blunted Fallon’s progression, the promising young miler was off to Columbus where he red-shirted his first year at OSU. Suddenly Fallon found himself running with other disciplined milers – talented athletes who shared a common purpose, a common goal. “It wasn’t until my freshman year at Ohio State that I really thought that it [breaking 4:00] was something that I would be able to do,” confides Fallon. “As a freshman, I was at Ohio State with Rob Myers and Jeff See and I came in with Corey Leslie. So I was just one of the guys,” Fallon explains. “I was in an environment that kind of fostered it. When you are around guys like that and train at that level, you kind of see what it takes. I knew that if I could do what they did, I could do it [break 4:00]. If it wasn’t for coming in with those guys, that seed [the inspiration to break 4:00] might not have been planted.”
Surrounded by dedicated talent at OSU, Fallon received first the support and then the inspiration to pursue loftier goals. Training with milers harboring similar goals, Fallon saw his mile time improve. After his red-shirt year, the young miler chipped his mile best down to 4:10 in his first year of eligibility. As a sophomore, he improved to 4:05. Improvement became more difficult, but as a junior he ran 4:04. “At that point, I was knocking on the door. I was running races going out in 2:06 and closing in 1:58.” It was during that third year of collegiate competition that the young miler experienced a sub-4:00 revelation. “At that point I knew I could do it,” offers Fallon. “It was just a matter of finding the race to do it in.”
Fallon found that race. This past February, he traveled to Fayetteville, to compete in a specially-assembled mile structured for sub-4:00 racing. “There were a bunch of Oklahoma guys – guys like Riley Masters and Frezer Legesse,” the young Buckeye explains. “The pace was promised to be hot and you just kinda got in line. They wanted to go through 1200 in 2:58. I wasn’t quite in the line but I got onto the train ride, I guess you could say. I was the caboose,” laughs Fallon. “The leaders hit the half in 1:58 and I went through in 2:01.5. I felt great and I was relaxed. And I thought to myself, ‘Hey, it’s here. I just have to close it down.’ So I knew I had to string together some 29 point something laps.” And with a grin, Fallon adds, “I ended closing it out in 1:57.8.
Chris Fallon finished 4th. And while placing higher might have been nice, the young miler achieved the goal he had doggedly pursued for years, crossing the line in 3:59.37. “I’m Number 390,” notes Fallon with reference to his number among Americans who have broken four. And with a broad smile he adds, “It is a number I will always remember.”
In searching for an underlying rationale to explain the recent annual growth in America’s new sub-4:00 milers, many would cite – among other things – more sophisticated training regimens, improved nutrition, the addition of strength-building cross-training, the proliferation of all-weather track surfaces, improved footwear, and oversized indoor ovals in breezeless, temperature-controlled conditions. And they would be correct. But there is at least one additional, critical – indeed essential – factor that promotes this growth. And this element has been an important ingredient in the never-ending improvement of middle distance performances since the beginning. It is the indefatigable human spirit, the drive to achieve a goal, to dedicate long hours of focused training in the singular pursuit of an accomplishment chased by many for over half a century.