This is Jeff Benjamin’s day 2 column on the race and his discussion with the elite runners. We thank Jeff for touring around the Mid Atlantic and South in search for the Perfect mile races!
After a fantastic meet and greet dinner the night before, the early Friday hours before the 9pm kickoff is all about rest and relaxation for the athletes, as they harness their energies for the effort being put out later on. Replete with hard pouring afternoon rainstorms, and it looked to possibly become a dreary day in Raleigh.
But, after 5 pm the heavens cleared and it looked like the race or races were on, so to speak.
If you present it well, they will come, 2018 Sir Walter Raleigh Mile, 3 August 2018, with a crowd of 3000, photo by Jeff Benjamin
Around 7 pm, crowds starting coming into Meredith College to witness the Raleigh Mile’s 5th edition. Amongst the crowd of running and track aficionados, coaches, runners and fans were some who’ve been longtime staples of the Sport.
Millrose Games meet director Ray Flynn was out and about. The Irish 3:49 miler, who ran collegiately somewhat nearby at East Tennessee State University, also represents many of the top milers in the men’s and women’s races as well. “There has to be more than 3,000 people here!,” exclaimed Flynn who no doubt was impressed by the crowd and electricity in the air. As is the Raleigh Mile tradition, fans were encouraged to come on to the outside lanes of the track to root the Milers on, as the crowd literally covered the whole circumference of the track!
Snapping pics quite professionally throughout the night was Charlie Zipprich. A former teammate of Nick Rose at Western Kentucky University, Zipprich is the “Everyman” of the Sport going back 4 decades. Runner, Coach, Race Director, Meet Director, Zipprich was a New Jersey Guy (who also counts 2-Time British Olympic Steepler and current Jersey resident Tony Staynings as one of his pals!) who recently moved down to North Carolina and took the 2-hour trek to the Walter Raleigh Mile. “I couldn’t miss this one,” he said, wanting to be a part of it.
Robby Andrews obviously wanted to be a part of the event as well. However, the former Raleigh Champ and 2017 USATF 1500 champion has been set back by illness since running a solid 3:36.05 in June at Oslo. Nevertheless, the Rio Olympian came down to Meredith College anyway, not only to be a part but also to root on his sister Kristin, who won the women’s championship mixed 1-Mile pre-elite race, clocking 4:48.92 while running through the traffic of lapped runners.
Asked about the prospects of the elite races, Robby Andrews was up in the air with his predictions about the men (“A lot of these guys are running well!”) , but also liked Charlene Lipsey in the Women’s Race. “Charlene is an excellent 800 runner who’s moving up,” said Andrews, no doubt alluding to his own progression of NCAA 800 champ (best time of 1:44.71) into a 3:53 miler himself.
If Lipsey thought that the race might go slow and turn to her kickers advantage, Sara Vaughn wasn’t going to let it happen. Tucking in right behind the pacesetter, Vaughn strongly cranked out a lead of a few yards, following the pacesetter to 65 for the 1/4 and 2:12 at the 1/2 Mile. Vaughn, The NYAC World Champs competitor was certainly making the field work for it!
Leading at the Bell, the field still tried to catch up to Vaughn, but she wouldn’t yield until the final turn when Lipsey, despite the furious pace, kicked past Vaughn towards the tape. However Vaughn wasn’t done yet either as she made a leap for the tape as Lipsey won in 4:27.28 while the lunging Vaughn was timed so close to the Lipsey shoulder at the tape in a time of 4:27.31. Cory McGee took third for the women, following right behind the top two in 4:27.78 and finishing ahead of Nicole Sifuentes (4th-4:27.81) and Kate Van Buskirk (5th- 4:28.67) as the top 5 Women all broke 4:30 before the screaming crowd!
“I’m so happy,” said Lipsey right afterwards. “For me to break 4:30 is just incredible and I can’t believe I did it, and so did 5 other girls!”
The excitement was far from over as the Men’s Mile was ready to begin.
Pacesetter Jesse Garn tower the tight field through the 1/4 in 57, followed closely by Pat Casey and Olympian Ben Blankenship, with Lopez Lomong hovering behind them in a crowded group. Clicking around 1:56 at the 1/2, the quality of the field never wavered as a pack of 8-10 milers followed closely through.
At the Bell Lap, 8 runners seemed ready to go for it, as Casey, Johnny Gregorek, and Sam Prakel started moving. But it was Lomong overtaking Casey and then driving to the finish line, seemingly slowing down a bit over the last 20 meters, but holding off a fast charging Gregorek (3:54.53) and Prakel (3:54.64), breaking the tape in 3:53.86, three one-hundredths of a second slower than the all-time North Carolina record. Casey was rewarded with a solid 4th (3:54.66) in a fast closing finish as all 13 finishers broke 4 minutes in front of the frenzied crowd.
“I’m building speed for next week’s 10k,” said Lomong, alluding to the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC) Senior Championships taking place on Aug. 10-12 in Toronto. “We had cut down on the mileage the last few weeks and have worked on speed.” That training regimen looked pretty successful tonight! “I held good position,” said Lomong, “and I was able to take advantage of it.”
As for just missing the State’s All-Time Record he said, “Next time,” said Lomong. “You know, I’m so honored to be here and I’m really happy to come.” As for the events atmosphere, Lomong excitedly said, “Even before the race I felt that there is something in my heart for this place, so I’ll be back next year!”
That “heart-felt something” has to also be felt by Charlie Marquardt and Jacob Thomson, who each broke 4 minutes quite decisively for the first time clocking times of 3:55.97 and 3:57.07. For Thomson, it was his final “show” of the season, as he was planning to shut down his racing after a long senior year. “Breaking 4 was always a goal, said the BAA athlete. “It’s a great feeling to do it tonight!”
According to the official website, the Sir Walter Miler has now 39 sub-4 minute miles going back five years and it sure looks as the Magic will continue!
Great organizers, great runners, great races and great crowds –
A Truly Great Night!