A grassroots movement is hoping to rekindle excitement for America’s favorite distance.
Ryan Lamppa lives and breathes the mile. It’s a classic American distance — just over four laps on a 400-meter track — that evokes grainy, black-and-white images of track and field legends like Roger Bannister and Peter Snell hurling their tired legs down a cinder track. And for Lamppa, the founder of the grassroots movement known as Bring Back The Mile (BBTM), it’s nothing short of sacred.
Lamppa got the idea to found the organization when he was running around Santa Barbara City College’s track that overlooks the Pacific Ocean a few years ago.
While growing up in the late 1960s, Lamppa had become enamored by the likes of Jim Ryun, who became the first American high school runner to break 4 minutes in the classic four-lap race. But in the late 1970s after the passing of the Metric Conversion Act, high schools began to phase out the mile in favor of the 1600m race — a distance that doesn’t hold the same historical, cultural and media significance as the mile.
And so for the past year, Lamppa has been trying to rekindle the excitement for the distance.
“The mile is a four-lap race,” said Lamppa, who works as the media director of the Running USA trade organization. “And so we are on a four-year master plan.”
Bring Back The Mile’s first lap was all about launching, creating a buzz, and establishing what Lamppa refers to as a “beachhead.” The organization’s website broadcast numerous YouTube videos of elites and non-elites alike holding up makeshift signs that read, “I AM THE MILE.” Lamppa’s story got national press in publications like The Los Angeles Times and Sports Illustrated.
But as that initial buzz subsides, Lamppa is now embarking on the organization’s second lap, which is to launch a BBTM Tour around the country. Stopping at 14 locations, the Tour’s purpose is to “elevate” and “celebrate” the mile from coast to coast.
By the penultimate lap, Lamppa says he hopes to stage a nationwide points-based grand prix tour comprised of sponsored mile races throughout the country. BBTM will award prize money that concludes with an ultimate grand finale to determine the overall winner.
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Lamppa’s final lap is something that gets him talking faster with excitement: BBTM-hosted Main Street Mile races all across the country. “Nothing is more American than the mile,” he said, “and so we envision them happening on July 4.” But to pull that off, he admits he needs the underwriting of a major sponsor.
But as with most things on a grassroots level, money is the fertilizer and Lamppa admits lining up sponsors has been a bit of a challenge. After the fourth year, Lamppa expects to reap the fruits of his labor. His long-term vision is to convert state high school federations all across the country to give up the 1500m and 1600m distance in favor of the mile (currently, only Massachusetts hosts it).
“Still, we’re getting there,” Lamppa said. “We’re coming along, but we need to get to a point where everything is paying for itself. Yeah, some things have taken longer to come together, but I’m a distance runner and so I’m patient. This is all base work.”