Bring Back The Mile: 5 Questions With Ryan Lamppa

The Fifth Avenue Mile is an annual event in New York City. Photo: www.photorun.net

A group is trying to resurrect the mile, which has been called “America’s distance.”

In January 2012, Running USA’s Ryan Lamppa launched the Bring Back The Mile (BBTM) campaign (bringbackthemile.com), with the mission to “return the Mile to prominence on the American sports and cultural landscape by elevating and celebrating the Mile to create a national movement.” Why? Because the Mile still matters, and so does the history behind it.

Over the last two-plus years, BBTM has reached high school athletes and professional and recreational runners nationwide, bringing increased awareness to the storied 1,609-meter distance. The BBTM movement also brings attention to famed milers, including Jim Ryun, who in 1964 became the first high schooler to run under 4 minutes in the mile.

On June 5, Lamppa and other BBTM supporters will gather at Balboa Stadium in San Diego for the Festival of Miles to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ryun’s feat. We caught up with Lamppa leading up to the event and asked a few questions about the campaign, its mission, why it matters and their new sponsor, Hoka One One.

In your own words, why is the mile “America’s Distance?”

The Mile—upper and lower case—is America’s distance because, more than any other country, the Mile is still deeply embedded in American culture and history. We race the Mile more than any other country. Our signs and odometers are in miles. We think, speak and relate in miles, not kilometers. For example, in this country, how often after a run or race are you asked your kilometer pace? You are asked, what was your Mile pace?

In addition, unlike other countries, we have not gone fully metric and probably won’t—at least not any time soon. Why? Because Americans understand, at least at a subconscious level, that the Mile makes us, well, Americans. It’s as American as baseball, apple pie and the 4th of July!

RELATED: 10 Questions With Jim Ryun

Why does the Mile still matter, especially at the high school level?

Our brains in America are wired for the Mile. It’s too bad that back in the ’80s, all these high school federations, except for Massachusetts, dropped the Mile and the two-mile. It really didn’t make any sense for two main reasons—the 1,600m and 3,200m don’t have a history, and they are not Olympic distances. You have the 100, 200, 400 and 800—they are Olympic distances, so they have a history and a cache, but the other two are just misfit distances. But we know why they did it; it’s easy to do! 1,600 is four laps around a metric track, and a lot of the federations are run by high school football coaches, so they don’t appreciate the history of the Mile.

There is not an American boy that dreams of breaking four minutes in the 1,600—and why would they? I ask people, “How many high school boys have broken four minutes in the mile?” Most track fans know the answer. Ask them how many have broken four minutes in the 1,600m, and they have no idea. It’s two—but that’s irrelevant.

It would just be nice for a state like California, which has a history of great milers, boys and girls, men and women, to be the first state to join Massachusetts in running the Mile in high school. If California went back to the Mile, other states would think about following the CIF. If high schools ran the Mile—and the two-mile also—I’m convinced that the first federation to do that, that would be a big story. It would be a WSJ, USA Today, Sports Illustrated story. I can almost guarantee that—it would be news!

Only five high school boys have gone under four minutes in the mile—Jim Ryun (1964), Tim Danielson (1966), Marty Liquori (1967), Alan Webb (2001) and Lukas Verzbicas (2011).

The mile is an under-appreciated, lesser-known “gateway distance” to running—why do you think that is, why do you believe it to be the perfect gateway to running?

You can’t hide in the Mile—it will never be as popular as a 5K or 10K for that reason. If you told someone you ran a Mile, you would give a time, and it would immediately be in the context of how good you are. Whereas if you told someone you ran a 10K in 42 minutes, most people would not be able to tell you what your Mile pace was.

But the Mile is the perfect distance for any type of runner or runner-to-be. Despite the second Running Boom—last year we had well over 16 million finishers in running events, an all-time high—there are 310 million plus Americans, hundreds of millions of Americans who are NOT running. We believe that the Mile, because it is accessible and doable, can be part of getting more sedentary people of all ages off the couch and out the door. Most people can do four laps on a track, but most people cannot or will not do a 5K or 10K, let alone a marathon, unless we get them started with a gateway distance, such as the Mile, that they can do right now with limited fitness and, as important, with little time commitment. Five or six laps around your block could be a Mile, and they will take you anywhere from six minutes to 20 minutes. That’s much more doable. In other words, what the world needs now is more people doing a mile a day and more Mile events!

Because we are all runners, we are all milers, but the sport also needs to find more ways for the top runners and the masses to interact, share stories and have fun. For example, at every BBTM Grand Prix Tour 2014 event is a Running Warehouse “Pick-the-Winner” contest for direct fan engagement.

RELATED: Remembering Jim Ryun’s Memorable Mile

Hoka One One is now a big sponsor for the BBTM campaign. How are you and shoe brand working together to bring awareness to the 1609-meter distance?

We’ve had our first major sponsor—Hoka One One—sign on. They are trying to break out of just the ultra or trail running community, which are both so small. They saw what we were doing with the mile and they liked it. This is the audience they want to reach. Milers aren’t spending all their time on the track and in flats or spikes. They obviously do training runs, so the Hoka shoe will work for them just as any other shoe.

Hoka One One understands the mission and passion of BBTM, and together we will be promoting the Mile and engaging people via our Mile Moment of the Month [under the News tab] and 4 Minutes with a Miler presented by HOKA [Podcast series]. We will also be at upcoming events with our Mile message.

Lamppa will be at the Festival of Miles at Balboa Stadium in San Diego on June 5, celebrating Jim Ryun’s first sub-4-minute Mile 50 years ago.

RELATED: Looking Back On Bannister’s Incredible Mile

How can people support the BBTM campaign?

Our main objective is to promote the Mile, its history, past and present milers and just get people more excited about the Mile—and I think we have been able to do that in the last two-plus years. If you believe in the mission, if you would like to see the Mile more prominent, find that way in your world to do so. Tell your friends about the website Bringbackthemile.com, start a Mile event, talk about the Mile, race a Mile. You just never know if you will get someone interested in the Mile again. It’s everything from just word of mouth to helping us find more sponsors, and everything in between.

Follow the movement on Twitter and join the more than 3,000 followers in supporting the BBTM campaign—three @themile Tweets have been RT’d more than 100 times!

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