The sub-four minute mile is no longer the stuff of legends for professional track and field; ever since the great British miler Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four minute mile in 1954, the feat has been repeated by athletes of all nationalities over and over. The mark is still a major goal for most male milers, but not as intimidating or unreachable as it once was.
A majority of states in the U.S. have seen a sub-four minute mile run on its turf… except Alaska.
What makes this somewhat foreign terrain so unbeatable? Why has no one—including milers who've completed several sub-four minute miles in their career—been able to accomplish this task? Attempts have been made, mile races have been hyped, and yet, until the fall of 2013, no one had officially ran under four minutes for a mile… until Team NB's Jack Bolas made his way to Alaska.
“This is what sets New Balance apart: they are constantly trying to progress the running world by supporting any athlete’s desire to make excellent happen.”
- Jack Bolas
Jack Bolas | Team NB | Miler
The floppy-haired 1500m stud ran for the University of Wisconsin and joined Team New Balance in 2010, adding his mid-distance prowess to the dominant ranks of NB athletes. He currently trains with Furman Elite in Greenville, SC.
"My first time breaking the 4-min mile was in 2008. It was my sophomore year at Wisconsin at the Alex Wilson Invite at Notre Dame. I snuck under with a 3:59.4 and a teammate of mine, Brandon Bethke, also ducked under 4-min for the first time, so it was really special to be able to share the moment with him and the rest of the team. Timewise, I have run a 3:57 full mile and a 3:35 1500m, which converts to about a 3:53 mile. So I’ve been able to cut my times down since 2008, and this helped me achieve more confidence each time I toe the line for a mile. I feel that as long as I’ve prepared properly, then I should be able to run a sub 4-min mile in most settings."
Kevin Quadrozzi | New Balance | Initiator
A former distance runner for the University of Massachusetts Amherst, "Q" joined New Balance as an integrated marketing coordinator in 2012. His specialty: high school track and field.
John Clark | Skinny Raven | Alaska Running Guru
"Skinny Raven is going to celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. We started like most stores did in the mid-90’s - early 2000 as a small space and we’ve grown immensely since then. From just selling shoes to now owning several events and supporting several like the New Balance XC Tour with the high schools has allowed us to be even more involved within the running community. The XC Tour with New Balance has been such a big hit with the high school runners and the community."
Jack: Kevin let it drop that he was going to Alaska to help with New Balance promotions at a high school XC meet in Anchorage. I have always wanted to go to Alaska and thought that a Team NB presence at the XC race might be a good thing, so I brought up the idea to bossman (Josh Rowe) and Kevin one night a few weeks before the race. Josh decided to amp things up a bit and send me to Alaska to attempt to run the first sub-4 minute mile in state history.
Kevin: I had the trip planned to go out myself to check out the XC series we sponsor up there with Skinny Raven, the biggest running store in Alaska; they're very creative up there, so I had a trip planned to see what we could do better next year. We were talking about the trip at dinner with Josh and Jack Bolas, and Jack said, "Wow, Alaska, sweet, I'd love to go!" We all came to the conclusion that no one had run a sub 4 in Alaska, and Jack was running well, had some sub 4 minute miles under his belt… so hey, let's think about making this a sub 4 minute mile attempt.
Kevin: We reached out to Skinny Raven and they were all about it; they knew about the attempts that had been made and that no one had been successful. They only knew about this idea a month before it came to life, and they made it a real event on very short notice. They did everything for us, from setting up the timing, securing the venue, getting people there, promoting it… the whole town was buzzing about the mile before we arrived.
John: I had talked with Josh Rowe about a sub-four mile attempt a few years ago, as we had tried to organize an attempt back in 2009. Keith Kelly, who has been to Alaska and seen the indoor facility we have here, thought that working the attempt into the New Balance XC Tour Event we were hosting would work well, which it did.
Kevin: For our brand, it's a cool opportunity because we got to bring Jack up to the XC meet, and he relates really well to the high schooler. There was buzz around the mile attempt and once the kids met him, they thought he was pretty cool. Someone even joked that they'd be the next person to do it and many said they wanted to run sub 4 one day.
Jack: I think this whole event is a great example of what makes New Balance a unique company in the running world. Clearly, running the first Alaskan sub-4 mile with the support of New Balance is evidence of the company’s investment in each of its athlete’s pursuit of success. Additionally, though, even if I had not been able to break 4:00, the entire event itself, (the high school race on Thursday and the mile on Friday) was simply a great way for New Balance to get more involved with the high school-age running community and support the younger running generation. This is what sets New Balance apart: they are constantly trying to progress the running world by supporting any athlete’s desire to make excellent happen.
What's all the fuss about anyway?
John: The sub-4 in Alaska had never been done, so it was a significant barrier as it has been since Roger Bannister did it in 1954. The purity of 4 laps in 60 seconds has always been something almost anyone can appreciate whether they are fast or slow. Because it was once thought impossible to achieve, it still stands the test of time as a meaningful achievement, even today. That it had never been done in Alaska gave us the opportunity to promote it to others and generate excitement around the achievement.
Kevin: It's never been done before in Alaska because most track runners don't have a reason to be up there. The past couple of attempts have been by people from Alaska attempting it—it's just not something people from other places think about doing, so they don't fit it into their season. A lot of people who run a sub 4 minutes take for granted that they can do it and underestimate how many people have seen a sub 4 minute mile and how special it is.
Jack: I was seriously nervous. I knew that I was physically ready to run a sub 4:00 mile, but anything is possible and I wanted to be able to control all the variables. Everything was set up perfectly for it all to go down they way we wanted, so I just needed to be ready to hurt that final 400m when there was no one on the track but myself. I went through the same routine I always do. This race was just like any other so I wanted to maintain consistency. That’s the first step to eliminating some nerves or a chance for a mistake.
Kevin: I was pretty confident before the race because Jack said he was feeling good; he'd come off a couple of quick races, but I was nervous because he was extending his season. I was a little nervous for [Tony Tomisch, an assistant at U. Alaska-Anchorage], the last minute second rabbit, because originally we weren't going to have him. When he showed up, he said he was ready and he was very knowledgable about the rabbiting idea. I had no doubts about Danny, the original pace-maker, because he had been doing the rabbit thing all season—I had more confidence in Danny than anyone else on the track.
John: I was doing the announcing and I was worried that the pace setter we recruited wouldn’t get the first lap or two right. However, Tony fulfilled his job perfectly hitting 59 seconds for the first lap
Kevin: I was a little nervous because the track was a little oversized—there were no 400 split marks, so we had make them with a wheel. We wheeled the entire mile, figured out exactly where the splits would be, so we could be sure they were dead on correct. Tony went right to the lead, looked smooth, Danny and Jack were fine, and they went through in about 59 seconds.
Jack: Things felt really good through the first 800m and we were right on pace at that point.
Kevin: They got to the 800 in about 2 mins, just under—I got a little nervous, but Jack looked pretty comfortable.
John: 1:59 through lap two!
John: From there, Danny Stockberger, who NB brought in to assist Jack, took over and got Jack to the ¾ mark at 3:00.
Kevin: Danny didn't look like he was working until the third lap—he didn't expect to do this, had shut season down earlier, so he could have been a little tired. But once jack hit 1200, I knew he was going to do it. He came through in 2:58, 2:59.
Jack: Things felt really good through the first 800m and we were right on pace at that point. I wanted to have a little time in the bank going into the final lap so I did get a little anxious when I saw 3:00 at the 1200m.
Kevin: The crowd was going nuts! It was a big building and we had people lined up for the last 200 meters. People were going nuts and I knew he was going to do it.
Jack: An empty track with no competitors made that last 400m really tough, but the pacesetters got me to where I needed to be to close and break 4.
John: It was all up to Jack, and with the crowd right up to lane 3 cheering him on he was able to stop the clock at 3:58.3. Everyone just erupted when they saw the clock. It was really the atmosphere that made the hair on your neck stand up. The anticipation and suspense throughout just added to the excitement.
Jack: It was one of the biggest feelings of relief I’ve ever had after a race. I didn’t really see the clock, but I was immediately mobbed by Kevin and Danny and the crowd was yelling and cheering so it hit me pretty quick that I had gone under. A lot of the spectators stuck around after for pictures and autographs (something I had never really done before) and the high school kids all seemed really pumped about it and that made the experience all the more special.
“The purity of 4 laps in 60 seconds has always been something almost anyone can appreciate whether they are fast or slow. Because it was once thought impossible to achieve it still stands the test of time as a meaningful achievement even today.”
- John Clark
The Running Scene
John: Alaska has a very active running community that embodies what Alaska is about. You have to have a spirit of adventure to live in a place like Alaska to begin with. Taking that spirit of adventure one more step allows the Alaska runner to go places like none other in the world. You literally can drive 15-20 minutes from the center of Anchorage, which is a fairly large city, and be somewhere where you feel 100+ miles away from anyone and know that nature is now in charge, not you. Be it moose, bears or even wolves, there’s something out there that you have to be aware of and respect.
Kevin: The runners up in Alaska are pretty badass—you pretty much run in any weather, and although they have this 400 meter indoor track, it's used only for workouts really. They do all their runs out in the woods, and there's trails and trails for miles. Anchorage is such an outdoor city, with hunters, mountain bikers, hikers, campers… all those people take part in the running at some point.
John: Even though there’s not a lot of high schools in Alaska, all schools have XC programs. You generally see the same teams at all the larger invites and peppered in are the smaller schools outside the road system that fly in once or twice to fill in their schedules. Most schools have excellent running trails near their schools that are used for Nordic skiing in the winter. Nordic skiing is a very important sport in Alaska, and we produce Olympic skiers every year. Therefore, the trails tend to be pretty hilly and are all dirt. Very few events are on golf courses, like in the lower-48 states. Many of the runners are using the fall XC run training to prepare for winter skiing.
Jack: That post-race hike was actually my favorite thing. I went with Kevin, Danny, and John Clark. It was a beautiful afternoon and we were all in very high spirits. There were some mountain views like I’ve never seen before.
John: Just put your hand over your eyes and spin around a few times and wherever you’re facing (unless it’s the ocean) is a trail or adventure. You want easy dirt running with rolling hill? We’ve got several Nordic ski training areas with 10’s of kilometers of trails. You want easy bike trails winding along city creeks or along the ocean that you never have to cross a road or highway? We have 20+ miles in multiple directions where you go under or over roads and never have to worry about cars. Or if you really want adventure, just go to any trailhead throughout the Chugach Mountains and start running or hiking. There’s more miles and mountain peaks than you can cover in a year.
Jack: We went on a prop-plane ride over Anchorage and up to explore some glaciers.
“Alaska: unique, majestic… thrilling.”
- Jack Bolas
John: My favorite outdoor / adventure spot is the Lost Lake Trail run for pure diversity and beauty. Another is Winner Creek Trail, near the ski resort in Girdwood, that has a hand tram over a ravine. But really, words or pictures can’t describe the immense size or diverse options available in Alaska.