The Sir Walter Miler makes watching track fun.
For Sandy Roberts, what began as an impromptu attempt to run a mile in less than four minutes turned into a nationally celebrated track event held annually here in Raleigh. Six years ago, the post-collegiate runner was finding it difficult to get into big-name track meets, so Roberts decided to create his own at Cardinal Gibbons High School.
The plan was to make a night of his attempt to run a sub-four minute mile. He recruited his friend, Pat Price, to emcee the event and his brother, college track coach Logan Roberts, to pace him. The trio invited a handful of friends to come watch but more than 500 people showed up. In the spur of the moment, it was Price who decided to have the spectators cheer Roberts on from the track itself rather than from the stands. That way, he figured, fans could get closer to the action and feel like they were a part of the race.
Roberts didn’t clock in under four minutes that night but he saw big potential in the event, which he, Logan and Price dubbed the “Sandman Mile.” “It was a really special night,” Roberts says. “We tapped into something that makes track, and the mile itself, feel relevant.”
Now, the Sir Walter Miler happens each year in August at Meredith College, with qualifying pop-up mile runs held throughout June. In addition to men’s and women’s elite mile runs, the Sir Walter Miler features run club relays which bring local running clubs together to compete in relay races against one another, as well as a fun, gimmicky race that’s unique to the Sir Walter Miler event—in 2017, in the Raleigh Denim Mile, runners had to compete wearing blue jeans.
The elite races are the Sir Walter Miler’s main focus but the founders’ goal is to help runners get under the four minute mile mark, a feat that only around 550 Americans have achieved; more people have successfully climbed Mount Everest than broken sub-four. “We try to help those younger people hit that dream because that’s the whole reason we started this,” Price says. And today, spectators still cheer on runners from the track. “Track is a boring thing but we try to narrate it well and invite people into the moment so that they know who the runners are and what their goals are,” Roberts says. “It makes track seem special. The electricity of this event, I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
The Sir Walter Miler has garnered its share of accolades and it’s on the radars of world-famous track stars, running publications and running hobbyists alike. Last year, Lopez Lomong, the flag bearer for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, won the race in 3:53.86, setting a meet record, and, during the Raleigh Denim mile, a woman ran a sub-five minute mile, setting a women’s world record that year. Three years ago, an autistic male runner finished seventh in the elite race in under four minutes, setting a Paralympic world record that has yet to be beaten. “We’ve had a pretty good run so far,” Price says. “Pun intended.”