Neil Featherby: Why YOU should sign up for the Sportlink Mile - Virtual SMile Challenge

Run Norwich winner Iona Lake has signed up for the Sportlink Mile - Virtual SMile Challenge. Picture

Run Norwich winner Iona Lake has signed up for the Sportlink Mile - Virtual SMile Challenge. Picture: Archant - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

Earlier this week, we at Sportlink in association with Athletics Norfolk launched a project which I really am so very excited about, the Sportlink Mile - Virtual SMile Challenge.

An idea which has come about after having a series of conversations during the last few weeks with Conac athlete and coach James Senior, Tim and Pauline Ash and then several others including Clive Poyner, Rob Machin and all at Athletics Norfolk.

However, this is a challenge with a difference and open to everyone.

It starts with people signing up to run a virtual mile as fast as they can and then after each person’s time has been submitted, the top 24 men and top 24 women will go through to a night of quarter finals on the track (Nov 13th) at the Sportspark in Norwich.

This will then be further followed up by a night of semi-finals (Nov 27th) which of course will then lead to a Grand Final (Dec 11th).

Just to add to the occasion, there will also be some separate races for wildcard entries too.

Now whilst the Virtual Challenge and then quarter-final track races are exciting in their own right, once we reach the semi-finals and the final, a Devil Takes the Hindmost competition will also take place and for those who may not know what this is, it means those at the back of the field at the end of the second (800m) and third laps (1200m) have to drop out, reducing the field in numbers for what should be a pretty manic last lap for those still in the race.

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To add even more drama, the final will see men and women mixed with the ladies being given a 30-second head start which is basically the difference between the men’s (Hicham El Guerrouj 3:43.13) and women’s (Sifan Hassan 4:12.33) world records (29.20secs).

Not only will this make for a fast race, but also one where each athlete really will have to use their track craft to not only stay in the race, but to also have something left in the home straight other than a sea of lactic acid in their legs particularly the men who are likely to still be chasing at least one lady down going into the last lap.

Lots of people have asked me why the mile particularly as my back ground was more about running much longer distances.

Well firstly, I have always loved track and field and the mile really is such a fantastic race distance and one which is synonymous with so many world class British athletes going right back to when the first organised races of one mile were staged on carefully measured tracks back in the 1850s.

Needless to say the names Coe, Ovett and Cram will always come to the fore when talking about the one mile race what with having dominated the middle distance scene during the 1980s, but it will always be Sir Roger Bannister whose name will stand out when going through the record books what with being the first man to break the 4 minute barrier (3:59.4) in 1954.

Ironically, another British athlete, Diane Leather was the first lady to run a sub 5 min mile (4:59.6) also in 1954, but ladies times for the distance were not recognised by the IAAF until 1967.

It really is a classic distance (1,609.344 metres) and proved by the fact that it is the only non-metric track event still widely recognised.

Whilst those who regularly compete on the track at middle distances will be more familiar with this event, most club and recreational runners’ mindsets will be geared towards running much further, so this a great chance just to see how fast they can also run a mile.

I will also hazard a guess that there may well be several other sports people out there who perhaps only use running for fitness, but can actually produce a fast time for which they may just discover that they have a hidden talent which of course could lead to even greater things.

City of Norwich AC’s International athlete Iona Lake, who can boast a 4:36.11 PB for the distance and must surely have a great chance of winning this tournament, particularly if she can get into peak condition, sent me a message saying: “This is such a cool idea and with no races on at the moment, I really am looking forward to it and cannot wait for the series to begin. It has been hard trying to keep motivated at times, but now having this to train for is absolutely awesome.”

She is spot on as this really is going to be a fantastic competition and whether you are one of the elite who can run close to a four-minute mile or indeed someone who might take longer than 15 minutes to cover the distance, at the end of the day everyone will be a winner in what truly will be a “People’s Race”.

Thanks to our sponsors CoolCampers Graphics and On, the finalists will receive some amazing prizes with £1,000 cash up for grabs amongst the top six, plus sports equipment for all who make the final.

Every single person who completes the Virtual Run will also receive a special commemorative medal.

In the words of my good friend and former European Indoor 1500 metre gold medallist and Olympian Matt Yates (mile PB 3:52): “The mile is the most iconic distance in world athletics and whilst we all know the history from the first sub 4 min mile through to Coe, Ovett and Cram, this challenge sounds like it is going to be a cracker. Most importantly though, it is open to everyone. Go smash it is what I say.”