Through the first eight months of 2015, the fastest three miles run by women anywhere in the world last year happened on the track of Meredith College during one damp August night.
Steph Garcia, the female winner of the second-annual Sir Walter Miler, lopped more than two seconds off her all-time best pace, finishing four laps in less than four minutes and thirty seconds. At least for a few weeks, the feat gave her the year’s fastest mile. Hot on her heels beneath the track’s bright lights, Amanda Eccleston and Heather Wilson broke their own records, too, temporarily settling into the second- and third-best slots in the world.
It was the pinnacle of a remarkable night that’s quickly becoming an annual running tradition in Raleigh—The Sir Walter Miler, the yearly quest to put down the fastest 1,609 meters in the state. It returns to Meredith College Friday night with a deep roster of elite runners from around the world, just in time for the start of the Olympics in Rio.
“Every four years, people care a little bit more about track than they usually do,” says Pat Price, who co-founded Sir Walter Running with area track stars Sandy and Logan Roberts. “And because of that, our field this year is incredible.”
Eccleston, for instance, will return to Raleigh after missing the Olympics by a few hundredths of a second. She’ll face several national champions and Olympic semifinalists. And on the men’s side, Drew Hunter—a high-school phenom forgoing college for a lucrative running contract with adidas—will square off against a field that includes Colby Alexander, who recently coasted beneath the four-minute-mile threshold in Ireland. Mikey Brannigan, a runner with autism who was featured in an ESPN documentary, will run in Raleigh before he heads to Rio in September to pursue Paralympic gold.
What makes the Sir Walter Miler remarkable, though, is the measures the organizers take to focus on more than the fastest folks in the world. Before the professionals end the night, a pair of races put the locals on the starting line. First, a pack of top-notch Durham runners competes with some of Raleigh’s best for a regional title. And then, four-person teams from fourteen area run clubs, including the likes of Big Boss and Trophy, compete for a 4×400 relay title.
And then there are the fans, who are invited to crowd near the lanes of the track so as to experience the excitement of a track meet from a very close vantage. The Sir Walter Miler feels a little like watching the Tour de France or The PGA Championship, where the athletes and the observers share intimate quarters. This is unusual in the track world, Price says, but such a relationship is a constant, surreal draw for both runners and fans.
“The athletes love it. That’s what they all talk about when it’s over,” says Price. “Thankfully, Raleigh has been respectful so far and hasn’t crashed into the lanes, and that’s why we’re able to continue to do it.”
Raleigh Brewing Company hosts the pre-party and post-party for the 2016 Sir Walter Miler, beginning respectively at 6 and 9:45 p.m. Admission to the parties and the race is free. Proceeds from select beer sales will benefit The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, an invaluable resource for runners across North Carolina.