The un-assuming Iffley Road track

The Tale of Two Races – Part 1: Iffley Miles

Last year I discovered a fascinating-yet-underloved running distance that has won my heart.  The Oxford University’s Iffley Road track hosted the Iffley Miles, along with my very approximate attempt to emulate Sir Roger Bannister.

The 60th anniversary of Sir Roger Bannister recording the first ever sub 4 minute mile piqued my interest last year and I pulled together more than 50 people around the globe to run a mile in tribute.  I then won a VIP package for the City of London Mile where I set my first official mile time.

It was a bizarre feeling for a distance runner to be running such a short race but I loved it.

And that’s when I heard about Iffley Miles.  Annually, in July, Oxford University hosts a series of “open” races prior to an afternoon of top club athletics organised by the British Milers Club.  The open races give the likes of you and me the chance to take to the track and test ourselves for four laps of the track.

Last year it was amazing to be running my first track race around the track where, 60 years earlier, the impossible had just been proved possible so I knew that I wanted to return this year to see if I could improve my time.  And I certainly wasn’t going to let a hastily-entered Great Newham London 10k the day after (hence the “Tale of Two Races” title) stop me from hunting a mile PB!

As a member of a road running club that has no track I always love an opportunity to run on one so once I’d collected my numbers (one for the front one, for the back) I did a couple of gentle laps before some mobility work at the 100 metre start area.

There’s a strange thing with open races – whilst they had grouped us into races of about 10 people expecting similar times, the “open” factor means you will be competing in a mixed race – and I’m not just talking about men and women racing together; you can be competing with people in any age group.

When the starter positions you in lanes and reminds the group that some of us are bigger than others he’s not being sizist – he’s giving us adults a gentle reminder that we’re in a race with some under-13s!

Ultimately as I’m racing the clock I decided I wasn’t going to hold back because there were kids in the race but, it would appear, neither were they!

I shot off fast, partly to get some space, before settling into a rhythm on the back straight, all the time concentrating on keeping my cadence high.

Going through the first lap in 82 seconds rather than the 88 I had planned caused me to ease off, although judging that 6 seconds is tough in the middle of a race that only lasts less than 6 minutes!  I focussed on the one adult and 3 girls still in front of me and tried to close them down as we started the final lap.

Rounding the last corner I pushed as hard as I could, using my nearest competitor as a target to catch.  Gradually I was closing.  Would I catch her before the finish line?

With shaky legs and heaving lungs I somehow remembered to stop my watch on the finish line – it said 5:57 but was it right?  If it was, I would have missed my 5:52 target but still claimed a new PB.

By the time I’d caught my breath the timekeepers had reviewed and cross-checked their times and up went the results sheet:

Dan Wymer, 5 minutes 56.64 seconds

Woohoo! A new PB by just shy of 1.5 seconds!

Had I caught the girl by the finish line?  Damn right!  By just 0.02 seconds.  Am I ashamed of beating a child?  No way – we were all racing.  Their warm up routine was nearly at elite athlete standard and put mine to shame.  We weren’t racing for the win, we were racing for time so why should I have eased off?

The only reason I make comment is that my wife, watching from the stands, had to defend my actions after another spectator thought I was a bit harsh.  In fact, I’d like to thank the girl for being ahead of me – if it weren’t for her I may not have recorded a PB.  A PB which now means I should be running 5k, 10k and halfs even quicker too.  I need to take a good look at my training programme to carry some of that speed into my longer races.

The un-assuming Iffley Road track
The un-assuming Iffley Road track

After a cool down we tucked into our picnic and watched the remaining open races and the first few BMC races, the standard of which blew my mind!  The speed was awe inspiring.

The mile is an iconic distance.  Iffley Road is an iconic venue.  It’s amazing what a different test it gives you!  If you’re near Oxford in July next year you should really give the Iffley Miles a go.  You don’t need track spikes, I just ran in my Brooks Ghost.  It’s free to race (although £4 to get into the stadium) and all you need to do is register via e-mail beforehand.

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