Pearl Street Mile: Bring Back The Mile!

pearl street mile alex le image by daniel joder

“How long was your run yesterday? How many miles did you log last week? Do you have any big races coming up?”

For most runners, it’s all about how far and how long you go nowadays. Anything shorter than a half-marathon gets tossed in the “not-impressive” category.

Personally, I love endurance events. My last 3 races have been marathons and I’m running my first 50k in a couple weeks. I understand just completing a certain distance is a worthy goal for many people.

But what happened to competing against our peers and ourselves? It is called a race, after all. Why aren’t questions like “How fast was your run” and “Want to race to the fire hydrant and back” asked anymore?

One Mile, That’s It?

After much debate, I signed up for a one mile race. Yes, it would take me longer to walk from the parking lot to the starting line than to finish the race. When I told a coworker I was skipping our weekly Bootcamp class to run the race, her response was “One mile, that’s it? It’s so easy”.

I had no answer. I just knew I had never dreaded a race as much as I did this one.

pearl street mile alex le and matt Pre-race photo in front of the start

Pearl Street Mile

The Pearl Street Mile is an annual Boulder tradition. There are 4 waves: Kids 880m, Open, Elite Women, and Elite Men. As a result, it draws runners of all levels, ages, and sizes.

Some highlights include a 1 year old boy completing the 880m, a 79 year old female finishing strong in the Open Wave, and a close race for the top three Elite Men. The winner finished in a staggering 4:10.

pearl street mile 2016 course

Two years ago, my mile PR was 6:30. Last year, I hit 6:14 on a fast tempo run. Leading up to the race, my 8x400 was 1:30 and 2x800 just under 3:00. So I set my goal at 6:05.

First 400m - 1:19

There are no corrals or staggered start. It’s every man, woman, and child for themselves. When the race starts, mass chaos erupts. Bodies jockey for positioning, legs stretch out to trip over, little kids weave around in front of you.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

Nonetheless, the first 400m is thrilling, exciting, and full of adrenaline. Every second matters in a mile so there’s no point in holding back. If you had a strategy going into the race, 9 times out of 10 it is discarded in this stage.

Second 400m - 1:25

anchorman ron burgundy i immediately regret this decision

This is when things become unpleasant. As in “what did we get ourselves into” unpleasant. My body realizes what I’m attempting to do and quickly maxes out my heart rate and breathing.

We’re past all the crazy 90 degree turns and people start to separate from each other, finding their groove. I have no idea what my speed should be so I keep pushing hard. No regrets!

Third 400m - 1:35

The third 400m is a dark and lonely stretch that I would not wish even upon my greatest enemy. My body screams at me to stop. Time slows down. Everything hurts.

I try to find a pack to tuck behind to escape the massive headwind, but there is none. I try to find someone to hang on to, but my vision is getting blurry.

If people ahead of me don’t turn off Spruce soon, I will pass out at this rate. I don’t know how fast or slow I’m moving anymore.

Final 400m - 1:22

I finally see people getting on 14th, which means this madness is almost over. I muster every ounce of energy and will-power left inside me for the home-stretch.

alex le pearl street mile finish Photo by coworker

My coworker yells ‘Run faster!’, but I don’t hear him or anyone else around me.

My vision has tunneled and all I can manage to see is the girl I’ve been trying to catch the entire race (I don’t catch her). An old man blows by me, but my mind is probably playing tricks on me (he was 61 years old).

It feels like I blacked out because I don’t remember anything else. Suddenly, I’m across the finish and my watch shockingly shows 5:42. Smashed my PR, yes!

Why You Should Bring Back The Mile (And Other Short Distance Races)

When you finish a marathon, you feel a deep sense of gratitude and happiness. There’s satisfaction and pride from all the long training put in. There may be tears of joy, and people who supported you to be thankful for.

When you finish a mile race, you feel pumped up and alive. Kind of like riding a rollercoaster. It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s over before you know it. You may even want to run another one right afterwards like me. It’s an amazing rush.

It’s wonderful how people are pushing their limits of distance and time. But as you choose your races in the future, don’t forget how beneficial short distance races can be too.

They boost your speed, strength, and efficiency. They bring out positive physiological changes to your body. They increase your mental toughness.

And they are so, so fun. Let’s give short distance events the respect they deserve again. Bring one back into your racing plans, you might be surprised.