Grassroots indoors: Winter Warmer aims to bring back the mile

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Grassroots indoors: Winter Warmer aims to bring back the mile

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If you’re a middle-distance athlete with designs on a successful summer season, is it better to shirk the mud in favour of indoor speed after Christmas?

Or do the mental and physical benefits of trudging round cross country outweigh the comfort zone of a blue indoor track come the New Year?

There’s no definitive answer – like any such situation, it’s down to the individual involved, their suitability to either discipline and the long-term ambitions of coach and athlete.

Laura Muir’s blistering British record last week thrust indoor middle distance racing back into the national spotlight, with headlines and pieces about her burgeoning potential appearing in The Telegraph and Guardian among others.

Churning out 16 solo laps at a low-key Glasgow indoor meet, the Scot’s incredible time of 14.49.12 knocked lumps out of Liz McColgan’s 25-year-old record. How many times do we see top-class British athletes turning out for domestic meets let alone running records without pacemakers or prize money on top?

This, just days before anchoring GB’s mixed relay team to victory at the Great Edinburgh XC, her sole cross country appearance this side of Christmas. Medal success at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade at the beginning of March beckons.

And this renewed pique in indoor racing can provide the fillip it needs and help see numbers soar in the numerous events taking place across the country over the next few months.

The mile is more than a distance

One of these – the Soar Winter Warmer at Lee Valley on 1 February – has Ben Pochee, the man behind the widely-lauded Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PBs, helping to promote what Lee Valley’s very own Peter Scott kick-started a couple of years back.

Ben insists the aspirations for the Soar Winter Warmer aren’t too dissimilar to those first dreamt up for the annual Parliament Hill event.

‘Pete and myself aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel,’ says Ben. ‘We both simply feel there is scope to making club level athletics even more exciting, especially indoors.

‘Soar are keen to invite newbie runners to the joy of indoor racing, and we’re hoping the classic mile distance with the incentive of folding stuff aka cash for prizes will help bring runners to the table too.’

The successful Soar Mile event last summer, where internationals Chris Olley and Katie Snowden saw off competitive fields to each bag a £500 cash prize at Battersea Park, showed appetite for the classic mile distance remains.

Following in the slipstream of the successful US social media campaign #BringBackTheMile, Soar are looking to play their part in helping to celebrate and preserve the mile distance as part of this country’s running heritage.

‘We created the inaugural summer Soar Mile as it’s a classic distance that appeals to elite athlete PB bragging rights and also has iconic resonance with completely new runners,’ says Ben.

‘The mile is more than a race distance. For me, it’s a window back in time and an opportunity for runners of all standards to stand on the start line with legends like Haag, Bannister, Ibbotson, Snell, Walker, Ryun, Ovett, Coe, Cram & Morceli.’

Alongside the mile events, there will also be 3,000m races added to the mix at the first-ever Winter Warmer – and a world record attempt to boot.

The UK masters racing community are invited to ‘shake their tail feathers’ in three weeks’ time – and also come and support North Shields Poly’s, Guy Bracken, as he attempts to break the V55 3,000m World Record of 8.59.

If the atmosphere can reach anything like the levels reached from lane three at Parliament Hill last May, then the Soar Winter Warmer might just be in for an indoor record of its own.

Enter the Soar Winter Warmer

Words by Chris Rainsford
Image from Bobby Gavin