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Yakima brings back the Downtown Mile this August

YAKIMA MAGAZINE by Carol Barany - June 4, 2021

Early in the evening of May 6, 1954, after the rainclouds cleared and blustery winds finally died down, a rainbow appeared over a cinder running track in Oxford, England. Perhaps it was on omen. The three athletes who had trained long and hard for this day agreed to put their concerns about the weather aside and go ahead and race. Their goal was nothing short of being the first in the world to run a mile in less than four minutes.

A few of the 1,200 spectators likely believed that anyone who attempted to run a mile that fast might die trying. Weren’t decades of failed efforts enough proof that the four-minute barrier was unbreakable and beyond human limits?

The answer came when British medical student Roger Bannister crossed the line in 3:59.4. News of his accomplishment made Bannister’s name a household word across the globe.

Sixty-five years later, on a perfect evening in June, Amos Bartelsmeyer covered the course of the inaugural Downtown Yakima Mile in 3:51.7. His mark stands as the fastest mile ever run in Washington state.

Former college track athletes and now Yakima businessmen Chris Waddle and Erik Mickelson had dreamed of bringing a new running event to our hometown. Inspired by the growing momentum of the national “Bring Back the Mile” movement, they founded the Downtown Yakima Mile and made it the second stop on the BBTM Grand Prix Tour in 2019.

Although the United States never nationalized the metric system, high school and college track and field adopted it. All running events were converted to metric distances. Today, most high schools run the metric equivalent 1600 meters (9.3 meters short of a mile), while college runners primarily run the international standard 1500 meters.

According to BBTM founder Ryan Lamppa, “the mile is one of the few distances in track, along with the 100 meter and the marathon, that most Americans understand. But I think the mile is even more embedded in our culture because we use miles in our street signs and on our odometers, and we speak, think and talk in miles. It’s America’s distance. Let’s bring it back.”

And Waddle and Mickelsen did. Track history was made that night.

Energized by the extraordinary debut, expectations were running high for how the event could grow in 2020. However, the uncertainties wrought by COVID-19 forced organizers to scuttle the race.

But I’d start training if I were you. The Downtown Yakima Mile is back. Put Aug. 28, 2021 on your calendar.

Former Eisenhower High School and University of Washington runner Tim Cummings is building a field of entries in the event’s two elite divisions. Tim feels certain that the four minute barrier will be broken more than once on August 28, and it’s anyone’s guess if the state record will still be standing by the end of the night.

COVID-19 was nothing but bad news for organized track and field in 2020 and 2021. But all the cancellations provided athletes with opportunities for intense personal training. Now that restrictions are being lifted, they’re itching to compete.

In an event that can be won by tiniest fraction of a single second, Bartelsmeyer’s winning time was 5 minutes faster than mine. Amos could have run his race, celebrated with a quick beer, run it again just for fun, and still beat me. I had no chance of winning a prize in any of the categories. I retired my flashy spandex running gear decades ago. A dental extraction earlier in the day left me with a chipmunk cheek and a black eye. No one was mistaking me for an elite athlete. But I wouldn’t have missed running the Downtown Yakima Mile. Events like this unite our community and make Yakima a better place to live.

I registered for the Family Mile, where you can walk, stroll, or jog at your own pace. A mile is the ideal fitness distance for everybody, regardless of age or ability. Young parents pushing their toddlers in strollers, elementary schoolers, tiny tots, seniors and everyone in between will feel welcome.

If you can’t walk, stroll, or jog, why not join the cheering crowds lining Yakima Avenue? The entire Yakima Valley community is invited to come downtown and enjoy the great competition. Who knows? You just might see history being made once again.

The Downtown Yakima Mile is run on a 14-block gradual downhill stretch of Yakima Avenue. Beginning just east of 16th Avenue, competitors can set their sights on the finish line in front of the Larson Building at Second Street and Yakima Avenue.

Within the open race, qualified runners in the men’s and women’s elite divisions will vie for $20,000 in cash prizes, with a $5,000 cash prize for the top elite male and female runner. A cash prize of $250 will be awarded to top male and female in the open race, as well as the top female and male over 40. There are prizes for the top finishers in other categories. In addition, if the race winner beats the Washington state record, a $5,000 bonus per gender will be awarded.

Thanks to race sponsor Home2 Suites, the event is free for all runners under 18. Seniors can register for half price. General registration is $25. All participants receive a race-themed bandana designed by a local artist. All event proceeds will directly support YWCA programs to end domestic violence, which gives us one more good reason to run.

While we all love an organized race or athletic event, this year’s Downtown Yakima Mile will be much more than that. According to race director Chris Waddle, “This race is a chance for the community to come together to provide awareness and support the YWCA and its domestic violence initiatives. Sponsors are excited for the opportunity to ‘lean in’ and help this valuable resource reach its goal of better visibility and outreach to those that need it most, the survivors of domestic violence and abuse.”

Here are the start times:

6 p.m Family Mile: walk, stroll or jog.

6:15 p.m Boys and girls ages 6-11 (competitive).

6:25 p.m Super Hero Race: Military, first responders & health care professionals.

6:35 p.m Open adult race (competitive).

6:45 p.m Dog mile championship.

6:55 p.m Boys and girls ages 12-14 (competitive).

7:05 p.m Boys & girls ages 14-18 (competitive).

7:15 p.m Men’s and women’s masters.

7:30 p.m Women’s elite.

7:45 p.m Men’s elite.

8 p.m. Kids race to the finish line with elite athletes (no registration required).

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