Fast friends: Michigan's Lex Williams and Eastern Michigan's David Brent push each other to break 4-minute mile
Once a benchmark of human evolution, the four-minute mile has been achieved many times since Roger Banister’s historic trot around Oxford University’s Iffley Road Track in 1954. Some individuals have run over 100 sub-four minute miles, high school runners have done it, as have runners over 40.
Still, no matter how many times the barrier is broken - like Maris’ 61, or Simpson’s 2,000 - 4:00 is a hallowed number in the world of sports.
Friday night at Eastern Michigan University Invitational, two friends from competing schools will attempt to gain membership to a club that still has an elite feel.
Brent ran 4:00.90 this past indoor season. Williams had 4:01.00 two years ago.
“When you say the four-minute mile most people who somewhat enjoy athletics, know it’s a big deal,” Brent said. “I’ve dreamed about it since high school. I definitely think I’m capable.”
“(Running 4:01) was a wakeup call that I could do it. One second, that’s still a lot to drop, but that was kind of the first time I thought, OK, this is something that I realistically can do, it’s not just a dream,” Williams said. “It’d be a really cool thing to do. Really elite group to be a part of.”
Williams and Brent became good friends five years ago when they came to college and their social circles intertwined. Two of Brent’s roommates, John Kipf and Sean Pruitt, are members of the Michigan track team, and a former roommate/college teammate of Brent’s, Corey Nowitzke (who, along with Brent and Kipf, is from Monroe) is Williams’ brother-in-law.
When Brent’s work schedule occasionally conflicted with the team’s summer training sessions, he could call on Williams to get a workout in, or vice versa.
“If I was meeting up with him on what was supposed to be an easy day for me, and he started pushing the pace a little faster, then I probably wouldn’t tell him to slow down,” Brent said. “If I was with my teammates, or anyone else, I might say something, to slow down, but not with him, and I'm sure he probably did the same. It’s kind of an unspoken rivalry.”
The rivalry has rarely formulated in actual competition. Brent primarily competes in distances one-mile and below, while Williams focuses mostly on the 5K and 10K.
“The mile is kind of an in between for us both,” said Williams, who came up with the idea to add the mile to the EMU Invitational. “It ‘s not an easy distance and you’re going to hurt when you run it.”
“David, he came to me and said, ‘Coach, Lex asked me if you were interested in putting a mile in the EMU twilight to see if we could both break a four minutes’ and I thought that was a great idea,” said Eastern coach John Goodridge.
Despite its lore in the American sports lexicon, the mile is not run in most outdoor track events. Since the NCAA and international competitions switched to the metric system in the 1970’s, the mile has primarily been an indoor race.
“One of the reasons we ended up deciding to do this is that there are limited opportunities,” said Goodridge, who has coached three of the five runners in Eastern history to break four minutes. “The fact that they are both pretty darn close to it, and the fact that there is a friendly rivalry between the camps helps."
No matter how rarely the distance is actually run, or how often the four-minute barrier is broken, its still a crowning achievement in the track world.
“No matter what, it’s every kid’s dream in track to run a four minute mile,” said Michigan coach Ron Warhurst who has coached 16 runners - some indoor, some outdoor, some pro, some college - who have achieved that dream. “It’s always a treat for the individual athlete, it’s an incredible milestone. It’d be quite a milestone for both of them. So much depends on the weather.”
The race, coined the Washtenaw Invitational Mile, will conclude Friday’s portion of the EMU Invitational. With a scheduled start of 8:30 p.m., Goodridge hopes any winds that would hinder the runners’ chances will be long gone.
“It’s a good, solid field and if the weather cooperates, they’ll get after it,” Goodridge said. “At night under the lights for anybody in sports, the atmosphere is different so we’ll have that set up and give these guys a good shot at it.”
“It’d be real great to both break four minutes in the same race because we’ve known each other so long, and are both in the same place as competitors,” Williams said. “With us both pushing each other out there, plus we’ve got some other guys that are capable and so do they, it would be awesome.”
Pete Cunningham covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 734-623-2561. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham