Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Festival of Miles: simultaneously inclusive and exclusive


Since its inception in 2008, the Big River Festival of Miles has mushroomed into an event worth your time because it works on so many levels. This year's series of races, scheduled for Thursday at St. Louis University High School's track, features a kindergarten novice rubbing shoulders, or shoulder-to-knee, with sub-4-minute milers.

Seriously, how often does that happen?

So, first, the event is inclusive. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with the GO! St. Louis Healthy Kids Mile, open to anyone in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. The schedule also includes a masters' men's mile and a corporate relay.

Second, it is exclusive. GO! also is sponsoring Junior High Invitationals for boys and girls. Then, the bi-state area's top high-school sprinters will compete in the 100-meter dashes. You don't often get the chance to see Cole Henderson of Pekin, Ill., face Cleveland High's Michael Wells and Raymond Wingo from SLUH. And, St. Louisans will get a chance to see Kansas City's Anglerne Annelus face A'lesha Irvin-Muhammad from St. Elizabeth Academy.

The MoMileSplit.com High School Miles have attracted seven girls who have run under 5 minutes, including state champs from Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma and Missouri. The boys field  features Jason Thomas of Des Moines, who has run 4:10 for 1,600 meters, and Alex Riba of O'Fallon, Ill., who won the Nike Cross Midwest Regional, as well as Glendale's Spencer Haik and Marquette' Noah Kauppila.

Third, it's elite. The women's 800 includes Canadian Olympians, defending champion Heather Kampf, hometowner Shannon Leinert and Leah Wallace, part of the U.S. record-setting 4x800 squad at the Penn Relays. The field in the men's mile include Mexican record holder Pablo Solares, Edwardsville's Stephen Pifer and Aaron Braun, record-holder in the GO! half-marathon.

Fourth, it's part of a bigger project. The festival is one of 14 stops on the Bring Back the Mile tour, a series of events that celebrate the most American of distances and has a goal of re-establishing the mile as the standard distance, rather than 1,500 or 1,600 meters.

Fifth, it hasn't lost its heart. Proceeds benefit Brad Eastman, who is battling brain cancer. Admission for spectators is just $5.