By Jeff Nations
The Loudoun Street Mile keeps getting bigger and better, a trend race director Mark Stickley expects to continue for Monday's annual event.
Set for its 26th running, the Loudoun Street Mile is coming off a record-breaking day last year in terms of participants (516 runners) and winning time (4 minutes, 3 seconds by four-time winner Moise Joseph of Arlington). Stickley said that as of Thursday, 388 runners had already pre-registered for this year's race -- a pace that likely would eclipse last year's total.
"We are ahead of last year's pace by 118 entries," Stickley said. "I'm floored by that. More people are becoming aware of it. I feel like it's come out of the shadows of some other races."
The mile distance offers a literal change-of-pace for runners accustomed to competing in 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons or marathons. Although it may sound easy compared to running those distances, a mile race comes with its own set of challenges. Stickley said that for competitive runners used to running longer distances, a mile race came be almost "like a sprint."
"I just think a lot of people are intimidated by a mile race," Stickley said.
Judging by the rising numbers of participants, that issue has lessened over the years. Moving the race from its original Saturday running to Memorial Day on Monday has also boosted interest. And Stickley, now in his 11th year as race director, has tried to make the race more family-friendly as well. This year's race again features separate events for women (ages 12 and up) and men (ages 12 and up), with children's mile races for girls (ages 6-11) and boys (ages 6-11) sandwiched in between. Even youngsters ages 5 and under can compete after the mile events in a special 100-yard "Tot Trot."
"I really like the atmosphere," Stickley said. "The whole family can do it. The Bloomin' Mile (run during the annual Apple Blossom Festival in May) is great, but it's just the kids. The adults have to run a 10K the next day."
This year's Loudoun Street Mile features several changes Stickley hopes will improve the experience for runners. For the first time, the race will be timed electronically and runners will carry a microchip for the most accurate finishes possible.
"With a race this big, it's really hard to do it by hand," Stickley said. "It was really tough last year."
Stickley said the children's race has also been split up for the first time this year, allowing more space for the boys and girls as they race down Loudoun Street to the finish line in front of the old city courthouse on the Old Town Mall.
Prize money has also been increased this year, with payouts to the top five finishers in both the men's and women's open competition, plus the winners of the men's and women's Masters (40 and up) divisions.
The course itself features some downhill that might attract would-be milers, but Stickley said there's a bit of uphill running in the second quarter of the race to contend with as well. Joseph, a two-time Olympian for Haiti in the 800 meters, has won the race four straight times and may well be back to go for his fifth straight.
"My experience has been that nobody comes out and blows out a lifetime PR," Stickley said. "Ryan Witt finished second last year with a 4:04, and a month earlier he ran a sub-4 [mile] on the track."
Stickley said the Loudoun Street Mile will also be one of the first big events for the newly renovated Old Town Mall, with the race providing a large crowd to showcase the improvements. Some of those improvements are still ongoing, though, which could pose a problem on race day. Repairs for some damaged pavement near the finish line may force a slight course adjustment. Stickley said he'd already made plans for that, but has been told by city officials that the course will be suitable for runners by Monday. Just in case it isn't, Stickley said plans are in place to move the start back 400 feet to finish just before the damaged area.
"The bottom line is the race is going to go on," Stickley said. "If we have to make an adjustment, we'll make that adjustment."
Proceeds for this year's race benefit the Laurel Center (formerly The Shelter for Abused Women). In 2012, the race raised more than $3,400 for the Laurel Center.
For more information about the Loudoun Street Mile, contact Stickley at 540-665-8394 or visit www.loudounstreetmile.com.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>
8 a.m. -- Fitness Walk
8:30 a.m. -- Open Women (ages 12 and up)
8:45 a.m. -- Girls' Mile (ages 6-11)
9:05 a.m. -- Boys' Mile (ages 6-11)
9:25 a.m. -- Open Men (ages 12 and up) Slow Heat (6 minutes and slower)
9:40 a.m. -- Open Men (ages 12 and up) Fast Heat (sub-6 minutes)
9:55 a.m. -- 100-yard 'Tot Trot' (ages 5 and under)