There’s an exclusive club in Seattle that doesn’t care how rich or famous you are.
You can’t bribe the bouncer. Sweet-talk is irrelevant. The only way past the velvet rope is on-the-brink-of-vomit pain.
We’re talking about a fraternity of folks who have run the mile in under four minutes — a once impossible endeavor. And few in the country can churn them out like Washington track and field coach Andy Powell.
There have been a bevy of benchmarks in the track-and-field world that men and women have pursued, but it’s hard to think that any carried the prestige of the sub-four-minute mile. Not the sub-10-second 100-meter dash. Not the eight-foot high jump. Nothing like those grueling 5,280 feet.
Roger Bannister became an international sensation when he finally broke the barrier in 1954, and though hundreds have done the same since, those 240 seconds are still hallowed in the running game.
“My favorite thing to do is coach someone to break it for the first time,” Powell said. “It’s just a barrier that everyone wants to try and achieve. I think each one is a special, sacred thing.”
Two weeks ago, at the UW Invitational, two Huskies broke the mark for the first time. The first was freshman Sam Tanner, who did it in 3:59.01, and the second was Dustin Nading, who did it in 3:59.77.
Nading came to UW for graduate school in physical therapy and began the season as a student manager for the track team. But now he’s part of that rarefied company that specializes in speed and suffering.
At the UW Invitational, he dove at the finish line and didn’t know if he’d made it until he looked up at the scoreboard and saw the time.
“People were asking me if I was OK, and I’m like, ‘I just gotta see the clock,'” Nading said. “I’ll let you know if it was all worth it in a second.”
It was. And Saturday at the Husky Classic, Nading went even lower, posting a time of 3:59.25.
Combine the likes of Powell and the Dempsey Indoor Center, and these are the kind of results you should expect. This season, Dempsey produced the 200th sub-four-minute mile in the history of the facility. Heading into this weekend’s Husky Classic, there had been 206 sub-four-minute miles at Dempsey, and Powell had actively coached 29 of them. Five more made it Saturday.
If you include people he coached at one point before they went on to pro careers, it makes it 44 out of 206. That’s a resume you need sunglasses to stare it.
Of course, any successful coach needs talent, which Powell has had during his time at Oregon and Washington. And he also has had a near-perfect setup at Dempsey.
It has the long straightaways. It has the Mondo turf. And it almost always seems to produce quality pacers who give the runners their much-needed nudge.
Of course, not everything always goes according to plan.
Saturday, Texas’ Sam Worley took a spill on the final lap that required medical attention. Dodging the fall was Washington commit Cruz Culpepper, who is still in high school in Colorado.
Culpepper had never broken four minutes, and said that while avoiding Worley didn’t affect him much, it may have briefly taken him out of his rhythm. Culpepper’s final time? 4:00.10. One tenth of a second short.
“It sucks. That really sucks,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say about it.”
That’s the thing about the sub-four-minute mile club, though. It doesn’t show compassion. No rounding up. No courtesy tenths of a second.
The good news is that Culpepper will get another shot at it on the Dempsey track when he becomes a Husky. And he’ll have one of the best coaches in the country there to help him reach his goal.
Miles hurt, as does falling short of a goal. But as runners such as Nading can attest, one day, all the pain becomes worth it.