The organizers for Saturday’s inaugural Downtown Yakima Mile figured if they could raise enough money, it might attract a few elite runners.
After raising $100,000 from local sponsors, co-founder Chris Waddle tried to maintain reasonable expectations. Still, they set their sights high and began reaching out to sports management agents in May, hoping to find elite runners looking for races to prepare for July’s U.S. National track and field championships and the World Championships set to begin in late September.
“We thought if we could get one or two really decent sub-4 minute milers or right at four minutes and then maybe another 10-15 that were decent runners in high school and were just basically fast enough to make the race interesting, we thought we would be happy for the first year,” Waddle said Thursday.
A couple of weeks ago, the phones started ringing.
Nearly every day, Waddle and event planner Michelle Blanchard heard from a new runner, even adding 20-year-old Kenyan Edwin Kiptoo Ngetich less than five days before the race. He’s the 10th runner in a loaded field with a personal best under the prestigious four-minute mark, and two women have run 4:19 miles, eight seconds faster than the Washington state record.
If that goes down or one of the men breaks the state record of 3:52.61, the winner would receive an additional $5,000 to go with the $5,000 first-place check. Another $6,900 will be awarded to the next seven finishers in the elite races.
Weston Strum, Neil Gourley and Blake Haney all agreed that prize money helped draw them in from out of state, and it even enticed Brandon Hudgins to make the trip all the way from North Carolina. Former Brooks teammates Baylee Mires and Natalja Piliusina, who now train separately in Arizona, also said the event’s willingness to pay for travel and rooms at the new Home2 Suites Hotel greatly influenced their decision to fly to Washington.
“For someone who might not have a sponsorship, when someone offers to cover travel, that’s huge,” said Piliusina, who’s originally from Lithuania and won an NCAA title in the 800 meters at Oklahoma State. “It makes you feel special, too. It makes you feel like you’re wanted here.”
Even non-professional competitive runners could earn money by placing among the top three in the open race, which is offering $250 to the men’s and women’s winners under 40, and $150 to “Masters” winners who are at least 40 years old. Kids under 18 years old can run for free with some prizes available in a race for those 7-14 years old, the second of 10 races starting with a “family mile” at 5:30 p.m.
Waddle encouraged anyone to sign up for that relaxed jog or walk before 5 p.m. and said he’s expecting 700-800 runners throughout the evening. After running their own race, participants can stick around at the finish line to watch on a jumbotron as the elite women start at 7:40 p.m. followed by the men at 8 p.m. from near 11th Avenue and finish in front of Cowiche Canyon Kitchen.
Tim Cummings hopes to see a large crowd and looks forward to seeing some familiar faces in his return to Yakima, where he excelled at Eisenhower before competing in the steeplechase at Washington. Some recent injuries may prevent him from running his best, but Cummings said that won’t stop him from soaking in the atmosphere, pushing himself and enjoying the company of multiple friends and former UW teammates.
“I get the release and I was like, ‘oh my God, how did people hear about this race?’” Cummings said. “The field’s incredible. It’s going to be the fastest mile in the country on this date. No doubt about it.”
Waddle, the lead developer for Hogback Development, which brought in Home2 Suites, hopes this will be just the beginning for a special race that could raise Yakima’s stature in the running world. It turns out Waddle and co-founder Erik Mickelson weren’t the only ones with a passion for the mile, so Yakima is the second stop on this year’s Bring Back the Mile Grand Prix Tour.
Although the organization, now in its sixth year, features one-mile events all over the country and is based in Santa Barbara, Calif., this is the first tour race west of Iowa. Three-time champion Heather Kampf arrived in Yakima from Minneapolis Thursday night, and she’s eager to share her love for road miles with another community.
“For whatever reason it seems like I have a disproportionate amount of success on the roads in the mile vs. on the track,” said Kampf, a former NCAA champion in the 800 meters at Minnesota. “So it’s been fun for me to have somewhere where I can shine in such a deep American field.”