When Roger Bannister became the first runner to break four minutes in the mile, it was a feat comparable to the moon landing. In the 57 years since then, some 350 Americans have joined the sub-four club, including a record 19 of them in 2010, which broke the record of 17 set the previous year.
Still, there remains a mystique and glamour about the Sub Four and it is something coveted by all middle-distance runners.
Miles Batty, a BYU junior from Sandy's Jordan High, was certainly not immune to it.
"It's just something I wanted," he says. "It's something you want to add your name to."
And what better name to add to the list than Miles? Batty officially joined the club last week — and then some. Most runners barely slip under four minutes the first time they break the sub-four barrier. Batty crushed it.
He covered the mile in 3:55.79 at an invitational meet in Seattle, finishing a step behind Chris Solinsky, a professional runner and the American record-holder at 10,000 meters. Batty's performance was significant for many reasons:
It ranks among the 10 fastest miles ever run by an American breaking the sub-four barrier for the first time.
It is the fastest collegiate time in the nation this year.
It makes him not only the sixth Utah native ever to crack four minutes, but easily the fastest of them all (the other five all ran 3:59s).
It broke a 31-year-old school record set by two-time Olympian Doug Padilla by more than a second
"You could say he Jimmered the record," said Batty's coach, Ed Eyestone, a two-time Olympic marathoner who narrowly missed joining the sub-four club himself. It's probably no coincidence that four of the six members of the Utah sub-four club were coached by Eyestone.
"Anytime someone breaks four minutes, it's worth noting," says the coach. "It's an elite club."
Nobody would have predicted such a performance from Batty a few years ago. As a senior at Jordan High, he won the state cross-country championship and finished second in the prep version of the metric mile (1,600 meters). His best time was 4:22 for 1,600 meters — roughly the equivalent of a 4:24 mile. Do the math: He has shaved a staggering 29 seconds off his time in six years, which includes the two years he left running to serve a church mission in Brazil.
From the beginning of their partnership, Batty and Eyestone agreed that he should move up in distance — to 5,000 meters — simply because he lacked the speed for the mile. Or so they both thought. Then as a BYU freshman, Batty produced a time in the 1,500-meter race that was the equivalent of a 4:06 mile. "That was where he made the quantum leap," says Eyestone.
"I was the kid the coach gave a hard time about having no speed," recalls Batty. "I don't know how it happened."
Batty then served a mission in the Amazon region of Brazil, and within six months his weight soared from 150 pounds to 180.
"I got a Christmas card from him that pictured the missionaries in his area," recalls Eyestone. "I thought, 'Wow, Miles is in there somewhere.' He definitely had a double chin. When he got back, he started training again. He was a dough boy."
The weight came off and Batty began again to demonstrate dormant speed. After redshirting last year with a knee injury, he opened this season with a 4:04.6 mile in Provo. That seemed to promise more, considering BYU's high-altitude setting and the tight turns of the BYU Field House.
He traveled to Seattle early this month hopeful of breaking four minutes, but the early pace lagged and he wound up running the last half of the race virtually alone. When he saw his time — 4:00.9 — he pounded the wall with his fist.
When Batty returned to Seattle last week, he had the competition he needed to produce a fast race. He and Solinsky ran away from the field and pushed a fast pace all the way to the finish.
"He came over to me after the race and almost the first words out of his mouth were, 'Can I be a miler now?' " says Eyestone.
"We're going to see how far we can take the mile, obviously," the coach says. "I still think he can run a strong 5,000, but he's not that excited about it, and who would be? Nobody wants to run farther than 100 meters if he doesn't have to. And the mile is a more glamorous event than the 5,000 and 10,000."
Batty, a pre-med student who sports a 3.95 grade-point average with a double major in neuroscience and exercise physiology, agrees.
"Coach is always talking about the 5K, which is a good idea, too," says Batty. "I thought of myself as a 5K runner. But the mile felt so much easier. I want to stick with it until I fulfill my potential."