BENTON — When college scouts call to ask about Parkway junior runner Alison Ringle, they don’t care about her cross-country times. They don’t even ask about her ability at 3,200 meters.
They want one thing — her mile time.
The 1,600-meter run has become the standard for high-school track standouts. For Ringle, who won the 1,600 at the Bossier Bearkat Relays Thursday in Benton with a time of 5:20:59, has been drawn to the mile since she was in seventh grade.
“I heard that not many people run the mile, so I wanted to take on that challenge,” Ringle said. “The first time I ran it, I did well (around 6:36:00) and got really excited. I’ve stuck with it since.”
For runners, and spectators, the 1,600-meter run is special.
“I think a lot of it is the sense of achievement you get after,” Ringle said. “It’s a hard race. After, you feel so good that you finished. I think a lot of people enjoy watching the race. Even from the stands, you can tell by our faces how hard it is during the race. I think people like seeing that determination from everyone out here.”
Running a 1,600-meter race is a perfect measuring stick. It’s short enough to judge speed. It’s long and grueling enough to show mental toughness and strategy.
“It’s definitely one of my favorite races,” said Airline senior Matt Henry, who won the boys 1,600-meter run Thursday at the Bearkat Relays in 4:40:02. “You have your sprint advantages and your tactical advantages, and it’s a fun race. A lot of people want to run the hurdles or something where the all-stars are shining. No one really wants to stay with that mile and be hurting that long.”
Ringle displayed the speed aspect of the mile. She led from the first turn and finished 23 seconds ahead of the second-place runner. Henry showed how strategy can pay off in his race, hanging back for three laps before making his move.
“You want to keep yourself available for the last lap or the last 100 to be able to sprint it,” said Henry, who moved from second to first as he began the final lap. ” I kicked it into a higher gear. It’s awesome when your strategy works out.”
Airline junior Jack Wilkes didn’t run the mile Thursday, but last week he won the Viking Relays in Benton 1,600 with a time of 4:32:73.
“It’s a really tough race,” said Wilkes, who battles teammate Henry in practice and during meets. “Matt and I try to hang on until the final lap and then kick as hard as we can. It’s just a mental game of hanging on as long as you can. Guts are the main thing. It’s who wants it the most. When you hear the gun go off for the final lap, it’s just a question of who is going to hurt the most.”
And when people outside of the track team approach Wilkes, they don’t want to know how he finished in the 3,200 or 800-meter runs.
“People don’t ask how fast you run two laps,” he said. “All they care about is the mile. That’s the main thing. All sports do the mile one way or another, so it’s the best comparison.”
Ringle hopes to get her time below 5:15:00 before the end of the regular season. She plans to push for a sub-5:10:00 time before the end of the year.
“All of distance running is mental,” said Ringle, who was second at the Class 5A state meet last year with her personal-best time of 5:18:13. “I’m trying to work my way down to those times steadily.”
Training for the 1,600 can be tricky.
“You have to find a pace, because you can’t just sprint the whole mile,” Parkway coach Kent Falting said. “But you also have to be able to sprint. So, there is a lot of training dealing with lactic acid buildup over a long time of running but still having to turn on some speed and push through. We do a lot of speed and short recovery, where they have to work through that lactic acid buildup.”
When she isn’t working to lower her own mile time, Ringle is following college runners competing in the mile.
“It’s exciting, especially since I’m a junior now, and college coaches can start emailing me about their programs,” Ringle said. “Watching how fast they run at the collegiate level motivates me to work harder. It’s amazing how fast those runners get. To think I could be that fast one day …”
It’s all about the mile time.