SYRACUSE, N.Y., Nov. 13, 2008 -- Athletes who can run a mile in less than four minutes belong to an elite club.
In 1954, London's Roger Bannister became the first person to accomplish this four-minute feat. Now, three Syracuse University students are literally seconds away from joining the ranks.
"That two seconds or that one second, it's a lifetime. And it hurts. It hurts so bad to get that one last second. It's another year of training," said 23-year-old Jordan Davis. Davis, 24-year-old John Butler and 22-year-old Kyle Heath are training to shave off those few seconds. Davis and Butler are both graduate assistant coaches and Heath is a fifth year senior.
"All these guys have a good chance," said their coach, Chris Fox, "but nothing's guaranteed." Fox, 50, is already part of the subfour minute club. He joined back in 1983. Today he organizes the men's training schedule to help make their goal a reality.
About 90 Miles a Week
Nov. 1, on what Davis called "transition day," the guys moved from longer runs that build strength to workouts on the track to increase speed. It takes both kinds of workouts to run faster, Davis said.
Davis said a typical week includes various workouts, every day:
Sunday: A long run from 90 minutes to an hour and 50 minutes. That equals about 13-16 miles.
Monday: What the men call an "easy day." They run a short distance and run slow.
Tuesday: A workout day that Fox sets up for the men, usually on the track. "We just show up and hurt," Davis said.
Wednesday: 60 minute run
Thursday: 60 minute run
Friday: A workout day
Saturday: 60 minute run
In all, they end up running between 80 and 90 miles a week. It's a painful process and a huge commitment, but their shared goal, along with the support they get from each other and their families, gets them through.
"I think that what's driving me is that all this hard work is going to pay off. Whether it's now or whether it pays off in a month, it's eventually going to pay off," said Heath.
Butler said, "It helps a lot to have Jordan and Kyle running with me. There have been times where if I was running out there alone and coach told me to do that workout I would have stopped at No. 2 and driven home."
"It's not even just for me. It's for my family too. My dad calls and is like 'Are you still doing it? Are you still training for four minutes?' And I say, 'Yeah, Pa, we're doing it,'" Davis said.
A Good Kind of Hurt
On the track, where Fox yells out times and words of encouragement, the men said their coach's faith helps them believe in themselves.
"It's always been the goal where I've been, like 'I'm going to do this, and do this, and then break four minutes and that's it,'" Butler said. For the three students, running at this level has become a way of life.
"This is what we do. Running is just part of our life. I mean, we went to bed at 9:30 last night because we knew we had to get up and knew it was going to hurt," Davis said.
But it's a good kind of hurt, they said, especially when it comes to reaching their goal. And the men said it's a matter of when, not if. They plan to break four minutes at a track meet at Penn State in January.
As for what that will mean?
"You know, I've asked myself that question since I was a kid. I've practiced interviews in the shower. ... It's just going to mean everything. It's the one goal that I have that I don't know the next step after that," Butler said.
Although there may not be cameras lined up on the day the guys meet their goal, it's a day they say they've all dreamt about for years.
From there, Olympic trials may be next, Davis and Heath both said. Until then, they all face hours of training and hundreds of miles.