Record-breaking first race in Great Alaska Mile Series

Trevor Dunbar, Anchorage grown and the first Alaskan to have ever broken four minutes in the mile, created the Great Alaska Mile Series. Even though Dunbar has accomplished every mid-distance runners’ dream of running a sub-four-minute mile, it had never been done on an outdoor track in the 49th state.

His mile series was set up to change that.

Jack Bolas of Washington, D.C. is believed to be the first person to have ever run the 1,609-meter race under the four-minute mark in Alaska. Bolas ran 3:58.3 minutes during a time trial sponsored by Skinny Raven in The Dome on Sept. 13, 2013.

Dunbar, a professional runner, was joined by seven of his professional running friends to make history in his home state. Five of the eight competing runners had broken the four-minute barrier before, so their motivation was high to accomplish that again on Alaska’s ground. Their first race was held at West High School’s track on Wednesday, Sept. 13. The second race was held at Kodiak Island’s Baranof Park on Saturday, Sept. 16.

Exactly four years after the first ever sub-four-mile was run in Alaska, two men broke the magic barrier on an outdoor track for the first time. Despite challenging weather conditions, Kyle Merber of New York won the race in 3:59.36 minutes. Merber was followed by Ben Blankenship of Oregon (3:59.67) and Colby Alexander of New York (4.00.01).

“I think Colby [Alexander] was pretty confident that he was going to win. With a hundred meters to go, Ben [Blankenship] pulled up on him, and I saw them staring each other down and I was able to just come up in lane two and sneak on by as they were distracted looking into each other’s eyes. We got under the four-minute mark and Colby was very close,” Merber said.

The record was a group effort. Pace-setter Doug Benson led the first 800 meters before Dunbar took the lead into strong headwinds to keep the group on pace. The decision to pace the group cost him energy and the chance to run a good time, but helped accomplish the ultimate goal.

- Advertisement -

“In my mind, I was cognizant of the splits, and I wanted to push the pace,” Dunbar said. “I was driven towards making sure someone got a fast time. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing, but I’m happy the [winning] time was under four minutes.”

Trevor Dunbar takes the lead during the Great Alaska Mile Series on Wednesday Sept. 13. Photo credit: Todd List

Dunbar’s affords were greatly appreciated by his fellow runners and the numerous members of the running community that came out to witness history being made. Two weeks out from the cross-country state championship many high school teams came out to watch the event. The crowd of more than 1,500 celebrated the racers.

Joe Alward, teacher and former track and field coach at West High School, described the experience as inspiring.

“It was a dream come true. I was an athlete at West High School and I spent many days running in wind just as they did and believing that someday I would run a mile in under four minutes,” Alward said. “Not only was it a thrill to see the athletes perform and do this, but it was a huge thrill to see so many community members supporting them. Anyways, it was a huge undertaking that these guys had with poor and especially, windy conditions, but I thought the crowd really brought them through and made it possible.”

Having accomplished their first goal of running a sub-four-minute mile outdoors in Alaska, the dynamic group of runners would not just leave it at that. On Saturday, they tied their racing spikes again on Kodiak Island in Alaska.

This time, Blankenship, who placed eighth at the 2016 Rio Olympics in the 1500 meters, took the Alaska soil all-time mile record. He finished the race in 3:57.85 minutes breaking Bolas record of 3:58.3. Blankenship was the lone runner going under the four-minute mark and made up for placing second on Wednesday. Blankenship was followed by Alexander running 4:00.46 minutes and Garrett Heath of Washington (4:01.76).

“I think the biggest goal was to come out here, have a good time and accomplish the goal,” Blankenship said. “I think so much this season, before U.S. Champs and even kind of early into late summer period, you are fighting to get everything out from the training you put in for the last nine or ten months. Now we have the opportunity to do something that not everybody gets to do. So, to come up here and have such a great group of guys to experience some of Alaska and to get onto the track and then to try break four [four-minute barrier], is such a great opportunity for us. We put our hands together for Trevor to make it all happen.”

Dunbar hopes to be able to host the Great Alaska Mile Series again next year to inspire runners and athletes all around the state to strive for what they want to accomplish. Especially, since no Alaskan has ever run a sub-four-minute mile in their home state.