New road race lures elite milers to Wichita

The elite mile is coming back to Wichita.

It has been nearly three decades since Wichita played host to such a running event, but that will change Sunday morning when the Kansas Road Mile Championship is held at Towne East Square.

The race organizers from the GoRun Wichita store were determined to make Wichita a destination for elite runners again. With the state owning a rich history and storied runners like Jim Ryun, Glenn Cunningham and Wes Santee, organizers felt Kansas needed a race to restore itself on the national running scene.

“Wichita used to be a hub for the elite runner,” said Trevor Darmstetter, the race director. “We wanted to start a race that was going to bring some of those types of runners back into town.”

When creating the race, Darmstetter sought backing from a national group called “Bring Back The Mile.” The group’s mission is to popularize the mile, even going as far as wanting to eliminate to the 1600-meter race in favor of the mile in high school competitions.

Naturally, they were on board with the revival of the mile race in Wichita. And when Darmstetter secured their backing, along came elite milers from across the country.

The race will begin with U.S. Olympian Alan Webb, the American record-holder for the mile, as the official starter. Then actually running the race, Darmstetter says, will be at least five runners who regularly break four minutes.

Darmstetter is hoping the appeal of running against such big names will help draw out local talent. The cost is $20 for adults and $10 for high schoolers and younger.

“There’s not another road race in the Midwest that gives people the chance to line up with some of the best runners in the nation,” Darmstetter said.

But Sunday is not just for Olympians and former world champions. Besides the feature race, which is slated to begin at 10:20 a.m., there are five other races for varying age groups — youth, middle school, high school, and then open divisions for men and women.

The race will be run on the asphalt road that surrounds the mall, as runners will complete a circle to finish the race 200 meters from where they started.

Running on asphalt will tack on a few more seconds than running on a track, but Darmstetter is confident that Sunday’s race will produce a few sub-4-minute miles. That’s what he hopes generates the excitement for Wichitans, watching runners accomplishing great feats and then going out there and competing against them.

“It’s going to be the fastest race to ever come to Wichita in Wichita’s history,” Darmstetter said. “There hasn’t been a mile race with a more competitive and faster field than this. We’re definitely looking to make this an annual event, so we hope Sunday is the start of something special.”