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Wade’s Sub-Four-Minute Mile Becomes A Quest

It's been a roller-coaster experience for the Cornell student.

It’s been a roller-coaster experience for the Cornell student.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

ITHACA, N.Y. — For Cornell University miler Nick Wade, the weekend was filled with a whirlwind of emotions, taking a turn for the dramatic on Saturday afternoon. That was when the 21-year-old engineering student timed 4:00.00 — or, to be exact, 3:59.998 — for the mile at the SPIRE Division I Invitational in Geneva, Ohio.

“Roller coaster is definitely the theme of this weekend,” said Wade in a text message to Race Results Weekly from the team bus. In order to fully detail Wade’s story, one must start on Thursday, February 7.

Wade’s quest to become the next collegian to clock a sub-four mile began with the cancellation of the Boston University Valentine Invitational, which was set for Friday and Saturday. Due to an extremely large winter snowstorm that has dropped more than two feet of snow on the city, the meet was cancelled on Thursday, giving teams some chance to find alternate competitions.

The cancellation was of bitter disappointment for Wade, who hails from North Attleboro, Mass., just 30 miles from Boston University. In preparation for his sub-four minute attempt, Wade had posted a Facebook message on his wall asking for friends and family to come out and support his chance at joining the elite sub-four club.

“For anyone back home who is free this Saturday and has the patience to attend a track meet at BU,” the message read, “some of my best friends and I will be racing at the Boston University Valentine Invitational. We would absolutely love it if you were willing to come out and support the sport and our team. I will personally be taking what is probably my only shot at the ever-elusive sub-4 minute mile. Race goes off at 1:35 PM. I’d be forever in your gratitude if you help me make this dream become reality. I can absolutely help you plan logistics regarding parking, public transportation, etc.!”

Wade’s status earned nearly 80 likes and upwards of 30 comments with friends and fellow runners wishing him well. Not only was he set to return to his home state, but he was also coming back to the same track where he set his personal best of 4:02.76 two weeks before.

That was when the news of the cancellation came.

“I was absolutely devastated, I won’t lie,” Wade said. “I was really trying to make my first sub-4 special but Mother Nature had other plans.”

Wade initially thought his chances of running a fast mile were over. That’s when he learned from Cornell distance coach Zeb Lang that the team had the opportunity to race in Ohio at the SPIRE meet.

“I knew about SPIRE, so as far as alternatives go, I couldn’t complain,” said Wade. “But it was still hard letting go of Boston and the potential sub-four fairy tale.”

Arriving in Ohio after a four-hour bus ride –where he relaxed by watching the movies “Brave” and “Catch Me If You Can” with the team– Wade was ready to take a stab at setting a new personal best, hoping it would start with ‘3’ instead of ‘4’.

With a rabbit taking him through 800m in a perfect 1:59, Wade took the lead only to realize he was all by himself in front. Staying on pace through 1200m, Wade thought he could break four minutes if he kept pushing around the 300m, unbanked over-sized track.

“The pace hits like a brick wall but I managed to keep it at 45 [seconds per 300m],” he said. With the field sitting and waiting behind him, Wade made his final kick down the homestretch. He knew it was going to be close.

“[The] last straightaway was unbelievably loud. I nearly blacked out just going for it,” he recounted. After crossing the line, he peered at the clock. First it read 4:00.07, then quickly changed to 4:00.00.

“The gasp was just so loud from everyone,” he said. “It was absurd. I just kept jogging into the infield and my coach [Nathan Taylor] told me he was going to go get a rejudge on the photo. We all couldn’t believe it. What are the odds?”

Wade was at first –as he put it– furious that he came oh so close. But soon thereafter he began to laugh about the situation.

“What else can I do, you know?” he said. After going into the stands and joining his teammates, Wade chose to make his own journey to the photo and timing area –maintained by Lightning Timing– in hopes of getting a souvenir printout of the photo finish.

“The guys up there were just heckling me saying they had never seen it before,” said Wade. “They were happy to print me a copy and told me I was officially under 4.”

It would take looking to the thousandths of a second to make him a part of the sub-four minute mile club. Wade’s mark read 3:59.998; rounded, it becomes 4:00.00.

“I was pumped,” Wade said, adding that he plans to frame the photo-finish “for the humor, if nothing else.”

Hours removed from his run, Wade recapped his race by simply saying it was bittersweet.

“The good news is that I’m definitely in sub-3:58 shape,” he said. “But I still have to prove it.”

Wade’s mark places him in the top 20 on the NCAA list, though does not secure him a birth into the NCAA Championships because of the tremendous depth in the discipline this year. Entering Saturday, fourteen men had times of under four minutes, with some having marks converted due to high altitude.

From the bus heading back to campus, Wade summed his weekend up by comparing it to an amusement park ride. From the cancelled meet in front of his home fans to the breaking of a barrier by .002 of a second, Wade is happy yet inspired for more.

“Roller coaster,” he said. “Hard to improve on that word choice. Now I’m just itching for Heps [the Ivy League Championships] and a last chance meet. Putting it in perspective, I can’t beat myself up over a four-minute mile. No one can. But hopefully in a month I can say I’m “officially” a sub-four guy.”