By: Margaret Buttner
Vancouver is very fortunate to have a climate suited to running throughout the year. While Stanley Park and Pacific Spirit Park are both popular destinations for running, runners often train at smaller parks are scattered throughout the city. Perhaps none have a more storied past than the Balaclava Track, located on Vancouver’s west side.
The track (and surrounding park) are named for an adjacent street and named for a famous battle from the Crimean War. It’s served as a green space since the late 1930’s, and the running track was assembled in time for the 1954 British Empire Games to serve as a secondary training facility. Indeed, the Track and Field Committee for the Games were very complimentary about the excellent conditions of the track and its length was 440 yards, an imperial mile, adding to its appeal.
While a number of athletes trained at the track, none are so famous as Roger Bannister. At the time, it was reported that Bannister and some of his team mates headed for the track, out of the public eye for their pre-race time trials. Of course, Bannister subsequently ran his “Miracle Mile”, beating out John Landy with a time of 3:58:8 and thrilling track fans in Vancouver and across the British Empire and beyond.
Fast forward to early in 2004, when running enthusiasts, Steve Emerson and Roger Brownsey of Lions Gate Road Runners, noted that the 50th anniversary of Bannister’s famous run would take place in May that year (he first broke the four minute mile in England). But time was short, and as an alternative, they chose to host the event in August of that year to coincide with Bannister’s achievement in Vancouver. Coincidentally, Brownsey lived near the Balaclava Track and when he learned that Bannister had trained there, he and his fellow club members knew it was the perfect spot to host their first Miracle Mile celebratory event.
Gate Road Runners have hosted this annual run (and club picnic) every year since, and it has grown in popularity as runners from other local run clubs also join in the festivities. Together with other club volunteers, Brownsey organizes a series of races based on estimated running times and finish with a series of relays for faster and more competitive club runners. While the winning times will never be world class, local runners have set some impressive times, with Nic Browne setting the pace in 2014 with a time of 4:46 and Kristyn Webster setting the female record with a time of 5:40. The top age-graded time of 4:25 goes to Jim Swadling (a frequent winner in his age category). Regardless of ability, all club members and guests are welcome to take part, and the post-race potluck picnic brings together family members and friends.
With Sir Roger Bannister’s passing last month, it will be with a degree of sadness that Lions Gaters commemorate his famous run in August of this year. For more information, visit lgrr.com