My favorite track meet, The Festival of Miles, is now being sponsored by my favorite shoe company, HOKA ONE ONE, and biased as I may be–I believe the newly titled HOKA Festival of Miles is going to quickly become the nation’s best post-season track meet for high school middle distance runners with some incredibly fast professional men’s and women’s mile races to boot.
The Festival of Miles (or simply FOM) began way back in 2008 as a way to raise money for a local Saint Louis athlete, Brigette Schutzman, who had been badly injured in a car accident on New Year’s Eve. Brigette, a middle distance runner at Saint Louis University, was an awesome person and teammate, and a group of us in the running community that included Brigette’s coaches at SLU, myself, and my business partner Matt Helbig (we co-owned a run specialty store called Big River Running Company), joined forces to create an event that would raise money for Brigette and her family. Instead of a traditional 5k road race, we decided to host a track meet since Brigette was more of a 1500/800 runner. We held the meet on what turned out to be a cold, windy night in April with mostly local and regional athletes running a couple of fast mile races after the conclusion of a JV track meet at Saint Louis University High School. The STL running community being what it is, we actually had a pretty good crowd show up and all told, we raised $8,000 for the Schutzmans.
The meet was going to be a one-off event but for another tragedy that summer when Saint Louis U. High’s all-state high jumper Mike Rathmann was paralyzed from the waist down while on a family vacation. Right away we knew we wanted to host a second edition of FOM to raise money for Mike. We pushed the meet into May for better weather (which we got) and worked hard to get a field together for a men’s mile that would hopefully break four minutes in the mile. Less than a week out from the event we got an email from Ryan Ponsonby, then the coach of Olympian Leo Manzano, asking if Leo could enter our meet. After thinking about it for less than a second, the answer was a resounding YES!! Once word got out that Leo was coming, Saint Louis–crazy sports town that it is, came through big time. The crowd was huge that night, and the stage was set for a Sub 4; the SLUH track and campus looked beautiful under the lights, the music was pumping, the kids came down onto the infield before the start of men’s mile and the athletes were ready to roll. And of course Leo did not disappoint. He blitzed the last lap (especially the last 100) and won going away in 3:55.29–the fastest time ever run in the State of Missouri at that time. WATCH HERE
Pretty much from the moment Leo crossed the line, we knew the Festival of Miles was going to be an annual event. And we knew we would always have a portion of the meet proceeds benefit a local athlete in need. Since 2008, FOM has donated more than $80,000 directly to the families of Saint Louisans who were battling tough times. As one of the organizers of the event through 2016, I am perhaps most proud that the meet grew in stature every year, constantly outdoing itself. In 2011, the meet was moved to June so high schoolers could participate, and it quickly became a must-run event for all of the midwest’s top milers, then for milers from all over the country, and then 800 meter-runners as well (added in 2013). In 2015, FOM grabbed national headlines once again when Michigan high-schooler Grant Fisher, running in the professional men’s race, became just the seventh U.S. high schooler ever to break four minutes in the mile. Grant has gone on to become one of America’s best distance runners, along with other FOM alums like Amos Bartelsmeyer, Jordan Mann, Brandon Miller, Colleen Quigley, Emily Sisson, Taylor Werner, and Reed Brown (who also broke 4 at FOM as a HSer).
All told, 20 boys have broken 4:10 and 20 girls have broken 4:53 at FOM. In the pro races, 35 men have broken four in the mile, led by four-time champion Jordan McNamara’s meet record of 3:54.27. From 2011 through 2019, the women’s professional race was an 800 meters and champions, among others, included Lindsey Butterworth, Heather Kampf, Shannon Leinert, LaTavia Thomas, and the late Gabriele Grunewald.
All of the performances mentioned above (and there are so many more I wish I could include), have always been egged on by the very best thing about the Festival of Miles–THE CROWD*. Many times in the event’s history the crowd has hit the 2,000 mark. And let me tell you this; 2,000 screaming people in a small high school stadium are LOUD. But don’t take my word for it; the athletes themselves have always raved about the fans at FOM. McNamara said it was better than racing at Hayward Field (sorry Eugene)!!
And now, with HOKA’s help, the event is going to be bigger and better than ever. Meet director Carter Snow and the gang at Big River Race Management, combined with the outstanding events team from HOKA, will blow this thing out of the water. I have full confidence in that. So high school mile and 800-meter runners across the country–put FOM on your calendar. Professional milers looking for one last FAST race before the Olympic Trials–FOM will be perfect for you. And of course–youth runners all across the STL Metro area (and beyond) you’ll want to sign up so you can race and then stick around to watch some of the fastest runners in the country (maybe even an Olympian or two!).
– Ben Rosario
The 2021 HOKA Festival of Miles will be held on Thursday, June 3 at Saint Louis University High School and will be broadcast LIVE on runnerspace.com. For more info on the meet and its history please visit www.stlfestivalofmiles.com.
*as of right now the 2021 event is going to be held without spectators. Stay tuned to the meet website for updates.
Grant Fisher breaking 4 at FOM! PC: Katie Sutton