Sammy George represents locals in Raleigh’s Sir Walter Miler running event

In the weeks leading up to last year’s Sir Walter Miler, an annual mile-centric running event held in Raleigh that taps into the sport’s nationwide community, Sammy George was intimidated.

All things considered, she had no reason to be. George, a Raleigh native, graduated from NC State with a decorated running career, having notched four state titles in high school and five All-ACC selections in college. She was familiar with the organizers who put the Sir Walter Miler on and was acquainted with its founders.

But still, George was concerned that she wasn’t ready.

“I did take a year off in college after running just to get healthy and everything, and so 2017 and 2018 were like the years to build my fitness back up,” George said Tuesday. “So I was very intimidated going into it.”

Although George said the race went fine, her anxieties fading in the race’s final stretch, George’s mind-set prior to it, in many ways, reflects the event’s status now: The Sir Walter Miler, in only its sixth year of existence, has become North Carolina’s premier running event — one that attracts a national audience and talent pool, and remains integral to Raleigh’s robust running community.

“I think it’s cool to have such a high-caliber meet in my hometown,” George said. “It kind of shows how strong the Raleigh running community is.”

On Friday at 8 p.m., George and other elite men and women throughout the nation will try to run the mile in 4:00 and 4:30, respectively, in front of a crowd that, in recent years, has ballooned to about 4,000 people.

First-place finishers are awarded $1,000, with other prize amounts awarded for second- through fifth-place finishers. There are money-awarded bonuses, too — such as if it’s a runner’s first time notching a sub-4/4:30 finish, or if a runner breaks the state record (which is 3:53.85 for men, 4:23.66 for women).

The event is bookended by pre- and post-parties held at Raleigh Brewing Company.

Event organizer Pat Price said that in 2013 — when it was advertised as the SandMan Mile, when event founder Sandy Roberts wanted a chance to break four minutes in the mile — he didn’t think the event would turn into the spectacle it has become.

“Starting with the SandMan Mile, we thought that was just going to be a one-off,” Price said. “And then when it kind of went viral in the running world, we started to do Sir Walter, and we thought that it was probably going to be another one-time thing. And then in the second year, when we expanded it a little bit, that’s kind of when we realized that we’re going to be able to do this for a while …

“Now we’re kind of at the point, six years in, that people would be upset if it didn’t come back.”

The Sir Walter Miler, in fact, fills a void in Raleigh’s running scene. Decades ago, Raleigh was home to the Old Reliable Run, a race put on by The News & Observer. The race had 14 Olympians over its 27 years, managing 2,500 to 3,100 runners each year. In 1986, it hosted the fastest 10-kilometer event field in the world — 34 men under 30:00, 12 women under 34:00.

“But just because the professional scene from that race faded out, it didn’t mean that there weren’t a lot of people here still running and competing,” Price said. “We wanted to kind of bring that feel back, and it seemed like the community was ready to support it — and they certainly were.”

There are also smaller teams within the running community. George, who has run competitively since middle school, is on a professional running team called the Raleigh Distance Project.

Andie Cozzarelli, a Raleigh Distance Project team member, said the purpose behind the team is to give runners who have the potential to achieve success at the post-college level a chance to do so.

“The [Sir Walter Mile] has done so much for so many different people, and it’s connected a lot of people, and it’s been integral, I think, to getting people more excited about going after their goals,” Cozzarelli said. “I think if the focus is too much on fast runners, it’s hard to connect, but they’ve done a really good job of making people feel immersed in the race, and that’s super important.”

In her return to the 2019 Sir Walter Miler, George said she’s excited to have the chance to set a new personal record, something she hasn’t done in four years.

“Since being in college and watching it, and the hype around it was so cool,” George said. “Just having high goals, especially in the mile, this was the place to [reach] them at.”

And by all indications, it still is.

Want to go?

When: Friday at 8 p.m.

Where: Track at Meredith College.

For more information: Visit the Sir Walter Miler event page.

Alex is an intern at The News and Observer, covering sports and however it intersects with life in the Triangle. Before that, Alex graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in May and was a three-year staffer on UNC’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel.