I used to assume that turning 40 was one thing that solely occurred to different folks. Now that I’m in my mid-30s, I’m beginning to metal myself for the inevitable. Not that I’ll be investing in an obscene sports activities automotive, or something like that. The economics of on-line publishing being what they’re, I’ll most likely need to discover a much less ostentatious solution to cling to my vanishing youth. Worst case, I’ll begin utilizing Snapchat.
Anthony Famiglietti has loftier ambitions. After the two-time Olympic steeplechaser turns 40 this November, he desires to grow to be the fourth man in historical past to run a sub four-minute mile after hitting the large 4-0. (If he can safe the funding, he intends to make a documentary about it referred to as Age Defiant, which may also characteristic different athletes who maintained elite-level performances effectively into their 40s and past.) Famiglietti’s moonshot mile is probably an uncommon solution to confront the beast of senescence, but it surely makes a loopy type of sense. When you’ve spent greater than 1/2 your life setting up your identification round the truth that you’ll be able to run quicker than 99.99 p.c of the world’s inhabitants, it’s not easy to let go.
“As an elite athlete you have to come to terms, on a much deeper level, with the slow degradation of your ability,” Famiglietti says. “When you see that number, 40, the mid-life crisis, the waking up at night stuff starts to creep in. You take an inventory of what you’ve achieved and what you haven’t.”
And Famiglietti’s stock of working accomplishments is nothing to scoff at. In addition to creating 2 U.S. Olympic groups (2004, 2008), he was a dominant presence on the New York City highway working scene within the mid-aughts, honing his means by churning out countless loops in Central Park. According to the IAAF all-time list, Famiglietti’s mile PR (3:55.71, set in 2006) makes him the 388th quickest man in historical past over the gap. With his 40th birthday looming, Famiglietti desires to substitute that small piece of working immortality for a bigger chunk.
“There are seven billion people, but only a thousand and change have ever run a sub four-minute mile—that’s astonishing. And only three, after 40, have ever gone under four,” Famiglietti says.
The 3 runners who belong in that unique latter group are Bernard Lagat, Eamonn Coghlan, and Anthony Whiteman. It’s price noting that these males have been all 1,500-meter specialists at 1 level of their careers. (Though Lagat and Coghlan additionally went on to determine themselves as world-class threats within the 5,000-meters.) That was by no means the case for Famiglietti, whose principal self-discipline was the steeplechase, earlier than he turned to longer highway occasions just like the 8K, the place he was the 2007 USATF champion.
If Famiglietti have been to reinvent himself as a miler, it could fly within the face of the traditional knowledge of his sport. The customary method for skilled runners is to maneuver up in distance with age—not the opposite means round. A 1,500-meter runner might graduate to the 5,000 for the latter a part of his or her profession (see: Lagat or Shannon Rowbury), simply as 5,000 and 10,000-meter specialists (see: Mo Farah or Galen Rupp) typically transfer to the marathon. The frequently cited motive for that is the gradual decline in VO2 max, which generally begins round age 30, in addition to a lower in muscle mass and energy. Although we nonetheless don’t have a complete scientific clarification for the myriad components surrounding athlete age and efficiency, typically talking, the idea is that velocity goes earlier than power. Haile Gebrselassie was 35 when he broke his personal world document on the 2008 Berlin Marathon. In the mile, alternatively, the world document has nearly all the time been held by somebody of their mid-20s.
Seen on this gentle, Famiglietti’s try and run inside 4 seconds of his mile PR (which he set as a 27-year-old) seems like act of defiance. This could be according to the devil-may-care persona that he has cultivated through the years. When we spoke on the cellphone, Famiglietti instructed me that in his first race ever, as a 5th grader, he ran so laborious that he handed out halfway by way of. Famiglietti’s notoriously crappy diet additionally stands out in a sport the place most experts are hyper-vigilant about what they eat. While competing on the 2001 University Games in Beijing, Famiglietti claims he ate at McDonalds every single day for 2 weeks. True to type, Famiglietti’s working attire firm, which he co-manages together with his spouse Karen, known as Reckless Running. (In case you’re questioning, the Reckless aesthetic appears to be vaguely retro with an emphasis on skulls, as if Tracksmith have been taking posthumous inventive instruction from Alexander McQueen.)
All recklessness apart, Famiglietti says he’s taking his present coaching very critically. He is being coached by Alan Webb, the American document holder within the mile. The foremost problem is coping with collected harm, like extreme arthritis in his proper foot and ankle joints which have taken a beating from years of aggressive steeplechasing. “Sometimes, when I start to run, my left foot will dislocate and I’ll have to run up to a tree, place it between the branches, and pop it back into place,” Famiglietti says. Occasionally he’ll solicit assist from a fortunate stranger.
Admittedly, that doesn’t sound like somebody who’s on his solution to breaking 4 minutes in a number of months’ time. Although Famiglietti has already improved on the 4:16 highway mile he ran in the beginning of this month by clocking 4:11 on an uphill course final weekend, 11 seconds within the mile is an eternity.
Still, Famiglietti might have an out of doors shot of attaining his objective. The proven fact that solely 3 40-year-olds have run a sub four-minute mile might be somewhat deceptive; it’s secure to imagine that almost all of runners who might need been able to attaining the feat retired from aggressive working lengthy earlier than their 40th birthday. In different phrases, at the very least a part of the explanation why so few elite runners have achieved it’s as a result of most haven’t bothered to attempt.
Famiglietti desires to be the exception. And whereas he by no means had the working economic system of somebody like Bernard Lagat, whose hypnotic stride is the epitome of grace, he says that he’s by no means given a lot credence to the concept getting older means you’ll be able to now not be quick. Famiglietti can again up this skepticism: he coaches a number of high highschool runners in North Carolina and says there are days when he can nonetheless outsprint them in apply.
“In the past, I think a lot of people made the assumption that as you age you lose speed and that it wasn’t worth trying to maintain, and that it would be easier to just dive into marathons and ultras. Even Lagat is doing half marathons now,” Famiglietti says. “I used to abide by the same myth. But I noticed in workouts that I wasn’t losing speed—I just wasn’t utilizing or activating it. When I did, initially it was difficult, but then there would be these moments where I’d outkick all the kids, run a 26-second 200, and feel great.” The day after these classes, Famiglietti all the time feels somewhat sore, but it surely’s reassuring to faucet that reservoir of velocity. “I realized that it’s still in there,” he says, “it just needs to be awakened.”