Making the Most of Your Mile: Camel City Indoor Mile
A 200 meter flat track in North Carolina vies to remove stigma that all flat tracks are slow with $4000 up for grabs in professional Mile.
By Bring Back the Mile
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - In August of 2011, a 105,000 square foot, 200 meter Mondo flat track, began to come to life in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Five months later, the Fast Track High School Invitational, welcomed high school athletes, coaches, parents and a lot of 'wows' through its doors. Built to provide a warmer alternative during the winter months, the JDL Fast Track has quickly grown to become one of the premier venues in the southeast, hosting over 25 meets including High School, Collegiate and Masters Championships in its second season of operation
With its sights on bringing larger events to the area, Craig Longhurst, the facility director, is betting on a fast Mile this weekend to remove the stigma that flat tracks are slow. We sat down with Craig earlier this month to discuss the birth of the JDL Fast Track and this weekend's Camel City Indoor Mile at the Hilton Garden Innvitational, a member of the inaugural Bring Back the Mile Tour.
BBTM: The JDL Fast Track is now just over a year old. What was the impetus to building this facility in Winston-Salem?
Craig: The idea came together by the owner of JDL Castle, David Shannon, a Wake Forest alumni and an avid runner. However, he hates it if it is under 55 degrees and saw an opportunity to build an indoor facility in the Winston-Salem area.
Building an indoor Track isn't the same as say building a tree house. How did it all come together?
Craig: We first considered building a 300 meter track with Wake Forest, but the space wasn't readily available and the construction timeline would be longer than doing it privately. We were a little impatient and decided to look at a couple of empty wharehouses where we found a great 105,000 square foot space that would fit our vision.
Was it also financed privately and how long did it take to construct the JDL Fast Track?
Craig: Yes, it was financed privately; there was no public investment. The building was purchased on August 2, 2011 and we held our first track meet on January 27, 2012. We demoed for the first two months, then started doing renovations and then began laying the mondo track down, working at the same time as all the other construction going on.
Were you hoping it would be a situation of "if we build it, they will come?"
Craig: Interestingly, that same year (2011) the North Carolina High School federation announced that the High School State indoor meet would be held outdoors and the facility at Chapel Hill was closed for renovations. We had an opportunity to bring races in rather quickly. In 2013 we are hosting the North Carolina High School State Indoor Track & Field Championships as well as the Big South Conference and Southern Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships. And looking ahead to 2014 we will host the NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships and have recently added the 2015 USATF Indoor Masters Track & Field Championships.
Sounds like it has been a busy year and a half. Tell us more about the facility itself and the experience people can expect.
Craig: It is a 200 meter flat track with the field events completely contained within it. We also have a 100 meter Mondo warm-up straight away section for participants to get ready in, which really helps the flow and pace of our events. We can currently hold 1,288 spectators, but have room to grow. We are looking into adding a team camp and additional seating areas. Our entertainment system is great and we're beginning to work with restaurants to partner with for concessions and the like.
The experience at the JDL Fast Track is geared toward the athlete and the indoor environment lends itself to be louder and more exciting.
How many participants are currently coming through in a given week?
Craig: On average every weekend there are over 800-1000 high school participants and during our week night meets we average 200-300.
What has the reception been in the community, especially amongst the runners who may not be accustomed to indoor Track?
Craig: The reception of the facility has been great in the community. The local tourism board is behind it and we get a lot 'wows' from the parents of the kids participating.
But, in regards to reaching the larger running community we still have a ways to go. Most runners are not used to paying and racing on a track. We are trying to provide a great experience that increases the engagement with our community of runners. When it's cold outside and we are at a pleasant 68 degrees with no wind, we hope it pulls people in. We also provide FAT timing for all of our races. We have an all-you-can-race model for our all-comers meets for only $15. At our first all-comers in December we had 90 participants and had over 110 pre-register for the second one in January.
Turning to this weekend's Hilton Garden Innvitational and the Camel City Indoor Mile, what drew you to host this event?
Craig: The indoor Mile was self-serving. For us to be able to host bigger meets we have to get past the stigma that flat tracks are slower. We want to showcase that people can run qualifying times for national championships and sub-4 Miles.
In your first year of hosting this Mile you've compiled a great professional and collegiate field. Did any of the racers or coaches have reservations toward the flat track?
Craig: At the collegiate level it does help that the NCAA created new conversions in September (ed. the NCAA track and field committees voted to implement a formula-based approach to converting times between varying track configurations). Amongst the professionals nobody mentioned the stigma of a flat track even with the prize purse tied to a sub-4:05 overall winning time to activate it. We have also committed $500 to the top three professionals who dip under the magical 4:00 minute barrier.
We have four sub-4 Milers toeing the line, including 3:54.90 Miler Peter van de Westhuizen, and have a great group of collegiate athletes looking to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships.
How have sponsors welcomed this event?
Craig: We are working on engaging more sponsors, but this year we have a couple of great hotel sponsors. The Hilton Garden Inn is a Gold Sponsor and as part of the package they get a meet named after them. We wanted to provide them with a marquee event to be a part of and chose this meet, including the Camel City Indoor Mile, for them to be a part of.
What are your future plans for the facility?
Craig: We would love to get the ACC Championships here and also have the facility open to top Americans to come and train in during the year.