Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Mexico's Four Minute Milers

Roger Bannister Iffley Track
The immortal Roger Bannister
The idea of compiling a list of the state's elite milers has been stirring in my head for a few years. The subject is a bit removed from trails, mountains, and marathon majors but it remains a universal running standard worthy of serious respect. At the time, I knew of three New Mexicans that had outrun the magical four-minute barrier and was curious if there had been more. From time-to-time I'd do a little research, and in the end I dug up just one addition - an Olympic medalist no less - and a couple of guys with personal bests that put them right at the standard. One of these runners was Los Alamos' Ryan McNiff who posted a 1500m four-minute-equivalent at a race out at Stanford just last week (update: McNiff ran a 3:59.11 mile in Feb '13 to become the fifth NM runner to break four minutes). As one might expect, the runners in this group share the company of truly rarefied air and elite talent.

Due to the altitude constraints of New Mexico running, all sub-four races run by these men occurred out of state. In fact no one has ever run only at the 2013 US Indoor Championships was the first four minute mile run on New Mexican soil (and the 2nd, and the 3rd). With McNiff's recent effort I figured it was as good a time as any to write-up the list, so here they are in order of performance:

Date under 4minMile PR1500m PR
  George YoungMar 1971 - 3:59.6 3:59.6 n/a
  Chuck AragonFeb 1981 - 3:59.92i    3:51.62 3:38.40 a
  Daniel MaasJun 1993 - 3:58.83 3:57.80 3:39.64 b
  David KrummernackerFeb 1998 - 3:58.62i       3:54:23 3:31:93 c
  Ryan McNiffFeb 2013 - 3:59.113:59.11        3:42.18 d
  Matt GonzalesMay 2003 - 3:42.83 n/a3:42.83
a) standing University of Notre Dame school record
b) standing Adams State College school record
c) eighth all-time US performer
d) four minute mile equivalent = 3:42:22.

The Four Minute Milers
George young runner
George Young (Western High School, Silver City; Univ. of Arizona) - First on the list. Young grew up in Silver City during the 50's. He later competed for the Univ. of Arizona and ran to several national records in the steeplechase and two mile as a contemporary of Schul, Ryun, and Mills. He competed at the '60, '64, '68, and '72 Olympic Games, claiming the steeplechase bronze in Mexico City ('68) in addition to a 16th place finish in the marathon. He ran the 5000m in Munich ('72). He ran his first, and only, sub-four minute mile at 34yrs of age in a time of 3:59.6 in Los Angeles, CA, March 1972. At the time, he was the oldest runner to have accomplished the feat. The guy was a complete badass.

More about George can be found with his profile on the Tough Guy List.

Chuck Aragon runner
Chuck Aragon (Los Lunas High; Univ. of Notre Dame) - Aragon was a champion track and cross country runner for Los Lunas in the 70's before being recruited to run for the Irish. He became the first Notre Dame runner to break the four minute mile with a 3:59.92 indoors effort in Champaign, IL, Feb 1981. Thirty years later he still holds the Notre Dame 1500m record of 3:38.40 (equivalent to a 3:56mile) set the same year. He just missed out on a spot on the '84 Olympic Team, like by half-a-stride missed out, and should have been named to the team afterward when one of the qualifiers had to drop due to injury. Aragon ran a lifetime mile best of 3:51.62 at the Dream Mile in Oslo, July 1984, which ranks him just outside the ten fastest American milers of all-time.

More about Chuck can be found with his profile on the Tough Guy List.

Dan Maas runner

Daniel Maas - (Santa Fe Prep; Adams State College) - Maas was a multiple New Mexico state champion at Santa Fe Preparatory before running for coaching legend Joe Vigil at Adams State. As a collegiate he ran to multiple NAIA titles, captained the team to multiple track and cross country team titles, and still holds the twenty year old Adams State 1500m record of 3:39.64 (equivalent to a 3:57mile). He first broke the four minute mile barrier at Hayward Field in Eugene, OR, with a time of 3:58.83 at the 1992 Prefontaine Classic. Qualified through to the finals of the 1992 Olympic Trials in the 1500m, finishing eighth

More about Dan can be found with his profile on the Tough Guy List.

David Krummernacker New Mexico
David Krummernacker (Las Cruces High; Georgia Tech Univ.) - Krummernacker was a multiple New Mexico state champ in both track and cross-country. As a senior he set the state record in the 800m of 1:51.73, which still stands as the fastest time by a New Mexico prep twenty years later (I was actually in the bleachers to see this). He ran to multiple NCAA championships while at Georgia Tech, multiple US National 800m titles, and was the 2003 indoor World Champ in the event (PR of 1:43.92). He first ran under four minutes in Feb of 1998 with a 3:58.62i effort, and clocked a lifetime mile best of 3:54.23 later that same year. More impressive is his lifetime best over the more commonly raced 1500m of 3:31.93 in 2002 (equivalent to a 3:48.9 mile). This performance stands as the eighth fastest American all-time over the distance.

Ryan McNiff runner
Ryan McNiff (Los Alamos High; Adams State College) - A multiple New Mexico state champion in track and cross country while running for coach Rob Hipwood at Los Alamos. A multiple all-American at Adams State College and part of three NCAA DII National Cross Country Champion teams. Ryan earned a spot on the junior US World Junior Cross team as a college freshman. He powered through the four minute barrier with a 3:59.11i showing at the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville in February 2013, becoming the fifth New Mexican under four minutes. Prior to this effort his lifetime best was a 3:42.18 1500m at the 2012 Payton Jordan Invite in Stanford. Ryan is married to Heather McNiff (Wood), NM's lone finisher on the women's side at last year's Olympic Marathon Trials

Deserving of Recognition - 1500m Equivalents
A quirk of the mile is that it's not raced very often. The standard racing distance at meets above the high school level is the 1500m. And while the title of being a Four Minute Miler applies solely to those that have run 3:59.99 and below for the mile, there is a recognized equivalent time for the 1500m distance - 3:42.22. Runners with equivalent performances are recognized as having both the talent and fitness for running under four minutes for the mile had the opportunity been available. From the pool of New Mexico runners there are two is one phenomenal New Mexican that merits attention:

Matt Gonzales runner
Matt Gonzales (Santa Fe High; Univ. of New Mexico) - Gonzales was a multiple New Mexico state champ in both track and cross-country while running for coach Peter Graham at Santa Fe High School (a heavily decorated runner in his own right). An all-American several times over at UNM, he set several university records and finished 2nd overall at the 2004 NCAA Cross Country Championship besting names like Tegenkamp, Solinsky, and Hall. Like George Young, Gonzales' strengths were primarily over the longer distances (he was both a 5000m and Marathon Olympic Trials Qualifier), but he ran with remarkable range to come down to the 1500m, winning the 2003 Mountain West Conference Championship his junior year, in a time of 3:42.83. One of only a few performances he ever ran at the distance.

Phil Sakala (Onate High; West Point)
3:38.9 1500m, 7/26/2008

Wes Ashford, (Farmington High; Brigham Young University)
3:41.8 on 5/20/1988

And there you have it. Running immortality. If a few inaccuracies got by me here or if an athlete has been overlooked please send an email or provide a correction in the comments below.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this list. It was a supreme honor to run with the elite milers and be known for my hometown of Santa Fe. New Mexico has some of the finest running history in the world and I sincerely hope the young runners of today carry the same pride I felt running under those blue skies. It means more than you know to be remembered like this. Thanks

    -Dan Maas

  2. Dan - Glad to hear the list found its way to one of its profiled athletes. I'm even more pleased that you enjoyed the read and had time to add some personal insight. That's awesome. I admit being partial to your string of victories on La Luz as a measure against the state's best over the years. A lot of tough hombres have passed through here from which to draw perspective. You're right at the top.

    As you were closing in on four minutes I'd imagine you knew of Aragon, but I would be interested to know if you were aware of Young, or the others that followed. Any reflections on still holding the record at Adams? It's crazy to think of the quantity and quality of runners that have likely taken a shot at your mark. Good on ya' for dreaming big and making it happen. -KB, Santa Fe

  3. There are 2 New Mexico high school grads who ran fast 1500s.

    Phil Sakala, Onate HS class of 2001, then Army/West Point
    3:38.9 on 7/26/2008

    Wes Ashford, Farmington HS class of 1979, then BYU
    3:41.8 on 5/20/1988

    I keep a database of all USA sub 4:00 milers & 4:22.23 1500s. Your 5 milers is correct.

    -john sullivan in TX-

  4. Terrific, thank you John. Really appreciate these additions. Can't imagine the amount of research you've done to fill out your database. Cheers.

  5. Arthur jimenez ring a bell? Runner from tucumcarri, n.m. early 90's. Definitely honorable mention list.

  6. Yep, i remember Arturo. He was a bad bad man. Guys like that you'd hear about but weren't certain if it was real or not b/c results literally couldn't be found in the newspaper and then they'd show for some big race and just hammer the field and leave most everyone in awe. I want to say that he ran 9min12 for the 3200 at Great Southwest. Those results were published and when we should our coach he just flat out didn't believe that it was correct. An impossible result in the early 90s.



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