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For Kyle Merber, it’s all about running and promoting the sport he loves

5/16/2016
 

This week's Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic will be broadcast live on USATF.TV beginning at 9:15 p.m. ET.

 

Throughout the long and glorious history of track and field in the United States, there have been many accomplished athletes who have gone on to serve the sport as coaches, administrators, agents or event promoters. Middle distance runner Kyle Merber could have waited until he hung up his spikes to create an all-inclusive event to promote his sport – but he didn’t.

 

A 25-year-old resident of Clinton, New Jersey, Merber is recognized as a talented runner specializing in the mile and 1500 meters, whose love affair with track and field began years ago.

 

“I started when I was really young, which I know is rare for most people,” Merber said. “Originally, I’m from Long Island, and in 1996 after Derrick Adkins won the gold medal (400m hurdles), he came back to his elementary school -- which happened to be my elementary school -- and appeared at an assembly to speak about his Olympic experience. He had really great things to say. I immediately went home and told my mom about it, and shortly thereafter I competed in my first track meet.”

 

A 2012 graduate of Columbia University, where he was a nine-time Ivy League champion and two-time NCAA qualifier, Merber went on to complete his collegiate eligibility at the University of Texas. The high point of his college career came in May 2012 at the Swarthmore Last Chance Meet when he set the American collegiate 1500m record with his time of 3:35.59.

 

“That day was unreal,” Merber said. “The year before I had been injured, and my senior year had kind of been up and down to that point. The month leading in (to that race) training had been going really well, and I was running to hopefully qualify for the Olympic Trials. It was a matter of kind of getting into the right race, feeling good and executing perfectly, and when I crossed the line I was shocked at how fast I had run. I was excited to say the least.”

 

Merber is best known for running the opening 1,200m leg at the 2015 IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas that resulted in Team USA winning the gold medal in the Distance Medley Relay in the world record time of 9:15.50.

 

“That was fantastic,” Merber said. “I didn’t know that I was going to be on the team until about a week before, and getting the chance to wear the USA jersey at any time is always the dream. Being there and competing well and doing so with teammates when you’re on a relay and when you have other guys to enjoy success with, it just makes it that much more enjoyable.

 

“For me, it wasn’t even so much about what I did as an individual -- it was that Team USA was able to compete well and bring home the gold medal and establish a world record,” Merber continued. “In a middle distance team event, I feel that the U.S. deserves to be at the highest level of competition and be able to compete amongst the best, so I was just happy to contribute to that.”

 

When his collegiate running career came to an end, Merber moved back to the east coast and joined the New Jersey*New York Track Club led by legendary coach Frank Gagliano.

 

“He’s the reason why I joined the club in the first place,” Merber said. “The amount of years that he’s put in at this point, his experience and knowledge means so much that when he says something I know that I can trust it. I think that may be the best part of being an athlete of his is how much I enjoy the post-collegiate lifestyle and the transition from being a student into being a full-time athlete.”

 

That post-collegiate lifestyle Merber enjoys so much includes being the co-founder of the highly-successful Hoka One One Long Island Mile event that debuted last year, with 3,000 enthusiastic fans in attendance. The event featured 150 runners of all types, including four men who bettered the 4-minute mile barrier. Children and “fun-runners” made up the majority of the field that included highly accomplished runners and international competitors.  

 

“I grew up on Long Island as a huge track fan and through college I was working at Sayville Running Company during the summer selling shoes, and my boss at the time, Brendan Barrett, and I spent a lot of time sitting around just kind of throwing ideas out there about different events that we could put on to kind of help track and field, especially locally,” Merber said. “After turning pro and partnering up with Hoka, where we were both in a position in which it was possible, and we presented the idea to Hoka and they loved it, and gave me a lot of freedom to create the event that I wanted to and we had an awesome time. I’m still constantly hearing from kids and coaches in the area about how much fun it was and how much their teammates loved it, and we’re excited to do it again.”

 

As successful as last year’s inaugural Hoka One One event was, Merber believes this year’s event scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 31, will be even better.

 

“Last we had 150 people who came out and ran, but we had a lot of people who were under the impression that it was just an elite race, and this year we hope to get more people running because it is cool,” Merber said. “You have the opportunity to compare yourself on the same day and same time with many of the best in the country, and it’s a rare opportunity that I think a lot of people are happy to take advantage of.”

 

Merber believes that events like the Hoka One One are starting to appear more and more around the country, and that they serve as a great opportunity for the sport to present itself to potential fans and participants.  

 

“I’ve attended multiple other grass root market mile races, which it’s really just about community involvement in a smaller market that the meet director is familiar with and can present it in a more friendly manner and in a more intimate way, and every single time I’ve competed whether it be at Furman where they put on a 1500m race down in South Carolina or the Sir Walter Mile or the Michigan Mile -- they really connect with the fans in a way that you don’t necessarily get at a major championship race.

 

“Last year it was a lot of work, particularly for those last couple of weeks leading in. Hopefully, now with the infrastructure in place and the fact that we’ve done it once before, that this year there won’t be quite as much. It’s definitely a labor of love.”

 

For additional information on the 2016 Hoka One One Long Island Mile at St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington Station, Long Island, New York, including details on how to join the fun by registering to run at this unique event, visit: www.longislandmile.com.

 

Contributed by Tom Surber

 

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