Don’t expect Bile to take his time in the Penn Relays mile Friday at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. In a race that demands strategy, Bile has been studying film of his opponents and preparing himself physically. He is an unflinching running machine, and big-meet racing is in his blood. His Somali father, Abdi Bile, won the world 1,500 meters title in 1987 in Rome.
The son is a sturdy 6 feet 3, all legs, with a kick as efficient as the wheel. When to use it, however, is one of the keys to victory.
“I feel like I’m fit enough,” Bile, the reigning All-Met cross-country Athlete of the Year, says. “I can handle it.”
Over its 117-year history, more athletes have run at Penn Relays than at any single meet in the world. More spectators have watched the meet than any other in the world except the Olympics and the world championships. Penn Relays is undoubtedly the biggest stage local athletes will compete on this season.
Though Bile (pronounced “BEE-lay”), a Georgetown signee, has never run in the meet, he has inherited some of his old man’s moxie. In the 800 at the 2011 indoor and outdoor national championships, he finished third and fourth, respectively.
To help prepare him, Annandale Coach Dave O’Hara puts Bile through grueling daily practices. Bile doesn’t run as many miles as most other distance runners, only about 35 per week, but what he lacks in volume he makes up for in intensity.
“My coach, he’s really good at just creating that race atmosphere,” Bile said. “We do a certain amount of intervals just to get my legs tired. Then the real workout starts.”
Practices that are often harder than the actual races not only test the limits of Bile’s body, but also his mind. He studies online videos of the runners he’ll be racing on Friday. Some will kick early. Others will kick late. Bile dissects all of their tendencies.
Two years ago, the Penn Relays mile was won in 4 minutes 8.07 seconds. Distance racing becomes a blur at Franklin Field — the noise on the track from a crowd of 40,000 can be deafening and the competition is elite. Thinking and adjusting while running at a vigorous pace depletes the brain’s oxygen levels and can gut a runner’s confidence.
It happened to Bile during a race in December. The leaders surged together during the middle of Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego. Bile didn’t go with them and he wound up finishing twelfth. It was a disappointing result, but it taught him a lesson he has taken to heart.
“It’s mostly mental,” Bile says. “There’s always that moment in the race where you say to yourself ‘I’m just too tired.’ It just comes down to who can suck up the pain the most.”
Developing a substantial pain threshold is a relatively new part of Bile’s training regimen. Three years ago, he spent a lot of time kicking the soccer ball around. He earned a spot on the Atoms’ JV squad as a freshman.