The mile holds a special place in track & field, even if metric measurements have long been the norm for the sport. Ask a friend how long it would take them to run 3,000 meters, and you’ll get a blank stare. Ask the same person how long it would take to finish a mile, and you’ll at least get a response.
“I tell people what my 1,500-meter time is, and they just kind of look at me. But everyone recognizes the mile,” said Danny Lancaster a sophomore member of Montreat’s cross-country and track & field teams. Increasingly, his opponents are recognizing Lancaster as well, particularly the back of his navy singlet.
The Wilmington native broke Montreat’s indoor mile record earlier this month at a meet at East Tennessee State’s Buccaneer Invitational. He trimmed a full seven seconds off his old mark to set the new school indoor standard of 4:32.59 minutes. Outdoors, he’s run below 4:30 and is shaping up as the “Mountain Miler” that may well put the Black Mountain region on the map at the storied distance.
Lancaster attended Wilmington’s Eugene Ashley High School on the North Carolina coast. With the Black Mountain region’s elevation ranging roughly from 2,000 to 3,000-plus feet, the increase in altitude is having some beneficial impact on Lancaster’s training, even if limited.
Heights of 3,000-4,000 feet are generally regarded as the starting point for the impact of less oxygen on a runner’s performance, but a 2008 study of the effects of running and altitude study showed that it may start at 2,000 feet. Runners will often train at higher altitudes to experience oxygen-depleted air and then reap the benefit when they return to lower ground.
When asked if he could feel the altitude making a difference compared to the thick Low Country air he encountered back home, he smiled and said “I don’t know about the altitude, but I can definitely feel the hills around here.”
The sophomore was alluding to what is a bane (during workouts) and ultimately a blessing (during meets) for the Cavaliers. The area’s countless hills offer runners unmatched ability to build leg strength and stamina. Montreat also has the benefit of – when hosting meets – running on the college’s cross-country course and soon-to-be-completed track at the College’s Black Mountain campus. The comparatively level terrain of cross country courses and flat track & field loops provide an unseen tailwind to the Cavaliers.
Lancaster comes from a talented running family. His father Joe was an ultramarathoner, and his mother Kim plied her trade at 800 meters. “My father used to have me run around the backyard while he trained,” said Lancaster. Given his father’s preferred distances, Danny has thousands of backyard laps on his running resume.
His older brother Brien is a junior distance ace at Georgia’s Shorter University. Brien recently posted a 4:32.76 in a January indoor mile. The younger Lancaster temporarily holds coveted bragging rights of a slim .17 seconds over his brother.
“I get the privilege of digging beneath the surface of his talent and trying to draw it out. Just being a sophomore, he’s making good progress, so I think he’s not content with a 4:32,” said Jason Lewkowicz, Montreat’s Director of Cross Country/Track & Field. “That’s a good indicator he’s got his sights set on bigger things. A sub 4-minute 1,500 (meters) is definitely a goal.”
Lancaster has his sights on bigger things away from the track as well. As a Bible and Religion major with a minor in Worship Arts at Montreat, he was drawn to the college as “I feel God opened the door for me to be here.”
His response is immediately reminiscent of a quote by another great runner from the hills, Eric Liddell – the 1924 400-meter British gold medalist featured in the movie “Chariots of Fire.” He later became a missionary in China, and during the Japanese invasion of World War II gave his life while tending to prisoners.
“You will know as much of God, and only as much of God, as you are willing to put into practice,” said Liddell.