The history of the mile run event began in England, where it was used as a distance for gambling races. It survived track and field's switch to metric distances in the 1900s and retained its popularity, with the chase for the four-minute mile in the 1950s a high point for the race.
In spite of the roughly equivalent 1500 metres race, the mile run is present in all fields of athletics and it remains the only imperial distance for which the IAAF records an official world record. Although the mile does not feature at any major championship competition, the Wanamaker Mile, Dream Mile, and Bowerman Mile races are among the foremost annual middle-distance races indoors and outdoors, respectively.
The distance of the English mile gained its current definition of 5,280 feet through a statute of the Parliament of England in 1593. Thus, the history of the mile run began in England and it initially found usage within the wagered running contests of the 18th and 19th century. Such contests would attract large numbers of spectators and gamblers – so many that the activity became a professional one for its more-established participants.
The mile run was at the heart of the divide between professional and amateur sports in the late 19th century. Separate world record categories were kept for amateurs and professionals, with professional runners providing the faster times. High profile contests between Britons William Cummings and Walter George brought much publicity to the sport, as did George's races against the American Lon Myers. The mile run was also one of the foremost events at the amateur AAA Championships. The categories remained distinct but the respective rise in amateurism and decline of the professional sector saw the division become irrelevant in the 20th century.
The mile run continued to be a popular distance in spite of the metrication of track and field and athletics in general. It was the 1500 metres – sometimes referred to as the metric mile – which was featured on the Olympic athletics programme. The International Amateur Athletics Federation formed in 1912 and ratified the first officially recognised world record in the mile the following year (4:14.4 minutes run by John Paul Jones). The fact that the mile run was the only imperial distance to retain its official world record status after 1970 reflects its continued popularity in the international (and principally metric) era.
The top men's middle distance runners continued to compete in the mile run in the first half of the 1900s – Paavo Nurmi, Jack Lovelock and Sydney Wooderson were all world record holders over the distance. In the 1940s, Swedish runners Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson pushed times into a new territory, as they set three world records each during their rivalry over the decade. The act of completing a sub-four-minute mile sparked further interest in the distance in the 1950s. Englishman Roger Bannister became the first person to achieve the feat in May 1954 and his effort, conducted with the help of Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, was a key moment in the rise of the use of pacemakers at the top level of the sport – an aspect which is now commonplace at non-championship middle and long-distance races.
The 1960s saw American Jim Ryun set world records near the 3:50-minute mark and his achievements popularised interval workout techniques. From this period onwards, African runners began to emerge, breaking the largely white, Western dominance of the distance. Kenya's Kip Keino won the mile at the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games (which was among the last mile races to be held at a major multi-sport event). Filbert Bayi of Tanzania became Africa's first world record holder over the distance in 1975, although New Zealander John Walker broke the record further a few months later to become the first man under 3:50 minutes for the event. The 1980s was highlighted by the rivalry between British runners Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett, who improved the record five times between them, including two records at the Oslo Dream Mile race. Noureddine Morceli brought the mile record back into African hands in 1993 and Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj set the current record of 3:43.13, which has stood since 1999.
Mile run contests remain a key feature of many annual track and field meetings, with long-running series such as the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games, Dream Mile at the Bislett Games, the British Emsley Carr Mile, and the Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic being among the most prominent. Aside from track races, mile races are also occasionally contested in cross country running and mile runs on the road include the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York City
|World||3:43.13||Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR)||4:12.56||Svetlana Masterkova (RUS)|
|Africa||3:43.13||Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR)||4:18.23||Gelete Burka (ETH)|
|Asia||3:47.97||Daham Najim Bashir (QAT)||4:17.75||Maryam Yusuf Jamal (BHR)|
|Europe||3:46.32||Steve Cram (GBR)||4:12.56||Svetlana Masterkova (RUS)|
|North, Central America
|3:46.91||Alan Webb (USA)||4:16.71||Mary Slaney (USA)|
|Oceania||3:48.98||Craig Mottram (AUS)||4:22.66||Lisa Corrigan (AUS)|
|South America||3:51.05||Hudson de Souza (BRA)||4:30.05||Soraya Vieira Telles (BRA)|
|World||3:48.45||Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR)||4:17.14||Doina Melinte (ROM)|
|Africa||3:48.45||Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR)||4:23.33||Kutre Dulecha (ETH)|
|Asia||3:57.05||Mohamed Suleiman (QAT)||4:24.71||Maryam Yusuf Jamal (BHR)|
|Europe||3:49.78||Eamonn Coghlan (IRL)||4:17.14||Doina Melinte (ROM)|
|North, Central America
|3:49.89||Bernard Lagat (USA)||4:20.5||Mary Slaney (USA)|
|Oceania||3:51.46||Nick Willis (NZL)||4:24.14||Kim Smith (NZL)|
|South America||3:56.26||Hudson de Souza (BRA)||4:42.24||Valentina Medina (VEN)|
- Updated 12 June 2011.
All-time top ten
|1||3:43.13||Hicham El Guerrouj||Morocco||7 June 1999||Golden Gala|
|2||3:43.40||Noah Ngeny||Kenya||7 June 1999||Golden Gala|
|3||3:44.39||Noureddine Morceli||Algeria||5 September 1993||Rieti Meeting|
|4||3:46.32||Steve Cram||Great Britain||27 July 1985||Bislett Games|
|5||3:46.38||Daniel Komen||Kenya||28 August 1998||ISTAF Berlin|
|6||3:46.70||Vénuste Niyongabo||Burundi||28 August 1998||ISTAF Berlin|
|7||3:46.76||Saïd Aouita||Morocco||2 July 1987||Helsinki|
|8||3:46.91||Alan Webb||United States||21 July 2007||Brasschaat|
|9||3:47.28||Bernard Lagat||Kenya||29 June 2001||Golden Gala|
|10||3:47.32||Ayanleh Souleiman||Djibouti||31 May 2014||Prefontaine Classic|||
|1||4:12.56||Svetlana Masterkova||Russia||14 August 1996||Weltklasse Zürich|
|2||4:15.61||Paula Ivan||Romania||10 July 1989||Nice|
|3||4:15.8||Natalya Artyomova||Soviet Union||5 August 1984||Leningrad|
|4||4:16.71||Mary Slaney||United States||21 August 1985||Weltklasse Zürich|
|5||4:17.14 i||Doina Melinte||Romania||9 February 1990||East Rutherford|
|6||4:17.25||Sonia O'Sullivan||Ireland||22 July 1994||Bislett Games|
|7||4:17.33||Maricica Puica||Romania||21 August 1985||Weltklasse Zürich|
|8||4:17.57||Zola Budd||Great Britain||21 August 1985||Weltklasse Zürich|
|9||4:17.75||Maryam Yusuf Jamal||Bahrain||14 September 2007||Memorial van Damme|
|10||4:18.23||Gelete Burka||Ethiopia||7 September 2008||Rieti Meeting|
- As of January 2015.
Youth age records
|5||6:33.3||Daniel Skandera||United States||2 November 2007||23 July 2013||Santa Rosa|
|6||6:29.9||Joe O'Connor||United States||1973|||
|5:53.0||Kevin Knox||United States||16 December 1959||23 September 1967||Wasco|
|5:29.9||Mike McKinney||United States||19 September 1971||Silver Spring|
|5:36.6||Mike Assumma||United States||30 August 1963||3 June 1972||Bakersfield|
|5:33.1||Darren O’Dell||United States||9 June 1972||Roseville|
|9||5:19.1i||Mike Assumma||United States||30 August 1963||24 February 1973||Los Angeles|
|10||5:05.3||Nehemiah Skandera||United States||25 November 2002||23 July 2013||Santa Rosa|
|11||4:50.2||Charles Assuma||United States||3 March 1961||27 January 1973||Silver Spring|
|12||4:43.78||Ryan Silva||United States||27 June 1995||31 May 2008||Portland|
|13||4:29.0||Andrew Barnett||United Kingdom||22 June 1955||1 June 1969||London|
|14||4:19.73||Ryan Silva||United States||27 June 1995||12 June 2010||Portland|
|15||4:08.8||Jim Arriola||United States||10 June 1958||22 April 1972||Long Beach|
|4:06.7||Barrie Williams||United States||9 November 1955||22 April 1972||Arcadia|
|4:00.84||Abdalla Abdelgadir||Sudan||1987||15 August 2003||Dublin|||
|17||3:50.90||Hamza Driouch||Qatar||16 November 1994||7 June 2012||Oslo|||
|18||3:49.77||Caleb Ndiku||Kenya||9 October 1992||4 June 2011||Eugene|||
|19||3:49.29||William Biwott Tanui||Kenya||5 March 1990||3 July 2009||Oslo|||
|7||6:05.1||Kristina Wilson||United States||5 December 1963||5 June 1971|
|8||5:59.1||Anne Berry||United States||23 August 1963||30 July 1972|
|9||5:32.2||Renee Quigley||United States||28 December 1960||6 December 1970|
|5:17.1||Renee Quigley||United States||28 December 1960||23 October 1971|
|5:14.7||Sandra Beach||United States||25 March 1973|
|5:07.8||Sydney Tullai||United States||1 February 1999||22 January 2011||Downey|
|5:00.1||Davida Jackson||United States||12 June 1977|
|4:57.51i||Claudia Francis||United States||14 November 1993||12 March 2006||New York|
|4:54.4||Carol Lantry||United States||22 May 1976|
|13||4:48.8||Katharina Denz||Switzerland||9 September 1963||12 June 1977||Los Angeles|
|14||4:40.1 i||Mary Decker||United States||4 August 1958||16 March 1973||Richmond|
|15||4:36.0||Gunvor Hilde||Norway||13 November 1963||14 September 1979||London|
|16||4:28.25i||Mary Cain||United States||3 May 1996||16 February 2013||New York|
|17||4:24.11i||Mary Cain||United States||3 May 1996||24 Jan 2014||Boston|
|18||4:24.10i||Kalkidan Gezahegne||Ethiopia||8 May 1991||20 February 2010||Birmingham|
|19||4:17.57||Zola Budd||United Kingdom||26 May 1966||21 Aug 1985||Zurich|
- Mile (unit of measurement). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved on 2011-06-12.
- Bryant, John (2005). 3:59.4: The Quest to Break the 4 Minute Mile. Random House. ISBN 9780099469087.
- 12th IAAF World Championships In Athletics: IAAF Statistics Handbook (p. 546, 549–50). IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-06-12.
- World Outdoor Records. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-06-12.
- Mile - Introduction. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-06-12.
- 1954: Bannister breaks four-minute mile. BBC On This Day. Retrieved on 2011-06-12.
- Butcher, Pat (2004-05-04). Completely off pace. The Guardian. Retrieved on 2011-06-12.
- Commonwealth Games Medallists - Men. GBR Athletics. Retrieved on 2011-06-12.
- One Mile Records. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-06-12.
- "Bowerman Mile Results" (PDF). www.diamondleague-eugene.com. 31 May 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
- One Mile All Time. IAAF (2011-06-10). Retrieved on 2011-06-12.
- http://trackinfo.org/SingleAgeRecords.html Single Age Records by Dominique Eisold