Ahmed Bile, the area’s top miler, simply waited too long to make his move. Every instinct was telling him to go. But he held back.
By the time the Annandale senior worked up enough courage to ask the girl he liked to the prom, a buddy beat him to it.
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.
Bile, who was born in New Mexico and moved to the area in 2001, only joined the cross-country and indoor track teams as a sophomore because his father recommended it. They were a good way to build his endurance, Abdi said.
He saw rapid improvements in the 1,000. His first time out he ran 2:48. Two races later at the Northern Region championships he was runner-up in 2:36.
In the three short years since he started running, Bile has won two AAA state titles in the 1,000; a 1,600 meters title (4:09.48); and two state cross-country championships. He has covered so much ground in so little time.
“He reads the race really, really well and times his effort,” said Chantilly Coach Matt Gilchrist, whose Chargers compete in the Concorde District and region against Annandale. “There’s no wasted energy. Ahmed doesn’t show any real weaknesses.
“In the end he’s going to walk away as one of the greatest athletes the region has ever seen. I hope people appreciate just how good a three-sport athlete he really is.”
Abdi appreciates just how well his son is developing, but mostly from afar. He spends much of his time these days 8,000 miles away in Somalia. His homeland lies on the eastern shoulder of Africa and it has been torn apart by war and poverty. Abdi, the first Somali to win a gold medal in a world-class event, is hoping to put it back together through his efforts with Somali Comprehensive Development Association, a non-profit he helped establish that focuses on creating youth development programs.
Development becomes less of a thing when he talks about the athletic growth of his son. He considers it a delicate matter that shouldn’t be rushed and praises his wife of 22 years, Shadia Hajinur, for doing the lion’s share of the work when it comes to raising their three children.
“The whole credit goes to her,” Abdi, a two-time NCAA 1,500 meters champion at George Mason, said. “I have a small role. She made him the person he is.
“In terms of athletics, I see many possibilities for Ahmed. But all those possibilities need patience. They need no pushing at this point. Right now, I want him to not overtrain, get an education and, you know, enjoy life.”