Only approximately 109 meters separate two similar, yet different, track and field events, the 1500 meters and the mile. That distance alone is just one difference between the mid-distance races. Here's a breakdown of the differences between the 1500 meters and the mile.
The most notable difference is the measurements between the mile and the 1500 meters. As the name suggests, the 1500 meters is... 1500 meters. Meanwhile, the mile has to be converted into metric units, where it makes up 1609.344 meters. That's about a 109-meter difference.
The standard outdoor track is 400 meters in distance. For the 1500 meters, the race takes three-and-three-quarter laps. For the mile, the race takes slightly more than four laps.
Starting point (outdoors)
The 1500 meters starts at the end of the near turn, 300 meters away from the finish line.
The mile starts slightly behind the finish line, to account for the 9.344-meter difference over four laps.
Here are the common splits for both the 1500 and mile
- 300m, 700m, 1100m
- 400m, 800m, 1200m
In the NCAA Championships, the mile and 1500 meters are both championship events. The mile is run at the indoor championships, while the 1500 meters is run at the outdoor championships.
Before the Olympics, there was not a global standard between countries for track and field events or measurements. However, at the first Olympics in 1896, the 1500 meters was the event selected over the mile. It's been that way since, making the 1500 meters the international event of choice.
When the Olympics headed to Paris in 1900, the 1500 meters was run on a 500-meter track, the French preference for a track's distance. The 500-meter track made the 1500 meters a perfect three laps around the track. Even with the 500-meter track, the 100, 200, 400 and 800-meter races were still run.
Despite the Olympics having the 1500 meters as its event, the mile remained a staple in the United States. Many US tracks were constructed to an exact quarter-mile distance of 440 yards or 402.336 meters through the mid to late 1970s, making the mile a perfect four laps around the track. However, When USA Track and Field underwent metrification in 1974, more tracks became 400 meters, creating an approximate nine-meter difference between four laps and a mile.
The mile gained historical significance thanks to the barriers surrounding the time it took to finish the race. The four-minute mile was at one point thought to be an impossible barrier; that was until Roger Bannister became the first man to run a sub-four-minute mile in 1954.
Even with the current world record (as of June 27, 2022) set at 3 minutes and 43 seconds in 1999, the four-minute mile remains an important threshold for athletes running the event today.
The differences between the 1500 meters and the mile also extend on an international scale.
The mile is a product of the imperial measurement system, while the 1500 meters is part of the metric system. Only three countries — the United States, Liberia and Myanmar — use the imperial measurement system primarily, with the United Kingdom using a mixture of both systems.
With much of the world using the metric system, 1500 meters is a smoother number than 1609 meters, since 1500 meters equates to 1.5 kilometers.
Moreover, depending on where an athlete grew up running, one race may feel slightly different than running the other, thanks to those 109 meters.
At the Olympics, every event except one is in metric units. The marathon is the only event in the imperial measurement system, measuring 26.2 miles.