Could the mile race be just the thing to entice new runners?

If running coach Ben Rosario is correct, witnessing elite milers clock in around the 4-minute range will inspire the rank and file to go out and try it for themselves.

Rosario, a St. Louis native who trains a racing team in Flagstaff, Ariz., is behind the Festival of Miles charity track competition being held at St. Louis University High School. For its ninth year, a second day of events has been added: the Riverfront Mile, four races starting at Laclede’s Landing and ending on the south steps of the Gateway Arch.

“We’re hopeful people will latch onto the idea they can run a mile after seeing the excitement at the festival,” said Rosario, 36.

The track event started in 2008 as a fundraiser for St. Louis University runner Brigette Schutzman, who had been badly injured in a car accident.

“We didn’t want to do a typical 5K road race,” Rosario said. Those 3.1-mile runs are popular fundraisers: There are 8.3 million held each year in the United States, according to Running USA.

That first Festival of Miles drew 100 or so competitors, from high school through professional level. Thumping rock music pulsated from speakers. A thousand people, who had paid $5 each, rose to their feet as each fleet of racers flashed down the final stretch of the track — shoulder to shoulder, legs flying past the finish line.

A check for $9,000 was written to Schutzman, to help with her medical expenses. The Festival of Miles was a success.

“We thought it was going to be a one-time thing,” Rosario said. But a teenage high jumper was paralyzed in an accident the following summer; the nonprofit officially was in the annual event-throwing business.

By last summer’s races, 2,500 spectators were packing the stands at SLUH. An overflow of children trotted back and forth across the infield grass to cheer the runners on each of their four laps. About 150 of those youngsters had started the evening with their own cross-campus mile, finishing up on the track.

The open-registration elementary and middle school miles are followed by 10 competitive races broken up by a mascot dash — one lap around the track by high schoolers clad in tiger, bear and Junior Billiken suits.

St. Louis native Dan Quigley, who now trains in Eugene, Ore., is returning for his second festival, a month ahead of the Olympic trials.

Quigley, 27, is looking forward to racing in front of a swell of hometown fans. “It’s a very electric atmosphere,” Quigley said. “At many professional track meets, there is hardly anyone in the stands. It can be lonely.

“But the atmosphere at the Festival of Miles makes you compete at your best level.”

It will also inspire everyday runners and nonrunners alike to make their own 5,280-foot trek, said Festival of Miles board member Carter Snow, a track coach at Parkway North High School.

Longer races — from 5Ks to marathons — “are awesome,” said Snow, 34. “It’s a big accomplishment, but it requires so much dedication.”

For a mile run, “you can be in great shape and run it really fast, or you can be a brand new runner,” he said.

And the mile as a race distance is gaining in popularity. According to Running USA, 113,000 people participated in mile road races last year, an increase of 64 percent from 69,000 in 2010. More mile races were held in the U.S. than marathons last year, 1,350 compared to 1,100.

Ryan Lamppa of Santa Barbara, Calif., is one of the distance’s biggest champions. Lamppa, who coached track at St. Louis Country Day School in the mid-1980s, launched a campaign called Bring Back the Mile in 2012.

“The mile is so embedded in American culture,” said Lamppa, 56. “The near-ideal fitness distance is the mile. Ten or 15 minutes of running and people get a health and fitness benefit.”

According to a study published in 2014 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, running 10 minutes a day four or five times a week is associated with a reduced risk of death.

To Rosario, the Festival of Miles founder, “It’s just fun. You can run with wild abandon.

“For a mile, you just want to get out there and see how fast you can do it.”

Sometimes, it takes a dangling carrot to get people to exercise. And sometimes that dangling carrot is actually a doughnut.

The Riverfront Mile is four races: a recreational “friends and family” mile, a race for women and a race for men followed by the Strange Donuts Mile.

Participants in the last of the Riverfront Mile’s events will put their stomachs to the test, devouring four Strange Donuts over the course of a mile. Runners won’t be able to leave the designated “donut zone” — one at the race’s start and one at each quarter-mile mark — until the powdered-sugar pastry has gone down the gullet.

Jason Bockman, owner of Strange Donuts, said the shop will be delivering 2,000 cake doughnuts for the 500 expected racers on what’s already a baking bonanza: National Donut Day.

“But I couldn’t pass it up,” Bockman said. “Part of the registration benefits Strange Cares,” the doughnut shop’s nonprofit arm.

Bockman recommends tossing aside any calorie concerns and downing the doughnuts with abandon. “Once it hits your lips, forget about it. It’s gone!” he said.