A STRONG COURSE
TOWARDS THE FAST TRACK
by Pearl Watts
After speaking to and also watching Alan Webb race at the Penn Relays
this past April, the one word which seemed to best describe his demeanor
to me was confused.
The then University of Michigan freshman had finished a highly
successful cross country campaign the previous fall. A leg injury during
the indoor season caused Webb to redshirt that campaign and the recovery
process leading into the outdoor season seemed to be put on fast forward.
Webb's performances at Penn included a less than scintillating time of
around 4 minutes for his 1,600 meter anchor leg in the distance medley
relay and about 1:50 in the 4x800 relay; times which would have pleased
him and the crowd and did two years earlier as a high school junior, but
which left serious doubts as to how things were now progressing.
Webb then culminated his first and final year of collegiate running with
a fourth place finish at the NCAA Championships in the 1,500 run where
had the lead with less than 100 meters to go but did not seem to have
either the physical or mental stamina to protect that lead down the
A lot has gone on since the NCAA's this past June in the indoor and
outdoor high school mile record holder's life, much documented, which
included Webb's leaving Michigan, signing a professional contract with
Nike, enrolling at George Mason University and reuniting with his former
high school coach Scott Raczko.
Now, in speaking with Webb in the last week, the word confused seems to
have been replaced by the words confident and content for the former South
Lakes High standout as he starts his fall training schedule.
Webb's mileage is currently in the mid-30 mile range with an increase
the 50 to 60 mile range per week by the time the winter months roll
around. Webb may then approach the low 60's in the spring, but there
should be no major fluctuations in the mileage count according to Raczko,
although the intensity and type of training will obviously vary as time
Webb is spending many of his training sessions at Burke Lake Park, which
contains a nice 4.6 mile loop around the lake and contains within its
confines the 2.98 mile high school cross country course which has been
used for local district and regional competition since 1974 and for which
Webb ran 9:10 through two miles enroute to the course record of 13:57
Webb said, "it's a great, natural place to train. It's such a nice
setting around the lake. There is hardly ever any wind and plenty of grass
and shade. It also has mile markers and undulating hills, which also
makes it a very good place for a tempo run."
As could be guessed with Webb's focus for this next year being in the
months of May through August, the early fall workouts devised by Raczko
are strength building and base building. Webb said, "it's not just
which is involved in the workout; I'm building core strength and general
strength. Plenty of body weight training such as pushups and bar dips.
couldn't tell you if I'm ahead or behind last year at this time as far
running shape but that is not what matters now. Instead, I'm excited about
the long term buildup we're doing. I have never had the opportunity to
plan out a whole year before. Now the racing will be plugged into the
training rather than the training geared towards the racing."
Webb added, "with the focus now being long range, I can take things
slower and more evenly. I shouldn't have to strain to improve, just take
it up a notch every couple of weeks in the training. Before, even if the
focus in cross country was basically for one race such as Foot Locker
Nationals in high school or the NCAA Championships in college, there are
still other races prior to them that you have to be somewhat ready for.
You can only be so sharp when you have to push yourself to go in some
and late season races because it is about the same amount of effort for
each one. For example, I was pushing just as hard going 3:59 indoors as
was 3:53 outdoors in high school. A big time difference due to the time
year, racing conditions and shape I was in, but the same amount of
Webb said, "now instead of focusing on an early season race, I am
to treat the workouts as a race. I'm working on my rhythm now and on being
A recent workout for Webb at Burke Lake included a 25 minute tempo run.
Seems like small potatoes for someone with their sights set on qualifying
for the U.S. World Championship squad in 2003 and the Olympics in 2004
the 25 minute tempo was just part of a two and a half hour workout
according to coach Scott Raczko.
Raczko said, "a lot goes on in a typical Alan Webb workout. It will
start with a half mile jog and then at least 35-40 minutes of stretching,
both static and dynamic. Alan will also do some form drills and
acceleration drills within the stretching routine and then a ten minute
warmup run before going into his tempo workout. That will usually be a
tempo up and a tempo down followed by more stretching and general strength
work after the run."
Webb said, "there are so many things to be gained from strength and
flexiblility workouts as part of the whole running process. Even though
I'm just running 30 miles a week or so, that doesn't mean anything right
now. I still have plenty of things to focus on in the workouts and chances
to push myself, especially in the "pedestal strength" workouts.
pedestal workouts are very tough now but by the spring I should be able
do those same workouts much easier. That will make me much stronger and
then I should be able to concentrate and improve on my running interval
Raczko said, "we're also going to add hurdle stretches three times
week in addition to some medicine ball, wobble board and light plyometric
work and also some longer interval workouts in the next couple of weeks.
Alan's just going once a day now and we will just keep adding one little
thing at a time such as more drills, more dynamic flexibility and more
general strength work after the runs. That will ultimately lead into a
second daily session in the fall. We're both on the same page as to the
volume of work to be done in the next couple of years. That may alter
bit depending on how things are going, but you have to have some kind
plan for starters."
As far as what races are next in store for Webb throughout the 2002-03
running calendar, both Webb and Raczko are slightly evasive on the
subject. Webb said, "I'm ready to race when coach says and I'm mentally
ready to race at any time.The strength building I'm doing now is permanent
and it will enable me to compete anytime and especially next summer."
Raczko said, "there is no urgency to have Alan race right now. He
run one or two low key cross country races (less than 10k) this fall if
it's the right thing to do at that time; date and site not yet
Raczko added, "indoors will also be low key, although there should
least an 800 and also 1,500/mile race. There will be no specific time
but Alan will be a different runner by then. He should run well in his
indoor races. Whether it is a fast run or a racing situation will be
determined by Alan but just abut anytime you line up, it's a race."
Webb is not then expected to line up for the outdoor season until May
but Raczko stated he should have plenty of opportunities to ge his U.S.
National Championships qualifier before that meet in late June and may
travel part of the U.S. outdoor circuit, although nothing as yet is
definite with that.
Currently, Webb has now just finished his first full week as a student
at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA which is about ten miles from
his home in Reston. The sophomore is still undecided on his major but
taking a full course load of 15 hours and was able to get all the classes
he wanted, so he fortunately will not have to adjust his workout time
schedule this semester.
Webb said, "I'm excited about school, it should be fun. I've lived
this area for 16 years. I know the area and the people. I feel like I
more manueverability around here and a certain comfort level. I will be
able to concentrate on the two things that matter most, school and