5/27/01 at the Prefontaine Classic, Eugene OR

the HS mile record in a broader sense

a former runner is inspired
to write about Webb's mile


by Hunter Peress

(I ran in HS and in college, but I messed up my ankle too much in HS, and the hard college schedule really imbalanced my bodily mechanics. I have been coming to DyeStat since the beginning and I am an avid track fan. I have never published anything before, but I felt inspired by Alan Webb's mile. I happened to have a Kenyan roomate this year at school and he would tell me the stories of how hard some people try to succeed in that country, running or academics. Webb is a great example that we can succeed as well. I truly hope he pulls other runners along with him.)

Alan Webb just ran a 3:53.43 mile. This mark shatters the United States national high school record by a whopping 2 seconds. To add to the hype is the fact that Webb's time replaces a record that withstood 34 years worth of highschoolers. According to a list of sub-4 minute milers at runnersworld, over 235 U.S. runners had run faster than Webb before this race. By the time today's Prefontaine classic mile was over, Webb's 3:53 placed him as the 19th fastest man in this country to cover 1609 meters.

Keep in mind the race of choice today is the 1500 meters, and a lot of talent gets poured into that; this does not make it easy to compare our middle distance runners' accomplishments. Regardless, with a 1500 meter conversion, Webb's time is one that is worthy of representing the U.S. on an international level.

The mile is still an accepted standard, and Alan's 3:53 is a very high caliber, world-class time. It's the fastest mile by any form (junior,collegiate, and beyond) of US runner in 3 years. Also in today's race was Bryan Berryhill (3:55.01) the indoor NCAA champion who probably didnt even know who he was being passed by Webb until the race was over.

Given that athletics is a sport that only rewards years of hard work and determination, and taking all of Webb's accomplishment into consideration, some strange thoughts could come to mind like: "Should we be emabarrassed that a high schooler can make our pros look bad?"

This is a valid question, and it does not have a simple answer. First is that the US has very few professional runners. After parting with an educational institution, a runner must find some other profession to sustain his or herself. It's not like this everywhere else. I remember reading about the victory of Sydney olympic gold medalist (400h) Angelo Taylor and on the side how he accepted a coaching position at a college. Where else would that matter but here, where running is a profession with limited positions. I also remember reading about Barbados native Obadele Thompson and Sydney olympic silver medalist (100m); he received a BMW and an offer for an ambassadorship.

I am not going to finish answering the question as you can make your own opinion, but I do think there is another interesting question to explore: "how good is Webb's 3:53?". It's the best U.S highschool time ever. It's the best U.S time in 3 years. Alan Webb has broken so many records so fast, and impressed so many people in today's race that his performance leaves us dazzled but also questioning for more. He needs to be compared, and that is what I am going to do.

Is Alan Webb's time the best in the world for his age? No, other runners at his age have been running as well and better. Noah Ngeny has the current world junior record of 3:50.41.

How does Alan compare to some of the other world greats? His U.S forefather in the mile, Jim Ryun, progressed over the high school spring season to 3:55. In his freshman year of college he set the mile world record of 3:51.1 and also the half in 1:44.9. Sebastian Coe, sprouted to this level with a 3:48 and change at age 20. Noah Ngeny ran 3:50 at age 18 and 3:43 at age 20. Just to name a few.

Another reason Webb's time stands out is that collegiate runners race a lot. They don't always have the chance to go for the records and impressive times as their team's record is more of importance than personal glory. Racing on a college schedule is simply tiring. What about our pros (officially "amateurs" because athletics is not a profession here)? Lately, our college students like Gabe Jennings and Michael Stember have stepped up to be the U.S middle distance reps. This country does have a group of good amateurs as well, but they just are not too famous. Hopefully that will change with time.

Webb and his coach clearly know and practice an important routine. Aside from making things fun, it's the careful combination of speedwork and endurance that make a good middle distance runner. Webb and his South Lakes teammates demonstrated a week and a half ago that they had speed to go along with their endurance. Basically, as Peter Coe (Seb Coe's father, coach and author of "Better Training for Distance Runners") taught: if you teach your legs to twitch fast then a lot of the work is done for you.

One thing that I have not mentioned, but you already know, is that Alan Webb ran a personal record today. That is one of the highlights of this sport. There is a reason we choose to run and stick with our teams to better ourselves; I really think this ability is a gift, and each gift is sort of different. Whether or not you choose to do it for highschool or for the rest of your life; while you are running, jumping and throwing, keep Steve Prefontaine's powerful words in mind: "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice your gift".

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