For Alan Webb, The Battle Continues On The Track

The American-record holder continues to struggle.

The American-record holder continues to struggle.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

EUGENE, ORE. — After collecting his warm-up clothes, Alan Webb walked through the mixed zone Saturday night at Hayward Field after completing his 1500m race on the first of two days of the Prefontaine Classic. He had spent most of the race at the back of the field, eventually finishing 10th of 11 men in 3:45.59, a time only slightly faster than his American record for the mile, 3:46.91, which he ran nearly six years ago in Belgium.

A group of reporters gathered at the rail to speak to Webb, 30. It was clear he wasn’t excited to speak again about the status of his career, but as an old pro he knows the drill.

“First of all, it was windy,” Webb began, choosing his words carefully. “To be honest, it’s not terrible. I’m not terribly disappointed. That’s the way the 1500m goes; you make one mistake and it costs you a couple of seconds. For me right now, I was thinking I could run 3:42-ish, so if I hadn’t made that mistake, I think I’d be pretty close to that.”

Twelve years ago on this same track, Webb ran in the prestigious Bowerman Mile, the marquis race of the Prefontaine Classic. Still a prep athlete at South Lakes High School in Reston, Va., Webb clocked 3:53.43 breaking Jim Ryun’s 36 year-old high school record and running the fastest mile by an American of any age since Steve Holman clocked 3:53.02 in 1998. In that race he passed through 1500m in 3:38.26, which would have won Saturday’s race.

Since then, Webb had a brief collegiate career at the University of Michigan before turning pro and going back to his high school coach, Scott Raczko. The pair had a sometimes tumultuous relationship, and although he ran his American mile record and a 3:30.54 1500m under Raczko, they eventually parted ways. Webb went on to be coached by Alberto Salazar, Jason Vigilante and is now in Jerry Schumacher’s Nike-sponsored group in Portland, Ore., 110 miles north of Eugene. He’s married and has a young daughter, Joanie.

Webb has not made a national team since 2007 when he won the USA 1500m title and finished 8th in the IAAF World Championships in Osaka. He said this weekend that he is unlikely to compete in the USA Outdoor Championships later this month in Des Moines, joking that his wife, Julia, a steeplechaser, had a better chance of making the meet than he did.

“Maybe I’ll go and commentate,” he quipped.

To some, Webb’s illustrious career is over, but not to Webb. When he was introduced last night the crowd at Hayward gave him their loudest cheer of all the men in his event. Those cheers gave Webb at least one reason to stay in the game.

“It’s unbelievable,” Webb said choking up and finally showing a smile. “You know, I haven’t been tearing it up, exactly, I realize that. But, it’s not for lack of effort. I’m trying. Hopefully, they appreciate that. It’s a special place.”

Under Schumacher, Webb is learning a different kind of training, so it’s hard for him to compare workouts from years ago under Raczko. He’s putting his faith in the methodical Schumacher, and figures that if he keeps working at it, the improvements will come. He’s trying to remain patient.

“One benefit that I have is that I am in a totally different system than I was before,” Webb explained. “It’s such different workouts I really can’t compare them; it’s just structured so much differently. It’s good for me to kind of being starting over in a different system. I have a whole new system for personal records for different kinds of workouts.”

Webb said he’ll focus on the 5000m this summer, and he is doing the kind of workouts that support that goal. He’s run two 5000’s so far this year: 13:37.68 at Stanford on April 28 and 13:46.53 at Occidental College on May 17. To qualify for the national meet, Webb would need a 13:30.00 to be guaranteed a starting position (he still can qualify provisionally under the looser “B” standard of 13:52.00). He said that training with Schumacher’s group, which includes Chris Solinsky, Dan Huling, Andrew Bumbalough, Evan Jaeger, Lopez Lomong, Chris Derrick, and Matt Tegenkamp, has really helped him to keep going. Clearly, he’s grateful for the chance.