History Lesson – How a 3:53 Became Reality

Track and field is in the air, which has brought me back to thinking about the mile. Another year is here and another chance for records to be broken. All I can say is –  high school milers (and girls who aren’t named Mary Cain or Alexa Efraimson)- good luck touching the national ones! Current girls mile record is 4:24.11 by Mary in ’14. Alan’s 3:53.43 has stood since ’01.

Most people who don’t live under a rock who have any interest in track and field have heard or seen the clip about the 3:53.43 mile performance.  As a senior in high school (2001) Alan went on to break the 36 year old standing record Jim Ryun had set generations earlier (3:55.3). To many (especially high school runners who take themselves seriously)- that time 3:53-  may seem like insanity. Watching it still gives me chills as Alan motored down the field closing in a 55.3 last lap… If you just came out from under the rock watch it here.


Alan celebrating earlier in 2001 after setting another record with South Lakes teammates and coach Scott Raczko (photo by dyestat)

What I found even more shocking (maybe because I hadn’t known about it) was the performance (in the form of a mile, 400, 800 triple) he displayed 10 days prior to setting that record. Most people like me were like, WOW he just showed up and ran an 6 second PR off of the record breaking 3:59 mile he ran indoors. How did that happen? Thanks to Steve Webb, Alan’s dad, he dug up an old article about the “triple” earlier this year when his retirement to track had been announced.

So here it is– by Pearl Watts

Alan Webb Triples in 80 Minutes @ Virginia Concorde Districts

May 17, 2001
The seemingly impregnable high school mile record by Jim Ryun of 3:55.3 set
in 1965 looks to be in the realm of possibility, if not probability, after
the performance on Thursday night by Alan Webb of South Lakes.
The Webbmaster, scheduled to run in the Prefontaine Classic featured mile
run in Eugene, Oregon on May 27, turned in what looks to be the most
masterful performance of his high school career after winning three district
titles in the space of one hour and twenty minutes at the Concorde District
Championships held at Thomas Jefferson High School.
1600 meters
Running in virtually calm conditions with temperatures hovering in the
comfortable mid-60’s range, Webb won his first race of the evening, the 1,600
run, in an impressive time of 4:06.74. Even more impressive was the fashion
in which it was accomplished.
The lead pack of junior Richard Smith of South Lakes, senior Matt Maline of
Oakton, junior Phil Gaeta of Oakton and smooth striding sophomore Rasheed
Thompson from Herndon went through the first 800 meters in 2:06-2:07 with
Webb trailing the pack by 50 meters.
Webb hit the 800 mark in 2:14, looked down at his watch; clicked it and
then took off. Webb caught the pack within 300 meters and then left the pack
behind, running 55 seconds on his third lap and 57 on his final lap for an
eye popping negative split of 2:14-1:52. Smith of South Lakes,
the 1,200 leadoff leg at the Penn Relays for the
Seahawks and sub 1:53 third leg carry at Penn for the winning 4×800 team, ran
a personal best of 4:14.91 for second. Gaeta chopped nine seconds off his
personal best with his third place time of 4:17.41 with Maline, a member of
the U.S. Junior National Cross Country Team running 4:17.75 for fourth.
Thompson of Herndon subtracted thirteen seconds off his previous personal
best as he ran 4:17.79 for fifth as five runners ducked below 4:18 from a
district containing seven schools.
400 meters
Webb then came back 45 minutes later and overtook his South Lakes teammate
Richard Smith on the homestretch in the 400 dash to win in a fairly
comfortable 49.29 with Smith also impressive in second at 49.49.
800 meters
Thirty five minutes after the 400, Webb lined up for the 800 run and turned
in his fastest open two lapper ever as he led through the first 400 in 55
seconds and then went sub 55 on the second lap to win in 1:49.53. Smith
completed an outstanding triple of his own after grabbing second place in
1:55.21 with Gaeta of Oakton third in 1:56.24.
Maline of Oakton capped a nice double with his win in the 3,200 run at
9:25.50 and Gaeta split 49.2 in his third race of the evening as the anchor
of Oakton’s 4×400 relay.
The Plan
South Lakes coach Scott Raczko said, “the plan in the 1,600 was to go 2:12
for the first 800 and 2:00 on the second 800, but Alan exceeded the
expectations on that. In the 800, the original plan was to just win in about
1:55 but after Alan had looked so comfortable in the first two races it was
decided to go for it in the 800. Webb will have a light workout on Monday and
then should be ready for the Pre Classic with a lot of confidence.”
Webb said, “I’m really happy about the 800. I had never broken 1:50 in an
open race and that had been one of my goals this season.”

This week I will go after a personal barrier of my PR (4:31) in the 1500m at the Willamette West Coast Invite. I am only looking to run 71s  (that’s a full 6 seconds slower PER lap than a high schooler has ran). Yet even so, I have no shame in getting excited that this is a special opportunity for me! To feel like you are ready for a PR in any distance when you have been competing for over a decade is something I am not taking for granted.  I respect the freaks of nature like Mary and Alan. I’ll keep sharing more stories thru this blog. Thanks for reading!


Enroute to a PR last summer at 1500m (equal to a 4:53.2 mile). Alan the high schooler has 1 minute on me!


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