Aaron Reed is “the guy from the band” in which Alan had 2 recent run-ins with. Back tracking to the early spring of 2013, Alan and the Schumacher crew, now Bowerman Track Club, were in Mammoth Lakes (Lopez Lomong, Shalane Flanagan, Chris Derrick, Evan Jager, Andrew Bumbalough, Elliot Heath). The group was getting ready to run as Aaron was rolling through enroute to Reno after his car was stolen in L.A. Aaron looks up and recognizes one runner, then another. As a fan of track & field, he is blown away by his idols, gets their autographs and hits the road.
Months later in early fall, Alan and I finally had an overnight sitter and planned a little date night in town. We checked into the White Eagle Saloon (our first pick of McMenamins hotels was sold out). The band playing was Monk. A couple songs in, the music stops and Aaron gives a shout out to a “guy in the audience who had greatly inspired him”. We didn’t realize he was talking about Alan til he mentioned him by name. It was Aaron on the guitar, playing with his old band, the Mammoth Lakes rest stop guy, in which Alan then recognized. We caught up with him post show and invited him for a run at Leif Erickson trail the following morning. Turns out he’s no slouch. He claims to have never ran fast in high school (2:02 for 800, 4:55 for 1600, 10:57 for 3200). He didn’t run in college, but still competes on the roads and trails. He’s not known for his running but his music. Recently his fastest 50K finish was in 4:13. This guy is not elite and never made it big on the track, but he can speak for many of the high school runners in Alan’s generation.
Here’s what Aaron Reed has to share on Alan’s influence (maybe Aaron will inspire Alan again to pursue his guitar skills):
I’m a track geek, always have been. I was, and still am not, the norm. Ever since my freshman year of high school cross country it has baffled me that the guys I run with know little to nothing about the professional realm of an activity in which they are obsessively competitive (ultra-runners aside). While the best distance runners on every track team I have been a part of couldn’t tell you who the top 10k guy in the world is, you can be sure that a high school quarterback can name you their top five football players of all time.
Part of the reason I feel that Americans don’t follow distance running like I do, is the lack of passion expressed by the top athletes in the country. Interviews are often as methodical and boring as the races, and too often athletes are content to finish second or third consistently; rather than, to borrow an expression from boxing, “leave it all in the ring.” However, since 2001 America has experienced a resurgence in distance running greatness after a nearly 20 year drought. Certain runners are learning to market themselves to a wider audience, and some professionals are finding that laying it all on the line may not ensure victory, but it endears you to fans of the sport and creates a mythological narrative which allows the sport to thrive. Fans want to see athletes win, or die trying. Fans don’t want to see athletes run to the best of their ability. Fans want winners, and some American athletes are starting to understand this.
The re-birth of American distance running can be traced back to a single moment in 2001; the day that an unassuming 18 year old kid from Reston, Virginia with a thirst for greatness brought down a record that many thought would never be broken. The kid showed sports fans across America that the oldest form of athletic competition know to man can still be one of the most exciting spectacles on Earth. The kid was Alan Webb, and the record was Jim Ryun’s 3:55 high school mile. I first heard about Alan Webb when I was 16 years old. My coach at the time told me about a sophomore from the east coast running a 4:06 mile. He wanted me to look him up because he was “chubby,” like me. While at 5’10” and 140 pounds I may not have agreed with how my high school cross-country coach saw me, but I definitely knew that I was not built like a runner. The first thing I noted about Alan when I saw pictures of him was that he looked more like a wrestler than a distance runner. “This guy ran 4:06?” I thought to myself. I became a fan right out the gate. I related to him. I would hear about these insane workouts this kid was doing and it inspired me. I was always the guy who started the season having run 800-900 miles over the summer. I was the guy who loved the mile repeats, quarter repeats, and long runs that everyone else dreaded. I wanted to be good so bad and I knew that with the kind of training Alan was doing, so did he. My frustration was that nobody really seemed to care about hard work or being great. My teammates didn’t know who Alan Webb (or any other distance runner) was, and there was hardly any national press coverage for him or anyone else until that day in Eugene.
In writing this I went back and re-watched the race a few times. While it was a great moment, the manner in which the race was run was not necessarily classic Webb. His mind was definitely on the record and not the win; understandable, but not indicative of his racing style going into the future. What was classic about it and what really caused people to take notice was how hard he got after it on the last lap, and how elated he was to have broken the record. At one point he covers his mouth (upon knowing he had the record) and gives a fist pump to the crowd. You could tell that this guy was not just an athlete. He was an entertainer, and he was there to give a performance. He was there to fill our souls with inspiration and show us all what is possible when you don’t hold back. Alan would go on to exemplify these traits throughout his career. While some may say his career didn’t live up to the hype generated that day in late Spring, 2001, it would be important to know that Alan ran to win. He didn’t run for second. He didn’t go out and run to the best of his ability. He went out to win. Every. Single. Time. Yes, his tactics didn’t always pan out, but when Alan Webb stepped on the track fans knew they were in for a show as the world stood still for the muscular miler from Virginia.
Even when Alan lost, he always seemed to be right there at the bell. I can relate to that feeling. Sometimes in running and in life you have to just put it all out there and hope that when you come into the home stretch your body will have what it takes on that day. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t, but there is no greater regret in life than wondering if you gave it your all, if you had a little more in the tank, or if maybe you could have pushed just a bit harder. Through all the emotional moments of Alan’s career I witnessed a man who left no stone unturned, and who truly, “left it all in the ring,” each time out. He is still easily the most recognizable American distance runner since Prefontaine. His Paris Diamond League win is still the greatest win for an American track distance runner in the last twenty years (with all due respect to Bernard Lagat). He was and will continue to be an inspiration to future runners building upon the dynasty that he laid the foundation for that day in Eugene.
If not for Alan Webb American distance running would not be what it is today. We could still be stuck in the dark ages of the 1990’s, where any American born runner making a worlds or Olympic final may as well have been treated like a win by the few who cared. Alan Webb brought distance running back. He brought the “win” mentality back to a sport that had become complacent in it’s mediocrity; to athletes who had become comfortable with second, or medaling, or just running their own race. He paved the way for the next generation to come along and show us what we are capable of; to dispel the myth that only certain body types, or ethnicities can be great distance runners; and to remind us of the value in winning or dying trying. Fans want to see emotion. They want athletes to be overjoyed when they win and furious when they don’t. They want to see them sweat, bleed, and cry. Alan gave us that. He wore his emotions on his sleeve and he never gave up. He settled for nothing less than greatness, and was dissatisfied with anything short of it. Thank you Alan Webb for bringing the passion back to my sport. Thank you for not being afraid to reach into the darkness, not knowing what is on the other side. Thanks for showing all of us that there is no fear in daring to dream and be great. Thank you for showing us how to run, to win.