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Webb among all-time greatest distance runners


 Webb (No. 31 on shorts) is pacing the pack in the 5,000-meter
run at the 2012 Payton Jordan meet at Stanford University.

By John Gillis 


In the long history of high school distance running, there are only a select few athletes whose names are listed as record-holders in the National Federation of State High School Associations’ online multimedia National High School Sports Record Book.

Among them is Jim Ryun, who set the mile run national record of 3:58.3 as a senior at Wichita (Kansas) East High School in 1965.

Four years later, Steve Prefontaine set the national record in the two-mile run (8:41.5) while competing for Coos Bay (Oregon) Marshfield High School.

Some 40 years after Ryun and Prefontaine, Alan Webb of Reston (Virginia) South Lakes High School became the first high schooler to finish under four minutes in the 1,600-meter run with a time of 3:59.51. The 5-foot-9, 145-pound Webb set that record as a senior in 2001.

For Webb, whose career included a myriad of other record or near-record performances, the promise of excellence came at an early age. As a freshman, Webb was the Virginia High School League (VHSL) champion in the outdoor 3,200-meter run.

The following year, he was the VHSL cross country state champion, and was the indoor champion in the 3,200-meter run and the outdoor champion in the 1,600-meter run in track.

As a junior, Webb repeated as VHSL state cross country champion, and in track, he won state titles in the indoor 3,200-meter run and the outdoor 1,600-meter run.

During his senior season, Webb won his third consecutive state cross country title. He also won track state titles in the indoor 1,000-meter run and 1,600-meter run, and in the outdoor 800-meter run.

In addition, Webb holds the course record at the VHSL state cross country meet (15:03.3), as well as VHSL indoor track records in the 1,000-meter run (2:23.68), 1,600-meter run (4:12.11) and 3,200-meter run (8:50.96).

In 2001, Webb ran a 1:47.74 in the 800-meter run, which according to the National High School Sports Record Book, is the third-fastest time ever.

In out-of-school national competitions, Webb won the Great American Cross Country Festival Race of Champions in Charlotte, North Carolina, two consecutive years; finished second in the 2000 Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships in Orlando, Florida; and ran the fastest high school mile ever with a time of 3:53.43 in the 2001 Prefontaine Classic.

Webb’s well-rounded background in sports and a burning inner desire to succeed helped him from a very young age.

“Oh, I was definitely very driven in high school. That desire for success was developed through my involvement in sports,” Webb said. “I had been involved in sports my whole life. I was in swimming at a young age, and was good at that as well. The aerobic work I did in swimming helped me improve speed-wise in running. I didn’t really start training in running until my freshman year of high school. Although I also participated in soccer and basketball, I was mediocre in those sports.”

Despite the fact that 12 years have elapsed since his stellar high school running career, many of his marks still stand.

Alan Webb (left) and his wife Julia (right) proudly smile at
their 10-month-old daughter, Joanie.

“I’m surprised that nobody’s broken my record in the 1,600,” Webb said. “The mile time (3:53.43) was a pretty legit time. Records are meant to be broken, but a few of the fast ones stand a little longer. I was an early developer and a combination of things aligned me for high school.

“Some of my cross country records have been broken at the state level. I trained with a guy who broke one of my pretty impressive records on a particular cross country course.”

For Webb, his high school success was the result of his own physical attributes, skills and inner motivations, as well as excellent direction from coach Scott Raszko.

“I think it was a combination of all aspects or running – I wasn’t amazingly good at any one thing,” Webb said. “I wasn’t the strongest guy, but I was very fast, very disciplined and very motivated ‑ that was a good combination. I was well-rounded ‑ that’s where my sweet spot was and what it takes to be a good miler.

“The No. 1 thing about coach Razcko was he was great at giving me individual attention ‑ he wasn’t a ‘cookie-cutter guy.’ I needed that guidance from him. He nurtured exactly what I needed to get that combination of every aspect of being a good middle-distance runner ‑ he fostered that.

“He had me do drills on a little bit of everything – I did a lot, but not a crazy amount of stuff. Not over the top, but also not too little. He did a good job of that.”

Although Webb has competed for many years at the highest possible level, he looks back very fondly on his high school experience.

“It’s definitely great to represent your school,” Webb said. “It’s part of the American culture to be involved in sports in high school. Being on the high school team was something you’d look forward while in middle school. It wasn’t just about yourself ‑ it was about being part of the team. I got to wear my South Lakes jersey ‑ that was a special part of my running career and I will always cherish those memories.”

Two longtime Old Dominion State individuals who have distinguished themselves in high school athletic administration at the local, state and national levels very clearly recall Webb as a prep distance runner.

David Morgan, who was president of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association in 1999, was South Lakes High School athletic director while Webb attended school here. Ken Tilley, who has been executive director of the VHSL since 1994, developed its nationally renowned Student Leadership Conference, its coach education program and the VHSL Foundation endowment.

David Morgan 

“While at South Lakes High School for 18 years as a teacher, coach and athletic administrator, I had the pleasure of witnessing some incredible athletes, including Grant Hill, Christy Winters, Wes Suter, Chris Lee ‑ to name a few ‑ who went on to great success as NCAA champions, Olympians and professional sports careers,” Morgan said. “Alan certainly was in this list.

“What I remember is that Alan was cheerful and well-liked by his classmates. Despite his huge overnight success in breaking Jim Ryun's record, he was the same friendly Alan in school. As SGA president, his concern was always about how to make South Lakes a better place.

“What really stands out for me, though, is his discipline and commitment to his sport. One year, we hosted the district track championships and after the event, I was there cleaning up and putting things away. As usual, it was just me in a lit empty stadium.  

“There was one other person there – Alan ‑ doing a workout. Mind you, he had already competed that day in at least two championship finals I believe, and yet he was still there completing a workout. Not a warm-down ‑ but a full-fledged workout. He just operated on a different level from everyone else. That commitment to be the best is what makes him stand out for me.”

“Without a doubt, Alan Webb was an electrifying, once-in-a-lifetime runner,” Tilley said. “In every race, people knew he was capable of a record-setting performance, and most of the time he did not disappoint them. Alan was not just breaking marks at his school, his region or the state level. He blazed new standards nationally, and when he became the fastest high school miler ever by shattering Jim Ryun’s 36-year-old record with a time of 3:53.43, he proved himself to be without peer. Of course, we’re also proud that his 1,600-meter time of 3:59.51 in 2001 still stands as the fastest at that distance in the NFHS’ National High School Sports Record Book.”


Ken Tilley 

Today, Webb lives in Beaverton, Oregon, with his wife Julia, and their 10-month-old daughter Joanie. At the current time, he is training in Mammoth Lakes, California, which is located on the edge of the Long Valley Caldera at an elevation of 7,880 feet. Its hilly terrain and high altitude make the area ideal for high-altitude athletic training.

“My current training regimen varies, but it isn’t crazy mileage,” Webb noted. “I do 100 miles a week during the fall, but at the moment am doing about 80 miles a week.

“For sure, I’d like to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics. I’m trying to do well this year in Russia and I’m trying to move up in distance. I’d love to run marathons one day.”


John Gillis is the associate director of publications and communications of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at
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