The Next Chapter
As Alan Webb drove into the teeth of a North Dakota rainstorm last Wednesday night, the U.S. record holder in the mile was looking forward to new horizons on his latest trek west.
Webb is a new father and has set his sights on new goals. For more than a decade he has been in the national spotlight, but satisfaction with his career has proven elusive.
"I've been doing this for a long time," Webb said. "I don't want to waste my time. I'm moving up and going to do some longer stuff."
Webb was driving back from Charlottesville, Va., to Oregon, and the enclave of Nike-supported runners in the Portland area, as he discussed his future. He said he was unsure of the specifics of who will coach him and how, but was looking forward to returning to a group of friends.
Webb has been a friend and rival of Dathan Ritzenhein's since the two were in high school. He is also close to some of the other athletes who train with the Portland coaches Alberto Salazar and Jerry Schumacher.
What Webb knows is that he wants to move up to the marathon. As he spent the spring trying to quickly recover from injury and get in shape to run the 5,000 meters at the Olympic Trials, Webb and then-Coach Jason Vigilante noticed that he was thriving in long-distance workouts.
In their weeks together as training partners, Robby Andrews also came away impressed.
"Alan, he’s an incredible guy and I will defend him to the day I die," Andrews said. "He's the hardest-working guy I ever met in my life."
Webb, who turns 30 in January, broke the 25-year-old American record in the mile in 2007 when he ran 3:46.91, but he missed making the Olympic teams in 2008 and 2012 after making the team in 2004 as a 21-year-old.
Last June, Webb was not quite back to complete fitness when he ran for a berth in Eugene. He was 21st out of 22 runners in the qualifying round of the 5,000 at the Trials. Meanwhile, his wife, Julia, was about to give birth to the couple's first child, Joanie, who was born June 27.
"Not a lot of people really understand, when you ran 3:53 (for the mile) in high school and 3:46, he's supposed to be perfect every time," Vigilante said. "It's burdensome. Alan sincerely tries as hard as he can. The Olympic Trials and all of those things is a heavy load for him to bear. Now, he's increased his mileage, he's not as uptight about running and has a great perspective."
Part of Webb's new perspective is fatherhood.
"It's great," Webb said of being a dad. "Obviously, there's a few breakdowns here and there. I'm still learning how to read (Joanie). But my wife is supermom. She knows what to do and I try to do what I can to help her."
Webb said he was also encouraged by the success of Galen Rupp, a former training partner (2009-2011) in Salazar's Oregon Project.
"I was just happy for him," Webb said of the Olympic Games silver medalist. "I've seen how hard the guy works. Obviously I have my own goals but to see a guy like that (succeed) and have it work out for an American, someone who’s kind of in our club, is great.
"It's inspiring and a good example for any kid who's out there and coming up now. It inspires me because it says anything's possible. It can happen if you keep plugging away. (Rupp) has a long streak of not getting hurt and he's been competing and racing (healthy) for years."