I was able to sit down and have a conversation with Alan Webb about a week before the start of the 2007 Outdoor Track and Field World Championships, just before the congratulations and sendoff for him by the good sized crowd at Metro Run and Walk in Falls Church, Virginia.
His high school exploits, travails soon thereafter and substantial success this season have been fairly well documented lately, with a front page article in the Washington Post and also a nice feature story in Sports Illustrated as examples.
As the preliminary, semifinal and final rounds approach for the 1,500 meter run in Osaka, Japan an extremely upbeat Webb said, "I'm confident, but hungry. I am going into the championships knowing I have been running well, but I will be there with my eyes open. I am always looking to win, but know I will be challenged and I am looking to be pushed."
As far as the drops in time this season which have made Webb either the world leader or close to the world leader in the 1,500 run; mile run and 800 meter run, Webb said, "the biggest thing is that the training has come together. Physically, I am stronger and faster. Getting stronger has allowed me to work on my speed. I gained confidence in my strength in running some good times in races longer than a mile. I have never gotten totally away from the speed aspect, even in high school I was known more as a speed runner."
Webb's major P.R. in the 800 this season of 1:43.84 seemed to really open some eyes, even among the most ardent supporters of the former South Lakes High star. Webb said, "that 800 was a huge confidence boost. Until you actually do it, even if you think you can run that fast, it's not real. Up until then, it's just potential."
In respect to how fast Webb was trying to go in the 800, or what he expected from the race, he said, "in the 800 I just went as hard as I could. I didn't really know what to expect. My main focus is and always has been the mile. I am much more in tune in how to get to and accomplish certain times in the mile and 1,500 and all the training and racing above and below those distances is geared towards that."
According to Webb, in what so far this year has been a fairly dominating performance on the world scene in the middle distances, his training regimen has not changed that much from years past. Webb said, " there have been just subtle differences. There has been a little less volume in training at times. Instead of maybe a total of 10,000 meters in a workout, it may be just a total of 8,000 meters, enabling me to improve on my interval time averages.
Webb's yearly progression since high school has also been stymied at times by a few injuries and health issues but he said of this year, "my health has been good. I know my body a little bit better and realize that at times you may have to back off a bit from the training if there are any problems. I have now figured out that there are times when you can maybe lose a week of intensity in your workouts and still do well."
In wondering if some of his success could be from more of an even keel as the maturation process continues Webb said, "oh no; the highs are still highs. In fact there are no lows, I just call them regular."
Even with the outstanding times Webb has posted this year, his focus is still on winning. Webb said, "every race this season I ran for place except for the mile (American record of 3:46.91) in Belgium."
Webb added, "the biggest thing for Osaka is that I have been running to win and have been able to win races this season in a lot of different conditions; whether it has been hot, rainy or windy or whether it has been running from the front or having to come from behind. I now relish having different types and styles of races. Two years ago at the world championships I was more of a one dimensional runner and my competition knew that."
In what has thus far been a special season for Webb, the hints as to what was to come could be felt as far back as almost six months ago. Webb said, "the conditioning and strength training last fall and winter had me thinking by March 1st that it could be a good year. Then after some good workouts in early spring I went to Drake and broke Steve Scott's meet record (running 3:51.71) in some pretty windy conditions; I couldn't even hear my split at 1,200 meters. By May 1st after Drake I thought, hey this could be a really cool year."
After Drake, Webb knew Steve Scott's 25 year old American record in the mile of 3:47.69 was within reach. Webb said, "the American record in the mile was something I had been thinking about since high school. When I broke Jim Ryun's high school record in the mile that had been a very far off goal. After Drake, it seemed that the logical next step and goal would be the American record."
With the American record in the mile, an impressive win earlier this summer in France with a p.r. clocking of 3:30.54 at 1,500 meters and an exceptional win at the U.S. national outdoor championships in the 1,500 this season, in addition to his 1:43:84 at 800 meters, Webb heads to Osaka, "confident going into worlds, although I am still learning."
Not to be underscored is also the rapport he and coach Scott Raczko have had through the years. Webb said, "if anything, things have gotten even better. We are both on the same page and both of us have the same goals for what I am trying to accomplish in my career. Coach Raczko figures out what has been working for me and each day going into a workout I almost always agree with the plan he has."
Will Webb break the World Championship and/or the Olympic mold which has seen Americans fare none to well on the world stage recently in the middle distance races. We will soon know.
The WC 1,500 final almost certainly will be a tactical race and with Webb certainly among the favorites to make the final, many will be wondering if and when he will make a break from the clustered field and be able to display his promising combination of speed and strength.
And although it is subject to change, Webb's schedule after the World Championships thus far includes what could be very fast races in September with a 1,500 in Zurich on the 7th; an 800 in Rieti on the 9th followed by another 1,500 in Brussels on the 14th and then the season finale tactical 1,500 on the 23rd.