Drew Hunter and the next era of H.S. middle distance running?


Photo credit: LetsRun.com

Did Drew Hunter just blow up high school middle distance running in the U.S.?

For the last half a century, we’ve told ourselves a story of great milers and their training. With apologies to the Judaeo-Christian tradition it goes something like this…

In the beginning, God created Jim Ryun, gangly son of Wichita, Kansas, and God saw that he was good. And God gave him interval workouts — lots and lots of interval workouts — and God saw that the interval workouts were good. And the boy, Jim Ryun, ran interval workouts day after day, and he held dominion over other middle distance runners, yay, even those from Australia and New Zealand. As a junior, he ran a mile in under four minutes and he made the U.S. Olympic team. And God gave him more and more intervals, and saw that the intervals made the boy even better.  As a senior in high school, God strengthened the sinews of his legs and the size of his heart, and lo, the boy ran a mile in three minutes and 55 seconds, and it was good, and Track and Field News named him the fourth-fastest miler in the world, and it was very good.

But then God saw that Jim Ryun had so exceeded other high schoolers that he was lonely, and so God created Marty Liquori, tough son of Essex, New Jersey, and he gave him interval workouts also, and Liquori broke four minutes for the mile while in high school, and God saw that it was good. And then God created Tim Danielson, and he also broke four minutes for a mile, but then God saw that people were taking the four-minute mile for granted, so he made high school runners soft, and he allowed it to be proclaimed throughout the land that long slow distance was superior to interval workouts, and there was a great famine of four-minute milers that lasted 36 years. And then God saw that the famine had gone on long enough, so he created Alan Webb, son of Reston, Virginia,  and gave him surpassing speed, and also he gave him interval workouts, and it came to pass that Alan Webb ran faster even than Jim Ryun. And the people rejoiced, and it was good.

Webb broke Ryun’s record in 2001, and since then, other high school boys have accomplished the feat, including two last year. But as far as I can tell, none of the more recent members of that exclusive club have shaken the orthodox belief that you need to run really fast in training (intervals) to run really fast in races. No one these days would advocate day after day of 20 x 400 (a la Ryun), but fast intervals of some sort, and at some frequency, need to be part of the training equation, right?

But now Drew Hunter comes along, having won Footlocker Nationals in Cross Country, and in the space of a few weeks sets U.S. high school indoor records for the 3000m (breaking Edward Cheserek’s mark by over five seconds), and the mile (twice), breaking Alan Webb’s record. Most remarkable of all, he claims that he hasn’t done ANY speed work, at least nothing that most high school coaches would recognize as speed work. Instead, he follows the training precepts of Internet coach Tom Schwartz, who preaches the Gospel of “critical velocity” and consistent training instead of over-training. Here’s chapter and verse from his ‘Running PR’s’ web site:

The truth about running: Training harder only takes you so far! Sooner or later training harder grinds your progress to a standstill and all kinds of bad things happen to you. Injuries, illness, chronic fatigue and even depression engulf your days and ways. So, what should you do to get out of the rut and get momentum going again? Try harder? Train faster? Run harder more often? Nah, that won’t cut it! You need optimal training instead of harder training.

How many high school coaches, even today, are looking at Hunter and reading about his training, and thinking to themselves, “I should try that with my athletes…‘?

Revolutions in training theory typically occur when some athlete does something so out of the ordinary that it provokes a collective “How did s/he do that?” What Hunter has done this winter is unprecedented.  If he continues to have success, it’s possible he’ll even challenge Jim Ryun’s ‘untouchable record’ of breaking four minutes five times while a schoolboy. And if he does THAT with a new approach to training, well, there will be a lot more young athletes running at 90% of their max aerobic pace, rather than killing themselves running sub-60 400s.


About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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