Runner Reads: “Sub 4:00: Alan Webb and the Quest for the Fastest Mile” (and the Summer Runner Book Club)

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Alan Webb, center, speaks during the Summer Runner Book Club for “Sub 4:00: Alan Webb and the Quest for the Fastest Mile” at the Pacers Running Navy Yard location. Shown to the left is author Chris Lear, and to the right is Heather Jeff of Pacers Running. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

If someone wrote a book about me, I would have to read it as soon as it was published. But that wasn’t the case for Alan Webb. He said he felt he needed to accomplish more before reading “Sub 4:00: Alan Webb and the Quest for the Fastest Mile.”

I read Chris Lear’s book and attended the Summer Runner Book Club put on by Pacers Running at the Navy Yard location in Washington, D.C. It was the same weekend as the Crystal City Twilighter 5K, which I ran for BibRave. Webb ran that race as well.

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Here I am with Alan Webb.

Lear and Webb were there for the book club the evening of Sunday, July 23, which I thought was a really cool event. I had other plans during the first Summer Runner Book Club and the next event in the series was canceled, but I am definitely going to look for the Summer Runner Book Club next year, even though I live pretty far away in Salisbury, Maryland. (I have family in the area, so I can make other plans while across the bridge.)

Admission was $10 per book club or $25 for all three, and RunWashington was also involved, according to the Pacers Running website.

Jeff asked Lear and Webb questions, and then the floor was open for audience questions. I hadn’t actually finished the book yet when I attended the book club (I have now), but that didn’t seem to make a difference.

Webb is the American with the fastest mile time — 3:46.91! — but the book detailed a tough year for him as a freshman at the University of Michigan. The media and the public expected a lot from him after breaking the sub-4:00 barrier as a senior in high school. With running being such a mental sport, I can only imagine how stressful and nerve-wracking Webb’s life would have been at that time.

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Here’s the book: “Sub 4:00: Alan Webb and the Quest for the Fastest Mile”

It also seemed like he couldn’t fully trust in his college coach, Ron Warhurst.

At the book club, the moderator, Heather Jeff of Pacers Running, said she didn’t really like Webb as she read the book — and I could relate to that. I wanted to like him, but as I read the book, he didn’t seem that likable. More than a decade after his freshman year in college at this recent event, he was friendly and open with the audience. Webb even said during the book club that he wasn’t a good teammate.

I liked the way the book was written. A former journalist, I have found that I seem to enjoy books written by journalists and the writing style. Also from my reporter perspective, I thought it was cool how much access Lear had to Webb and his team.

Readers not only learn about what Webb goes through and his experiences at races in the book, but they get to know his teammates as well.

One thing I found interesting was just how tactical these races are. Whenever I have run a race for speed, even when I used to run track in high school, I have always just tried to run as fast as I can. Of course I have thought about pacing myself, but I’ve never purposely gone slower than I knew I could for a tactical reason, or been in a race where I knew all about the other runners and their styles and how they might perform, and based my running on that.

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I definitely appreciated that both Alan Webb and Chris Lear signed my copy of the book!

I am not a star runner or anything, but it’s interesting that one person can set the pace as “slow” — even though the runners’ “slow” pace in this book is still extremely fast — and how people turn up the speed at the end. The racers would often finish the races within minuscule amounts of time.

Knowing that Webb had done the Crystal City Twilighter 5K the day before, I asked if he enjoys doing races or if he’s kind of tired of them. He said he likes running races like that one. Now, he can do races for fun and at a slower pace.

A kid who was at the book club asked him about his times, and Webb had said something about how his 5K time was OK, or something like that. Well, he said his 5K personal record was 13:10. The kid thought that was impressive, and of course I do, too. I’ve never even run two miles in 13:10.

After the book club, Webb and Lear both signed my book and I was able to get a photo with Webb. I appreciate that they were able to take the time with all the attendees who were waiting in line.

I’m also interested in reading Lear’s other book, “Running With the Buffaloes: A Season Inside With Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, and the University of Colorado Men’s Cross Country Team.”

“Sub 4:00: Alan Webb and the Quest for the Fastest Mile” was an interesting look into not just Webb, but competitive college running. Thanks to Pacers Running for hosting this event with the author and the subject of the book, too!

Interested in hearing the discussion? Pacers Running posted a live video from the event. 

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