Less training, more focus for Webb in 2009

Updated: April 18, 2009, 5:31 PM ET
Associated Press

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Alan Webb is an excitable guy. When he puts his mind to something, he doesn't hold back. All or nothing.

It's a trait that's made Webb one of the best middle-distance runners in the world. There's also a downside, as he found out last year.

Coming off a spectacular 2007 season that included an American record in the mile, Webb upped his training in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

It backfired.

Worn out by spring, Webb had nothing left for the U.S. Olympic Trials in July, finishing a disappointing fifth. All that energy, gone to waste.

Now Webb is taking a different tack: He's trading excess for a more simplistic approach, hoping to conserve some of his energy for the races.

"This year has sort of been about getting back to the basics, not doing anything special -- just good, solid training," he said. "We're doing a lot, but I've tried to stay away from the extremes. Things I've done in the past that I know work and I'll build from there."

It's working so far.

Webb opened the outdoor season by winning the Glenn Cunningham Invitational Mile on Saturday, pulling away from Peter Van Der Westhuizen on the final straightaway for the second-fastest mile in Kansas Relays history. With record-holder Jim Ryun serving as starter, Webb finished in 3 minutes, 58.9 seconds to become the first miler to break the 4-minute mark at the Kansas Relays since Paul McMullen in 1997.

"It was a great way to start off the season," Webb said before racing away to catch a flight.

Webb has been the greatest American middle-distance runner of a generation, knocking off records and championships like dominos. The 26-year-old had the best season of his career in 2007: He won the mile at the U.S. Indoor Championships, ran the world's best time in the 1,500, then broke Steve Scott's 25-year-old American record with a time of 3:46.91 at a meet in Belgium.

His eyes focused on Olympic gold, Webb went all out on his training for 2008. He put in more miles, added intensity to everything he did, and did more work outside of running, including a bigger emphasis on weight training. His rationale: If something was good, then twice as much would be better.

Instead of feeling energized, though, Webb become demoralized.

He lost a few races, then his confidence. By the time he reached the Olympic Trials in Oregon, he was done. Webb searched for the strength to pull away three different times in the finals, only to walk off the track with the biggest disappointment of his storied career.

"After I set the American record, I got so excited about doing special things that I just got a little too aggressive with my approach for 2008," said Webb, from Reston, Va. "I went a little overboard and made changes that ended up being not good changes, where I should have just stuck with what worked. I ended up on the losing end and was at home watching from the sidelines."

Webb's new approach is to cut back on everything.

When he runs too much and at longer distances, Webb tends to lose some of his speed, his feel for the mile. To keep his edge this season, he cut back his mileage to a manageable 70 per week and his dropped his high-intensity running from 10,000 meters to 8,000 per workout.

Webb also changed his schedule to focus on the mile and 1,500-meter races, with a handful of 800s mixed in. Longer races like a 3K or a 5K he'll only run once or twice.

The goal is to find a way to push himself without going too far.

"It's kind of a catch 22 because it's what makes me good, I think, but it also can cause me to have setbacks because I go too far," he said. "I guess I'm still kind of maturing and learning how to do it."

Game notes
U.S. Olympian Damu Cherry beat a deep field in the women's 100-meter hurdles, edging out Canadian Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, who won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Cherry finished in 12.83 seconds. Former world champion Perdita Felicien, of Canada, was fifth. ... Former Ole Miss runner Antown Hicks won the men's 110-meter hurdles for the second straight year, barely beating Dexter Faulk at the tape in 13.37 seconds. ... Puerto Rican Olympian Javier Culson won the men's 400-meter hurdles in 49.47 seconds, the fourth-fastest time in the world this year. Bershawn Jackson, the four-time defending champion and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, pulled out just before the race. ... Kansas City native and 2008 U.S. Olympian Muna Lee got off to a great start and cruised to an easy win in the women's 200 meters. Lee, who qualified for the Beijing Games in the 100 and 200, finished in 23.05 seconds, nearly a half second ahead of Kansas All-American Nickesha Anderson.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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