What does it take to run sub four?
- By Mark Hamiter
5,280 feet. 1,760 yards. 1,609 meters. Sub four. What do only 349 American and 4 native-born Louisiana men have in common? They have all run the mile in less than 4:00.
Every competitive miler has the thought, somewhere within themselves, of joining this elite club. Each of these guys has a different story, one of training, one of setbacks, one of opportunity, one of deliverance.
Shannon Lemora, Ryan Travis, Daniel Lincoln, and Jeremy Huffman have all run inside of four minutes in a sanctioned mile race on a track. Road miles are not considered on the overall sub 4 list, as they can be “aided”. This means that the course can have a significant elevation loss, (there is too much downhill to be counted for record purposes). “Time trials” are also unofficial. In other words, when it comes to excellence in mile racing, as my Kenyan friend Shadrack likes to say, these guys are “bad news”!
Jeremy Huffman suffered from severe asthma, as he grew up in an active family in Pineville. Regular trips to the doctor’s office for breathing treatments became the norm from the age of five. He played baseball and football along with his brothers, but something was missing. Frustrated from a lack of action on the football field, he desperately searched for a way to quench his athletic thirst.
It was the summer going into his sophomore year of high school, where his dad and brother were entered in a team duathlon (run/bike/run event). After a breakfast consisting of “a yahoo and a snack cake”, he was called to duty when one member of the team didn’t show up.
Not only did this moment provide a grand opportunity for male bonding, it secured an outlet for athletic opportunity, and paved the way for a stellar running career.
Jeremy ran his 2 mile leg in 12:13, and felt much better than he expected afterward, yahoo and snack cake notwithstanding. Then, urged by those around him, he decided that it would be pretty cool to be a part of a state championship cross country team.
Pineville high School had won the previous year, under the guidance of Coach Joe Moreau. Jeremy had suddenly found a sport that played to his abilities and cravings. He liked the fact that self-reliance was imperative in this newfound sport of running.
His high school training consisted of daily 4-6 mile runs, weekend runs of up to 8 miles, and a couple of track workouts per week. He progressed rapidly, taking his 1600 meter best times from 4:52 (freshman), 4:36 (sophomore), to 4:26 as a senior. He also ran 1:55 for 800 meters in his senior campaign.
He then accepted a scholarship to Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, where he ran for Coach Leon Johnson. Training 30-40 miles, up to 60 miles per week, with naturally more intense track workouts, he found himself running 1:51.9 for 800 meters, and placing 3rd at the Southland Conference outdoor championship meet. This earned him a trip to represent the United States in the World Junior Championships in Santiago, Chile.
On a Christmas trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas, he visited with the well-renowned Razorback track and cross country guys, and decided it was time he took his training to another level.
Under the guidance of legendary coach John Mcdonnell, he found himself logging 65-75 “quality miles” per week, the majority being on soft surfaces. He shocked many onlookers, as he earned All-American honors, placing 5th in the 1500 meters at the NCAA national championship meet in 1998.
Upon leaving college with personal bests of 3:42 (1500 meters) and 4:03 (mile), he was invited to train in Palo Alto, California with the Nike sponsored Farm Team. Here, he says, “training varied greatly”, as instructed by coaches Vin Lananna and Frank Gagliano.
It was the U.S. indoor national championships in New York City in 2002 where all of the hard work came to fruition. Huffman placed 5th in a time of 3:59.81. He was suddenly in “the club”.
Jeremy now runs 3-5 times per week and cross trains. He is the head cross country coach at Louisiana College, and serves as a personal trainer to many in central Louisiana.
Ryan Travis was born in Zachary, and later moved to Kentwood during his freshman year of high school. Having a very tight-knit relationship with his uncle and cousins, he too, came from an active family. His cousins were always very good at sports, while he played baseball and basketball.
The first run he remembers was when he logged 3 miles with family members. He suddenly fell in love with the simple activity, and discovered something else in the process. “It was the first thing I found I was better than my peers at.”
As a 9 year old, he ran the Dairy Day mile fun run in 6:19, placing 2nd to someone older than him.
At Jewel Sumner High School, he was the only runner competing for his school through 10th grade. Then several friends joined he and Coach Jay Stuckey, and the cross country and track programs began to seriously flourish, for both the boys and girls teams. Amazing what a national class performance or two will do for group morale.
After reading that great American miler Jim Ryun often did workouts of 40x400 meters hard, he decided he’d better get busy, waking at 5 a.m. on weekdays to do it again. He would then come home from school and repeat the workout, go to his afternoon job, come back, do it again, and round out the night with one more session.
He laughed as he told this story, knowing now that it isn’t the most productive way to train and recover, and saying it was way overboard. In spite of this, his talent took him to great heights. Going from 5:00 for 1600 meters as a freshman, Travis clocked 4:26 his tenth grade year, 4:16 his junior year, and became a highly-recruited runner his senior year, as he was invited to run against other national-class high school greats in an invitational mile in North Carolina, where he placed 4th in 4:06.
Choosing to run at Arkansas was an easy decision. “I didn’t want to have any doubt later in life.” His belief in Coach Mcdonnell’s guidance was all it took, and once he adapted to training weeks of 90-100 miles consistently, the workouts got better and better.
When asked to describe training with numerous All-Americans and Olympic athletes, he stated “Either you were winning or you were getting your butt kicked.” Ryan also confirmed that the training was specific to the racing demands of a championship-caliber athlete. “Those weren’t junk miles,” he said. There was nothing junky about his races either. Travis holds the distinction as the only true freshman miler at Arkansas to break 4:00, running 3:59, which he did in Iowa in January, 1998. He has since seen the low side of four minutes numerous times. Not too bad for a kid from rural Louisiana, with severe hypoglycemia.
This multiple-time All-American has never competed professionally, and who knows what you might be reading if that were different, but one thing’s for sure, Ryan Travis is happy with the opportunities he took advantage of as a Razorback, and all of the memories of being one of the best collegiate runners for arguably the best program in the history of collegiate athletics.
Ryan now also runs several times per week, cycles, and competes in an occasional triathlon. He says that every so often, the competitive bug bites, and he rocks the last repeat of a track workout, daring anyone to try and pass him.
Another notable fact about both of these milers is that they have both posted 400 meter bests in the 49 second range.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that there are other Louisiana runners knocking on the door of sub 4. LSU alums Pat Gavin (4:02 pr) and Michael Hendry (4:05pr) might well be next in line to join the ranks of the world’s great milers. So the next time you drop by The Louisiana Running Company, pass along a word of encouragement to Pat. Who knows? You might be speaking to Louisiana’s next man to run the mile in less than 240 ticks of the clock.
Last week’s question: What is the women’s American record for the 5,000 meters? Answer: 14:44.76, Molly Huddle
This week’s question: What is the school record for the boy’s mile at Byrd High School in Shreveport?