How fast can a high school miler run? And how much can that same runner improve from one race to the next? Ask Hobbs Kessler, a 17-year-old teenager from Michigan who just set a record for the fastest indoor mile by a high school runner. When considering both indoor and outdoor times, only greats Jim Ryun and Alan Webb are ahead of Kessler now on the all-time list.
Running in a pro field on February 7 at the third American Track League (ATL) meet in Fayetteville, AR, Kessler, a senior at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, broke the national indoor high school record in the mile, running 3:57.66, replacing Drew Hunter’s high school mark of 3:57.81, set in 2016.
Some folks think that Kessler’s sub-4 came out of nowhere. But the truth is, there were plenty of factors that contributed to his breakthrough mile. His previous best was a 4:08.4, which he recently ran as a rabbit in a time trial.
So what went into Kessler’s incredible mile? Let’s take a closer look.
A good start. It doesn’t hurt that Kessler has some excellent running genes. His dad, Mike, ran for Eastern Michigan, and has a mile PR of 4:00 flat. His mom, Serena has a 2:44 marathon best. Plus, both parents are still actively involved in running—Mike is the boys’ cross-country coach at Skyline High while Serena is the head track coach.
Early build-up. Kessler, who is currently signed to run for Northern Arizona University, ran in middle school, and placed second in Ann Arbor’s middle-school cross-country race. As a freshman in high school, his times were solid, but not outstanding, running 17:42 as a freshman and 16:20 as a sophomore in cross-country. He continued to build on those marks, hitting 15:23 (good for sixth in state) as a junior.
Fast friends. It also doesn’t hurt that Kessler is good friends and occasional training partners with Olympian Nick Willis, who owns a 3:49 mile PR. Willis, one of Kessler’s biggest supporters, broke 4 minutes in the mile for a record 19th year in a row, running a 3:58.05 mile at the Orange Winter Classic meet in Clermont, Florida in January.
Multi-sport background. Interestingly, Kessler was primarily interested in rock climbing before running. Kessler is in fact, an elite climber, having scaled a “5.14c” slope called Southern Smoke at Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. Any rating in rock climbing over 5.13 is considered elite. Kessler is still quite active in climbing and has a practice wall in his home in Michigan.
Focused build-up for the ATL meet. Kessler finished second in the Michigan cross-country state championship last fall and a few months later, his friend Willis told him he might be able to compete in the ATL meet. At that time, he had six weeks to prepare. Though he kept his milage modest- around 50 a week, he upped the intensity. Workouts included lots of fast-pace running and lots of hills.
After the race, when Kessler saw the 3:57.66 on the board (third place behind Takieddine Hedeill and Willis, who took second), Kessler was a bit surprised but “knew he had it in him.” Maybe that’s the most important takeaway from this story: he knew he could do it.
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