Webb finished 2012 as a man in transition. The turning point happened last summer. A gimpy Achilles tendon limited his speed training leading up to the U.S. Olympic Trials, so he decided to compete in the 5,000m rather than the 1500m. After he finished dead last in his heat and failed to make it to the final, he knew he needed to overhaul his training and racing plans moving forward.
The silver lining was that days after that disastrous Olympic Trials experience, Webb returned home to Virginia, where his wife, Julia, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter they named Joanie. “As soon as Joanie was born, something clicked in my mind,” Webb says. “Here I had this — I don’t want to get all mushy on you — human being that I was responsible for. It was a sign that I’m moving on to a different part of my life and career.”
Other changes took place later in the summer. Since his coach at the time, Jason Vigilante, was leaving Charlottesville to head up the Princeton distance program, Webb found himself in no man’s land. He and Julia didn’t want to move to New Jersey, so they decided to return to Portland, Ore., where they lived for three years before moving east in 2011. While Julia and Joanie flew west, Alan packed the family’s Honda Element and drove by himself across the country. Covering all of those miles gave him plenty of time to put his career in perspective — his longest day, a new road trip personal record, took him 922 miles from Bismark, N.D., to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho — and by the time he arrived in Portland, he’d made some big decisions.
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He was finally ready to move on from the mile and 1500m and invest in a different type of training and, for the near future, focus on the 5K and 10K. But the cross-country drive also gave him visions about making an attempt at the half-marathon and, if he continues to build his aerobic base, maybe even the marathon. “I had my moment as a middle-distance runner, and it was quite a moment,” Webb reflects. “There was a two-month period in 2007 when I honestly believe that there wasn’t a person in the world [at that time] I couldn’t have beaten. But that moment is gone.”
As he counts off the upcoming Olympic cycles and his corresponding age, he says he envisions himself running in at least two more U.S. Olympic Trials. He’ll be 33 in 2016 and 37 when the 2020 event rolls around. Although distance running is a generally a young man’s game, there have been plenty of outliers who have challenged Father Time, most notably 2012 U.S. Olympians Lagat and Meb Keflezighi. “I still want Joanie to experience what I’m trying to do,” Webb says. “My wife has experienced it, but Joanie hasn’t. It’s such a cool thing to have another family member to share it with. I can’t quit now. I’m just beginning.”