Before every race this season, UA Little Rock’s cross country runners stretch, jog and focus on the upcoming course in front of them. But looking up from their warm up area, they often see a steady stream of their opposing runners … waiting around to meet Trojan distance coach Alan Webb.
Webb is a household name in the running world and is the American record holder in the mile while also having competed in the Olympics.
“It is like having Tom Brady as your coach,” explained freshman runner Jose Vivanco.
Well’s admiration from people who attend the meets where Little Rock competes has brought an extra level of attention to the Trojans in the midst of the program’s resurgence under second-year Director of Track and Field and Cross Country J.P. Behnke.
The attention on the Little Rock coach has become commonplace at meets where scores of runners try to find the right time for an introduction, autograph, or picture with the Olympian.
Webb, humble despite this rock star status, deftly manages being able to focus on guiding his team while still acquiescing to request upon request. The impact is immeasurable.
“I remember at the Chile Pepper Invitational,” sophomore Ricardo Banks II recalled of Little Rock’s meet in Fayetteville, “there were a bunch of high school kids there and they all crowded near us. We knew who they wanted to see, so we just moved out of the way, and they went up to meet him and talk to him. Their faces lit up and you could see how happy and excited they were. I used to get upset but now I just feel happy. You see how happy he makes people by taking just a little time and how he can change them.”
There is plenty of cheering during races, especially as runners approach the finish line. The addition of a celebrity to Little Rock’s appearances adds an extra level of audible reactions as Webb is seen.
“It is definitely surreal,” junior Jarred O’Connor said as he attempted to describe the experience.
But more so than just the collective fan appeal, having Webb guiding the Trojans has led to vast improvements across the board.
“There has been a complete 180 with the team,” explained O’Connor. “The team chemistry has been better and the training has been 10 times better. Everyone has run faster this year, everyone has set a PR (personal record). Pretty much everybody ran faster in the first race this year than they did at any point last year by a significant amount. The fifth guy this year ran faster than our first guy last year. We have been improving like no other.”
As the season progresses, Webb is continuing to unveil his vast knowledge of running to the team.
“He is like a supercomputer on how running can change your life and how you can get better at it,” said Banks.
Trojan student-athletes should get used to the attention coming to the program and its coaches, because Webb is not the only star to join the staff this year. Pole vault Olympian Lexi Jacobus is the team’s new pole vault coach. Jacobus in continuing her professional career following her time at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville), where she became the first woman to ever win four NCAA Championships in the pole vault.
She joins her husband, Derek Jacobus, who joined the staff last spring following a standout career in Fayetteville where he garnered multiple All-America and All-Southeastern Conference honors.
“I think it sets a standard and, in a good sense, puts a little pressure on you as well as a little pride,” Banks explained. “You know that what you are being told is something they applied and it got them somewhere. You know if you follow their guidance, there is a chance you can go somewhere great. I love it.”
“It just feels so elite,” O’Connor summarized.
For the latest information on Little Rock Cross Country, make sure to check out LRTrojans.com. You can also find the team on social media at @LittleRockTFXC on Facebook and Twitter.