The Buddy System Helps Keep Webb on Track

By Matthew Stanmyre
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

After soaking his legs for almost 15 minutes in a large trash can filled with ice and water, U.S. middle distance star Alan Webb walked gingerly from his garage and into his three-bedroom house in Reston. He limped through the foyer, past bunches of brown boxes with Nike apparel spilling from them, up a carpeted staircase speckled with faded brown stains.

Once he reached the top, Webb plopped down on a silky olive couch, clicked on a 52-inch plasma television and laid his sculpted legs on a cluttered coffee table next to a PlayStation controller and a "Rambo" DVD.

"Dude, you get dinner?" Webb said, looking to the other end of the couch at Joe Zak, his roommate and best friend of nearly 20 years.

"I already ate," Zak said.

It was the worst news Webb, 25, encountered on this mid-June day. He glanced narrowly at Zak -- who usually joins Webb on dinner runs to Carrabba's, Chick-fil-A or the Chinese joint down the street -- then peeled his weary body from the couch and descended into the kitchen. From the cabinets he grabbed boxes of dried pasta, jars of sauce and utensils.

Moments later, Webb slid precooked chicken from a plastic bag and smiled. "Chicken's done," he said.

"His level of cooking is just beyond college dorm life," Zak said. "He's good with ramen noodles."

The American record holder in the mile and the country's most highly touted middle distance runner, Webb prefers his existence here in his home town. Signed to a reported $250,000 annual endorsement deal by Nike in 2002, Webb has turned down lavish, state-of-the-art training compounds in favor of the modest contemporary house he bought four years ago, where he shares laundry time and parking spaces with Zak.

Whether the stay-at-home training is successful is a valid question, but there's no doubt it agrees with Webb.

After a 2007 season that saw him win the 1,500-meter run at the U.S. outdoor track and field championships in Indianapolis and run the year's fastest 1,500 two weeks later in Paris, Webb decided to skip the indoor season this year to focus on training. The results have been mixed. His progress began to plateau in March, forcing him to scale back his training and racing. In his first outdoor performance last month at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., he finished seventh of nine competitors in the 1,500.

"I'm confident overall, but at the same time I'm not where I was last year at this time," Webb said. "I was just much more race-sharp."

Webb's mind remains less cluttered thanks to his living situation with Zak.

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