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Running

On historic night of running, two break 4-minute-mile mark at West High

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: September 14
  • Published September 13

Fourth place has never felt better for Trevor Dunbar.

Dunbar, the only Alaskan to break the four-minute mark in the mile, returned home this week determined to make more history.

Intent on seeing track's most hallowed barrier broken on Alaska soil, he recruited some fast friends to come along and help.

On Wednesday night at West High, in front of a roaring crowd and despite difficult conditions, two men in the field of seven elite runners recorded sub-4:00-minute miles and a third man missed the magic milestone by two one-hundredths of a second.

Dunbar wasn't one of them. He was fourth in 4:02.21, well off his personal best. But he provided a big assist to the guys who finished ahead of him — winner Kyle Merber of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York (3:59.36), Ben Blankenship of Eugene, Oregon (3:59.67) and Colby Alexander of Tarrytown, New York (4:00.01).

Dunbar, the Kodiak High graduate and University of Oregon All-American, took the lead on the third and toughest lap of the four-lap race.

The pace had slowed after pace-setter Doug Benson of Eugene dropped out after taking the group through two laps in roughly 1:58. About halfway through the third lap Dunbar took the lead, determined to keep the group on pace.

The move delighted a crowd of more than 1,000. But it killed Dunbar's chances of a sub-4:00.

He led for the entire homestretch while racing into a brutal headwind and then paid for his aggressiveness early in the fourth lap, where he slipped into fourth place and out of contention for a sub-4:00.

Yet he was all smiles at the finish line.

"Before the race I was asked, 'What's more important to you, the sub-4:00 or the winning the race?' " Dunbar said. "Definitely, the sub-4:00 is what will be special about this."

Dunbar admitted his decision to charge into the lead, and into the wind, cost him. But it was a sacrifice he willingly made.

"In my mind I was cognizant of the splits, and I wanted to push the pace," he said. "I was driven towards making sure someone got a fast time.

"Maybe it wasn't the smartest thing, but I'm happy the (winning) time was under four minutes."

Runners endured temperatures in the 50s that seemed even lower because of a relentless wind that hammered them on the homestretch.

"It was windy," Merber said.

It was great on the backstretch, where runners had the wind at their backs, he said. But the headwind made him content to sit back and let the frontrunners absorb the worst of it for most of the race.

"With 100 to go I just took a chance for it," Merber said. "… I was just trying to get under four minutes to get the Alaska soil record."

Merber isn't the first person to break the 4:00 barrier in Alaska — Jack Bolas of Washington, D.C. ran 3:58.3 indoors at The Dome in 2013.

Dunbar, 26, badly wanted to see an sub-4:00 on an outdoor track in his home state. So did his dad, Marcus, a former indoor national champion who personal best is 4:00.58. Together they put together the Great Alaska Mile Series, which wraps up Saturday with a race in Kodiak.

Wednesday's race, which started at 7 p.m., drew a big and appreciative crowd of more than 1,000.

"At 6:30 there were not many people here, and 15 minutes later it was packed," said Nick Harris of Boulder, Colorado, who placed sixth in 4:16:03.

Dunbar was thrilled by the turnout.

"That was amazing. I didn't know what to expect," he said. "My phone was blowing up all day."

Dozens of high school and middle school kids swarmed the runners after the race, taking photos and getting autographs. One kid quizzed Merber about his PRs as a high school freshman.

Also on hand were two of Alaska's greatest distance runners — Don Clary, a 1984 Olympian in the 5,000 meters, and Kristi Waythomas, the first in a long line of gifted Kodiak runners.

Dunbar made a point to speak with both of them after the race.

"You set the bar for me to keep striving for greatness," Dunbar told Clary. "It means a lot to meet you."

Clary, who as a senior at East High ran a 2-mile state-record of 9:04.4, said Wednesday's race may inspire a whole new generation of runners.

"It's great to see these athletes up here, especially so the younger kids can see it and get some inspiration," he said. "It's nice exposing them to athletes of this caliber."

After the race, the runners jogged past the fence along the homestretch and slapped hands with scores of spectators.

They seemed to be having fun, none more than Dunbar, who provided a big splash of color on a gray evening. He wore a tie-dyed singlet, a bracelet on each wrist — a blue and gold one for the Kodiak Bears and a green and gold for the Oregon Ducks — and a black ribbon in memory of runner David Torrence, a friend and competitor who died at age 31.

Soon the group will head Kodiak for another race. Harris stopped short of saying he hopes Dunbar will win Saturday, but he lamented that he couldn't be a bigger help Wednesday, when he led the first half of the tough third lap.

"I was hoping to make it through the curve there to break the wind for him," Harris said. "I feel bad because he took the hardest part. The windiest part.

"… He gets another shot at it Saturday, and in his hometown. We're all going to be really getting after it in Kodiak to make sure it goes fast."

Dunbar, who sports a tattoo in the shape of Alaska on his thigh, will no doubt do his part in that regard, even though he knows conditions could be as bad or worse as they were in Anchorage.

"Nothing comes easy in Alaska," he said.

1) Kyle Merber 3:59.36; 2) Ben Blankenship 3:59.67; 3) Colby Alexander 4:00.01; 4) Trevor Dunbar 4:02.21; 5) Garrett Heath 4:02.41; 6) Nick Harris 4:16.03; 7) Hans Roelle 4:18.39.

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