An Unknown High Schooler Just Ran a 3:57 Mile — Everything You Need To About Hobbs Kessler’s Record-Breaking Run

By Jonathan Gault and Robert Johnson
February 8, 2021

Yesterday, while many of you were getting ready to watch Super Bowl LV, 17-year-old Hobbs Kessler, a senior at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., made history, running 3:57.66 for the mile at the American Track League #3 meet in Fayetteville, Ark., to break Drew Hunter‘s five-year-old national high school indoor record of 3:57.81. Kessler joins Hunter and Alan Webb as the only US high schoolers to break 4:00 indoors, and ranks behind only American legends Webb (3:53.43) and Jim Ryun (3:55.3) on the all-time combined high school indoor/outdoor list.

Results: Men 1 Mile Run (Finals)
Pl Athlete Time
1 Takieddine HEDEILLI
New Zealand
 PB   HSR 
4 Juan Diego CASTRO
Costa Rica
5 James RANDON
6 Alex STITT

Here’s what you need to know about Kessler and his record run.

Prior to his 3:57 mile, Kessler’s official 1600 pb was just 4:18.96 — but that doesn’t tell the whole story

Kessler is the 12th US high schooler to break 4:00, and by far the most unlikely. Prior to the race, Kessler’s official personal best was just 4:18.96 for 1600 meters. So technically, he PR’d by more than 20 seconds in a single race, but that’s misleading as COVID-19 cancelled his 2020 outdoor track season.

In terms of national consciousness, Kessler did come out of nowhere, but he was far from a total unknown in terms of elite high school/college recruiting circles. Prior to the race, he’d already signed a national letter of intent with NCAA cross country power Northern Arizona University — the winner of NCAA XC team titles in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Kessler grabbed the recruiters’ attention as he ran two impressive time trials in June that were both posted on YouTube by his father, Mike. He ran 4:13 for 1600 on June 2 and then 8:53 for 3200 on June 12. Later in the summer, he ran a mile in 4:08, and that wasn’t even a true indicator of his fitness. His job on that day was to pace pros Nick Willis and Mason Ferlic for the first 1200 in 3:02 and then he just decided to finish it out.

This fall, Kessler, who was sixth in the Michigan state cross country meet as a junior, briefly tied Jason Hartmann with the second-fastest time ever run on the Michigan state cross country course (14:51; Dathan Ritzenhein has the record at 14:10). However, he did not win the state title as the state meet was run in waves and in the next wave Heartland junior Riley Hough ran 14:49.62.

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Kessler is coached by legendary former Michigan coach Ron Warhurst

Takieddine Hedeilli, Nick Willis and Hobbs Kessler (l to r)

Astute readers may be asking themselves, “Wait, why is a high schooler pacing pro runners?” 

That’s because Kessler is coached by 77-year old Ron Warhurst, the former Michigan head coach who has guided Nick Willis to two Olympic 1500 medals. Kessler’s father, Michael, who ran collegiately at Eastern Michigan, is the coach at Skyline High School (his mother Serena also is a runner and made the 2012 US Olympic Trials in the marathon) but prefers his role as a parent rather than a parent-coach. Hobbs is still a member of the Skyline team and practices with them, and while Mike is still involved in his training, he has taken more of a backseat role as Hobbs will join Warhust for workouts once or twice a week.

Michael is also Kessler’s coach for rock climbing. Kessler is a very serious rock climber and he competed in the IFSC Climbing World Youth Championships in 2019 where he placed 34th in the Lead Youth A Male category.

Kessler ran a perfect tactical race to break 4:00

Looking at Kessler’s splits, you could be forgiven for assuming Sunday’s meet utilized Wavelight technology. They are a work of art. Aside from the first lap (which was nine meters long), his 200m lap splits were ultra-consistent until it came time to kick on the last lap — every lap was run between 29.71 and 30.07 seconds. Check it out:

Lap splits (cumulative time)

209m 30.74
409m 29.71 (1:00.45)
609m 30.18 (1:30.63)
809m 29.96 (2:00.58)
1009m 29.98 (2:30.55)
1209m 30.07 (3:00.62)
1409m 29.80 (3:30.42)
1609m 27.24 (3:57.66)

Yes, running against a professional field on a fast track certainly helped but he did more than just sit in the back and be towed along until the bell. He ran way more evenly than anyone else in the race. After five laps, he was slightly gapped by the field but he he didn’t have a big slow down on lap #6 like everyone else in the field as he was running like a metronome.

Kessler (in 7th with 3 laps to go) ran his own race and was like a metronome until the last lap

On the bell lap, he was sensational as he unleashed a furious kick to close in 27.24 to get sub-4:00 and the record. 

Technically according to World Athletics rules, Kessler should have been disqualified from the race

On the penultimate turn of the penultimate lap, Kessler stepped over the rail and onto the infeld as shown here:

Kessler was not disqualified for the infraction, although according to World Athletics rules, he should have been (the meet was a World Athletics Indoor Silver Series Meet). World Athletics Technical Rule 17.3.2 is very clear. It says that if an athlete steps inside the rail on the curve, he or she is disqualified unless the referee determines they “are pushed or forced by another person to step or run outside their lane or on or inside the kerb or line marking the applicable border.” That clearly didn’t happen here as Kessler was running behind the pack when he went over the rail.

We’ve long argued the rule is overly harsh but remember in 2016 Ezekiel Kemboi lost an Olympic medal for grazing the white line of the steeplechase curve and a year later Colleen Quigley was DQ’d from Worlds for the same infraction. More recently, last summer, Brigid Kosgei was DQ’d for one step inside the rail in a one -our race. Of course conversely, Mo Farah didn’t lose his 2017 Worlds 10,000 gold medal even though he went over the rail while kicking for gold on the last lap (although we guess it’s possibly the officials thought he was clipped from behind).

Now, if this was a high school-only event, and not a World Athletics event, Kessler’s infraction would not result in a DQ. A single step over the rail doesn’t result in a DQ according to the National Federation of High School rules as explained here and in the excerpt below from the NFHS rule book :

USATF rules say a “material advantage” must be gained to result in a DQ.

A consistent set of rules might be best, but considering this is probably the one of only two indoor meets in America he should have been DQd in, we’re glad he wasn’t considering he’s a high schooler.

Want to know more about Kessler? We just published a feature on him and his coach Ron Warhurts that requires a subscription to acccess: LRC VIP Two Decades After Brannen, Webb, & Willis, Ron Warhurst Has Another Teen Mile Star on His Hands. His Name Is Hobbs Kessler. Warhurst doesn’t want to burden Kessler with expectations but admits the obvious, “It looks like he might be the next really good one.” Nick Willis compares him to Matthew Centrowitz and Alan Webb. (Sub required. 100% of subscriptions through Wednesday go to Jonathan Gault in honor of his 30th bday).

Talk about Kessler’s 3:57 on our fan forum/messageboard.


More: Kessler father-son duo aims to bring cross country state title to Skyline Profile: Skyline’s Hobbs Kessler ready to climb his biggest challenge

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