He's too young for a shoe contract and he's certainly not ready for a college scholarship. Yet, Palo Alto High freshman Philip MacQuitty is drawing a lot of attention these days.
MacQuitty will run in the finals of the boys' 3,200 meters on Saturday in the 89th annual CIF State Track & Field Championships at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento. While he's only the No. 10 qualifier in a talented field, MacQuitty brings to the race something special -- he's the No. 1-ranked freshman metric two-miler in the nation.
"That's good," MacQuitty said when informed of his lofty ranking. "It's a very good thing . . . it gives me confidence (heading into the state finals)."
MacQuitty earned the No. 1 position when he overtook the field in the final 200 at the Central Coast Section championships last Friday in Gilroy to win in a personal-best 9:11.99. While becoming the first freshman ever to win the boys' 3,200 title at the CCS finals, MacQuitty became something of a celebrity and is now an item on internet message boards.
A sampling from dyestatcal.com:
"Do you think he could break 9:05? I wish I was there to see how he finished. Did he look tired?"
"I dunno about tired but he had one hell of a kick left in him."
"18 miles a week with little speed work and he's dropped 40 seconds this year. I don't see him burning out any time soon."
"Are you serious? No way a person can run 9:11 with only 18 miles a week. That's less than 3 miles a day."
"Got to see MacQuitty run at Arcadia and saw the Stanford (Invitational) video . . . kid is really race savvy."
"Not fair at all. I wanna run a 9:11 on 18 miles a week!"
The responses on the message boards revolve around two things -- MacQuitty's time and the fact he was able to do it on relatively little mileage, which is closer to 25 miles per week rather than 18.
"He's been incredibly consistent since February, and that's about 14-15 weeks," said Paly distance coach Jeff Billing, in his third season. "He's not doing a lot of miles, just consistent mileage."
The debate over how to train for distance running has raged for years. It was believed elite athletes needed 100-mile weeks (or higher) to reach that status. The fact MacQuitty is well below 30 miles a week and has produced national-class results has track followers dumbfounded.
Billing, 28, has seen both sides of the debate. His father was a marathoner and his uncle, Amby Burfoot, the longtime editor of Runner's World magazine, has a 2:14 marathon to his credit as well as a victory in the Boston Marathon and was regarded as the father of long-distance running. Billing said Burfoot used to run 70 miles a week during his prep days.
"The high mileage works for some people," Billing said. "It made him (Burfoot) famous. But, he would say 'under train and talent will rise.' That's his philosophy."
Billing pretty much has adopted that philosophy, as well, despite the message board posters who claim to know better how MacQuitty should be trained.
"I'm confident we're doing the right thing with Philip," Billing said. "He's in good hands.
"I want him to have the historical perspective of the sport, where he can respect all the great runners. But, day to day, I want him to have fun and be a kid."
Billing has known the MacQuitty family since arriving at Paly. He coached Philip's older brother, Xander (now a freshman at Harvard), and knew of Philip's talent at Jordan Middle School -- where he attracted private coaches and private schools even then.
Philip and his parents, however, were convinced that Paly could provide the proper coaching.
Billing recalls Philip coming to a summer running camp and asking: "You're not going to make me run 60 miles a week, are you?"
Not now and maybe not ever. Billing figures a gradual increase of perhaps five miles per season (cross country and track) may be enough to keep MacQuitty healthy and on track for bigger things in the future.
"My philosophy is gradual slow improvement," Billing said. "I want him to go to college and improve. And, I would hope his college coach would want him to improve after college, as well."
Billing said there were no specific time goals for MacQuitty this season and that workouts were aimed at getting him aerobically fit.
"We train for lungs, not legs," Billing said. "He's really, really fast right now. His legs obviously can do it."
Billing has been taken by surprise, however, by MacQuitty's big time drop. In an e-mail to former Paly runner Scott Himmelberger earlier this season, Billing said: "If this season is perfect, I can see Philip breaking 9:20."
Thus, MacQuitty has surpassed all expectations for the year.
"The state meet is icing on the cake," Billing said.
MacQuitty, however, is taking aim at lowering his career best on Saturday, perhaps into the 9:05 range.
"If he breaks 9:10, that's just ridiculous," Billing said. "It's so fast. If he runs 9:05, that's serious historical stuff -- maybe top five all-time (nationally) as a freshman."
The fastest 3,200 by a freshman in state history is the 9:01.3 (converted from two miles) by Eric Hulst of Laguna Beach in 1973. Hulst still holds the state meet record of 8:44.9 set in 1975.
Saturday's 3,200 field includes two runners with times faster than Hulst's freshman mark -- seniors John Sullivan (8:58.68) and Brendan Gregg (8:59.48), both headed for Stanford. The favorites, however, are Chad Hall (9:03.50) and two-time defending state champ Michael Cybulski (9:04.99). Both are high on MacQuitty's idol list.
"With these amazing runners, I'll stick with them Saturday and see if I can run a good time," MacQuitty said. "But, there are 31 runners in this race. They all know the only way they're going to win is stick with the top pack, and hope the top guys have a bad race."
The top guys like Hall and Cybulski, however, don't want 29 runners on their heels and most likely will take it out quickly.
"The first mile definitely will be fast, probably 4:24 or 4:25," MacQuitty said. "That's only three seconds off my PR in the mile."
And there's still four laps left to go.
"Personally, I like people going out fast, so I know where I am," MacQuitty said. "I get a thrill from racing. Every race has different opportunities and different paces . . . If the pace changes, I'll go. It's like riding a wave -- just go with it."
Despite his No. 1 freshman status, MacQuitty isn't predicted to finish among the top six and earn a medal Saturday.
"There shouldn't be any pressure," he said. "I'm just testing myself, testing my limits. I'm just going to see what I can do against the best of the best in high school."
That's what Palo Alto senior Mike Scott (triple jump), Castilleja senior Tori Anthony (pole vault) and the Menlo-Atherton girls' 400 relay team of Caprice Powell, Keianna Talton, Christina Dixon and Dominique Greene also will be doing this weekend in Sacramento.
Of that group, Anthony should join MacQuitty on Saturday. She's the defending state champ as well as the U.S. leader indoors (14-2 1/2) and outdoors (13-10).