From Small Town to Big Time - Brett Meyer Passes Jim Ryun

Brett Meyer powering to the finish of his 3:58.39 mile at Washburn University (Photo credit Gene Cassell/Washburn Assistant Athletic Director)

More native Kansan milers (four) have made the U.S. Olympic team than have run a sub- 4:00 mile indoors on Kansas soil.

Until this past weekend, the number of indoor sub- 4:00 miles run on Kansas soil stood at exactly one - Jim Ryun's 3:58.8 on March 4, 1967 on the old dirt track that used to encircle the court inside KU's Allen Fieldhouse. Ryun himself had forgotten about it until it was pointed out to him from a race results list. But Saturday, on the new indoor track at Topeka's Washburn University, former Scott Community High School and Fort Hays State University runner Brett Meyer eclipsed Ryun's indoor Kansas soil mark by running 3:58.39 despite having to run from the front.

The most fascinating part about it may be Meyer's journey to that historic mark, and what it may signal for things still to come.

Brett Meyer celebrates a 3A state title in 4 x 800 relay

Meyer was a four-sport athlete at small (3A) Scott Community, playing football, basketball, and baseball in addition to track and field. Meyer never ran cross country or even the 1600 in high school. His longest competitive distance was the 800, where he produced a PR of 1:56.14, hardly a performance that would've predicted eventually surpassing an achievement of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Jim Ryun. His primary goal was just to break 2:00 for the 800, like his older brother did. His other events were the 400 and 4 x 400 relay.

Once the 6'3" Meyer realized that his dream of playing college basketball wasn't going to happen, he accepted an offer to run track at Fort Hays State University. Right off the bat, he was in for a rude awakening when he discovered that he would also have to run cross-country. The 8K/10K college cross-country competitive distances were a shock to the four sport athlete more accustomed to running 49-point splits on the 4 x 400 relay in high school.

That freshman season produced a modest 28:12 8K PR but, unbeknownst to Meyer at the time, the training would bear great fruit in the spring. That winter indoors, Meyer ran his first competitive mile races, producing a 4:26 indoor PR that can best be described as "modest."

A glimpse of things to come emerged that spring when, in four successive races, the freshman Meyer went 2:02, 1:57, 1:53 and finally 1:51.52, nearly five seconds faster than his high school PR a year earlier. "The goal I wrote down for myself for that season was 1:55. I just wanted to run faster than I did the previous year, so running that fast shocked me," says Meyer.

A conversation with his coach, Jason McCullough, after the 1:51 race proved to be life-changing.

"We were going for a cooldown jog when he told me that he thought my future was in the mile, and that I could run sub- 4:00. I couldn't even wrap my head around it," says Meyer. "But he emphasized it would take time, probably a couple of years. That was the first time I started thinking about the sport from a long-term development perspective."

Meyer returned in the fall with a renewed enthusiasm for cross-country training after seeing the results it produced. In his sophomore season, Meyer shaved a minute off of his 8K PR that fall, took 10 seconds off of his indoor mile PR running 4:15.66 at the DeLoss Dodds Invitational. That spring, he ran under his previous 800 PR seven times, eventually lowering it to 1:50.24 that season. However, a 7th-place finish at the NCAA Division II 800 championships convinced him that his best chances to win were at 1500/mile.

Brett Meyer racing for Fort Hays State University

In his junior year, he lowered his 8K XC PR nearly another minute to 26:16 in the fall, then chopped another 10 seconds off of his indoor mile PR, running 4:06. He also finished second at the NCAA Division II indoor mile, running 4:13.66. A month later, he dropped a 3:43.64 1500, the equivalent of approximately a 4:01.5 mile. He used that time to lobby for a spot on the starting line at the Festival of Miles in St. Louis where he ran his first sub-4:00.

Meyer finished sixth in 3:59.77.

The sub-4:00 came two years after his coach first predicted it was possible, an idea that the multisport athlete from Scott City could barely fathom at the time. Now, it was a reality.

Entering his senior year, Meyer again trimmed his 8K XC PR, this time to 25:57, lowered his indoor mile PR to 4:04.23, and finished fourth in the Division II indoor mile. That spring, he captured his first national title, winning the Division II 1500.

Meyer never redshirted a single season in college, using all of his eligibility and graduating in four straight years.

Meyer decided to pursue his masters degree in sports administration and became a graduate assistant at Fort Hays State. He managed to get in two indoor races in 2020 prior to the Covid shut down, lowering his indoor PR to 4:01. When the remaining races were canceled, Meyer decided to throw himself into his training to see how far he could go. Pushing his training volume consistently into the 80M/week range for the first time, he focused on threshold workouts with a special emphasis on a 15-17 mile long run that he "likes to hammer."

That brings us to his epic 3:58.39 in Topeka, supplanting Jim Ryun as the fastest-ever indoor miler on Kansas soil.

It marked his sixth straight year lowering his indoor mile PR, going back to his freshman year of college with that meager 4:26, and he did it without much mile-specific training so far this year.

When asked what he believed led him to this point, Meyer identified two things.

"I really believe doing multiple sports in high school laid the background. I had some injuries in high school in football and basketball, but I realized when I got to college that I was just stronger and more athletic than some of the guys who focused on running a lot earlier than I did. As a result, I didn't really have any injury issues in college which helped me handle the higher training volume and training loads to be able to run this fast."

But there is a deeper issue that Meyer credits for his long, unbroken streak of improvement to this point. "I truly believe my faith has made a difference. I see my running as a platform to glorify Christ, not myself, and that's what I try to focus on. This isn't about me, it's about Christ, making the most out of what I've been given and showing others what's possible."

Meyer has a 1500 meter race in Texas in a couple of weeks and is looking ahead to other races outdoors where he hopes to meet the Olympic Trials 1500 qualifying standard of 3:37.5 (equivalent to about a 3:54.9 mile). 

Given the consistent improvement and recent performance, the future seems bright. Very bright indeed.