‘Holy Grail of it all:’ Nease grad Rheinhardt Harrison reflects on historic mile

He became just the 16th high school runner in U.S. history to break 4-minute mile

Nease graduate Rheinhardt Harrison became just the 16th runner in U.S. history to run a sub-four minute mile on June 3. (Justin Barney, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Rheinhardt Harrison had two goals in his high school running career.

He accomplished them both, the biggest earning him a place in history last week.

Harrison wanted to stick with the same running coach, Tom Schwartz, and see how his skills developed over the course of his career under one coach.

And of course, there was the “Holy Grail” of distance running, the sub-four-minute mile that Harrison had dreamed about breaking for as long as he’d been running.

That was the goal for the Nease High School graduate and Oregon signee.

So, when Harrison crossed the line in 3 minutes, 59.33 seconds in the Golden South Series No. 2 event last week in Tarpon Springs, he became just the 16th high school runner in history — and fourth of the week — to hit that milestone. Jim Ryun was the first high schooler to break that mark in 1964.

“My biggest goal, I think, was to break the four-minute mile,” he said Wednesday afternoon from Arizona. “If you’re a distance runner, that’s like the Holy Grail of it all, to break the four-minute mile.”

And it gave Harrison a bit of a break, too.

With no sub-four, Harrison said he would have likely continued on with a few more track events this summer. He won the state championship in the 800 in the Class 4A meet last May (1:48.62) and would have picked a couple national events to compete in.

Making history changed things. Harrison said that was the ideal way to finish his high school career and start looking at getting prepared for college.

He called his high school coach and then his future college coach at Oregon to let them know he was turning the page from a prep track focus to the cross country season in college. After a couple weeks of allowing his body to reset, Harrison said he’ll be plugged in to Oregon’s cross country program and getting acclimated with the demands of college.

Harrison won every cross country meet he entered last season, including his third consecutive state championship, and then took first in every 800, 1600 and 3200 event that he competed in during Nease’s track season. He graduates as one of the most successful cross country and track athletes in Florida high school history.

But it was Harrison’s pursuit of the sub-four mile that had picked up steam over the past year and a half. He was under pace on the first lap, in at just over 59 seconds. Harrison hit the halfway mark at 2:01 and just off pace. He came in off pace on the third split (3:01.8) and then turned in a blistering final lap (58.25 seconds) to hit the mark.

“Before I’d even gotten into high school, I think just from a little kid, I’ve been running since I was like 4 years old, it was always kind of like a big thing,” Harrison said.

“And to finally do it, there aren’t a lot of guys that say as a 5-year-old that I want to break the four-minute mile in high school and then actually go do it. But it feels pretty cool to do that. Big accomplishment. I’m honored to be a part of all those other guys that have been able to do as well.”

Harrison had come close before — a 4:01.34 and a 4:02.61 in meets last fall — but just missed. Harrison had a 4:01.15 last February but didn’t realistically attempt a sub-four the rest of the high school season until June 3 in Tarpon Springs. Had Harrison not gone sub-four, he said he likely wouldn’t have attempted it again.

“I think that the whole idea behind it was to give myself a solid shot,” Harrison said. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy because I would be by myself for the last 800 meters of it where a lot of the other guys that have been doing it in the past or even this year have had really good [college or pro] competition. But I just wanted to go out have fun. And you know, I had a good day. It all came together. It was what I needed.”

It marked a staggering week for high school distance runners.

On May 28, Colin Sahlman ran a 3:56.24 at the Prefontaine Classic. On June 2, two runners in the same race at the Festival of Miles in St. Louis went sub-four. Gary Martin of Archbishop Wood ran a 3:57.89 and Connor Burns of Southern Boone in Ashland, Mo. clocked a 3:58.83.

Sahlman finished 13th in his race. Martin and Burns finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Those three competed in races with college and professional runners. It was Martin’s second time cracking the sub-four mile. His 3:57.98 at the Pennsylvania Catholic League Championship in mid May broke Ryun’s mark of 3:58.3 in 1965 against high school-only competition.

The Golden South Series is open only to high school age athletes. Without college or professional runners to push him or set the pace, Harrison had to hold himself to a sub-four pace.

“If I was telling myself, like I said, back then [when he was 5 years old] that I’d be doing this, I don’t think I’d be like super-shocked at it because I think I always believed in myself,” he said. “But I’d definitely be pretty proud of myself. ... I’m really proud of myself. And to get there it’s not easy, so, it just finally all paid off.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.