Mile News

Hobbs Kessler, 17, climbs 5.14+ and clocks sub-4 minute Mile

March 16, 2021

"The transition from climbing to running for me was really weird... I think it has been really key for me to learn to let go of my climbing performance."

By Bruce Hildenbrand, Climbing

When Hobbs Kessler set the U.S. High School indoor record for the Mile in Fayetteville, Arkansas in February, little was known about the 17-year-old from Ann Arbor, Michigan. The press, clamoring for details, were surprised to learn that for the majority of his young life he has been totally dedicated to another sport that appeared to have little connection to running.

In fact, Hobbs had only begun running less than four years before. "Going into my freshman year in high school my parents told me I had to join cross country. I only had to do it for a season, but they wanted me to find a community with the guys on the team and that kind of stuff," said Hobbs.

"They gave me a little nudge and it kind of escalated and escalated as time went on and I got a little better at running," noted Kessler. That's a huge understatement, as he went from barely breaking 5 minutes in the Mile as a freshman to becoming the fastest ever 17-year-old U.S. high school Miler with his record-setting 3 minute, 57.66 second time in Arkansas.

To be an elite athlete in one sport is an amazing accomplishment. To excel in another sport as well is extraordinary. So when Hobbs told the reporters at his record-setting meet that he had represented the USA at the IFSC Climbing Youth World Championships in Arco, Italy in 2019, the scribes knew this kid was something special. And then he told them he wanted to be the first person to run a sub-4 minute Mile and climb 5.15 and V15. Wait, what?

"I started doing the kids program at the climbing gyms when I was 3-years-old so I don't even remember starting. It is just something I was always around. It's been my identity from when I was young and it has just gotten more and more serious as time went on," noted Hobbs.

Both Hobbs' parents are climbers and runners. His dad built a small climbing wall at their house in Michigan. As Hobbs' dedication to the sport grew so did the wall and it is now in its third iteration. "We built it out the best we could and it ended up 27-feet wide and 12-feet high and 45 degrees overhanging. It's been up for about a year and we have about 400 problems on it. It's pretty dense; probably over 2,000 holds. It took months just to get them on and get them the right way so they could all be used."

But having a world class spray wall in your backyard has its pros and cons. "I don't want to do it for the sake of doing it. I want to do it because I love doing it. If I am not excited about it and not having fun, I am not going to force myself to do it. I want to stay true to that because climbing is something I want to do for my whole life and I don't want to turn it into a chore," said Hobbs.

He seems to be getting the right balance. In March 2019, he had his best week ever: At his favorite climbing area, the Red River Gorge, he logged ascents of Transworld Depravity (5.14a), Thanatopsis (5.14b) and Southern Smoke (5.14c)—his hardest redpoint to-date.

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