As Sean Dolan crossed the finish line at the Sykes & Sabock Challenge at Penn State on Jan. 29, he knew that he was running at a sub-four-minute mile pace as he trailed right behind Villanova teammate Charlie O’Donovan. He could feel it because it was something that he and O’Donovan have done before.
But running a mile close to his personal record was not the best part of Dolan’s day. He was about to look up at the board and see that redshirt freshman Liam Murphy, who had been behind him, had completed his first sub-4-minute mile, posting a time of 3:59.63.
Then, Dolan started to scream. He jumped with excitement at Murphy, colliding with him and O’Donovan in a group hug of congratulations that sent head coach Marcus O’Sullivan flying in to join. Dolan and O’Donovan spent 15-20 seconds “going bananas” for Murphy, seemingly unconcerned with their own individual times.
“It was this goosebump moment,” O’Donovan said. “It was awesome.”
The three mid-distance runners all completed a mile in under four minutes in the same race, a feat that has not been accomplished at Villanova in at least 20 years. Murphy became the 44th runner in school history to break the four-minute threshold. The accomplishment provided the dream start to Murphy’s indoor career.
“It was definitely a lot more special and definitely easier going into it knowing that I’d be in the race with my teammates,” Murphy said. “It helped having them there.”
Senior O’Donovan finished second overall at 3:57.46, a personal record in the mile that earned him Big East Men’s Track Athlete of the Week honors. The Cork, Ireland native ran his first sub-four-minute mile as a sophomore, and has since been a consistent force on the squad, posting a personal record in the 1,500 meters in 3:40.95. O’Donovan credited coach O’Sullivan, his countryman, and a fellow member of the Villanova sub-4-minute mile club, for the team’s success.
“We have to give a lot of credit to our coach,” O’Donovan said. “He’s proven just as well as a coach as he was as an athlete, and there’s just a rich history here. It almost comes naturally to this program.”
Dolan, another consistent standout, finished in third with a time of 3:57.59. The junior was last week’s Big East Men’s Track Athlete of the Week, after opening up the indoor season with a 1:48.11 time in the 800 meters.
Despite racing against each other every week, the three refuse to look at one another as competitors. They run together, eat together, and rest together. Dolan calculates that they must spend a minimum of four hours a day together, seven days a week.
“We’re more than just a team,” he said. “We’re all great friends. It’s great to have a group of guys that get along really well and have the same common goal. Seeing our other teammates exceed, nothing makes me happier.”
“We always know when our team steps out on the line at a meet that we can get the job done and do something special,” O’Donovan said, “And we have a bunch of other guys who are just as hungry to continue to succeed and break four [minutes]. And then when you break four, you set the goal higher again, and you see how far you can go.”