Kyle Gallagher was coming off a strong cross country season. Sultana High's No. 2 runner behind curly-haired record-setter Brett Walters, Gallagher joined Walters at the Stanford Invitational and helped the Sultans to another league championship.

And so Gallagher and Coach John Mahr began discussing another goal: the 26.2-mile Carlsbad Marathon on January 20.

"I wanted to do one before I graduated," he said.

But it wasn't just the fact that the long-legged runner was so fast and strong that he could string together three miles at a pace of five-minute each, it was something even more important that captured Mahr's imagination. Gallagher, Mahr says, has a stoic resolve that few athletes possess, even the most naturally gifted.

"He is hard, hard working. This kid could be a Navy Seal. Really."

As other cross country runners' seasons came to an end last Thanksgiving, Gallagher's training was about to intensify. First, Mahr tapered off Gallagher's training for a week or so, then he began gradually increasing his mileage. Running eight to 10 miles every day during cross country, the Sultan senior's daily mileage soon was upped to 13 or 14 miles a day.

"I had one week of 99 miles," Gallagher said. "It bumped up a lot, but I could handle it."

Behind the scenes, however, Coach Mahr - who has had one of the more successful cross country programs in the Victor Valley - helped Gallagher work through the pressure of two-a-day workouts. When his protege started wondering if all the work was worth it, Mahr suggested he compare the freedom of running to the constraints of actual work, like his parents and other adults do every day.

"'You've got to break through that wall,' I told him. `I'm there with you.' We got him through it."

With cross country season providing a solid base and the six weeks between cross and the marathon adding longer runs, Mahr was confident that Gallagher could do well in the race. Running as fast as 2004 grad Stuart Patterson's 2:45:21 may have been too lofty to expect, but coach and runner were planning on a sub three-hour race, clearly a classy first marathon.
"When you look at who's done marathons for us, it's not just any average kid. We've experimented. We pretty much know what he could do. So far we really haven't had any major disappointments."

THE BIG RACE
Gallagher spent the night at a Marriott hotel along the course.

"I was able to drive it the night before."

With school starting every morning at 7 a.m., it felt slightly luxurious for the runner to awake at 6:30. He had a bowl of cereal and downed a protein shake. He was ready and eager to prove his mettle when the race began at 7:30.

The plan was to run the first five miles in 30 minutes - six-minute mile pace. Gallagher was slightly over the goal, but he hit 10 miles almost right at an hour. In fact, early on Gallagher found himself in the company of some iconic African distance runners.

"I couldn't believe I was running with Kenyans!"

As the race continued, he kept feeling strong. In fact, at 20 miles, Coach Mahr began to get worried, not because he was fading, but because he wasn't. Would Gallagher crash and burn, like so many first-timers do?

"He was looking too good for 20 miles. I was thinking, `He looks better than anyone I've had before.'"

"At 22 miles I was at 2:08," Gallagher noted about his uncanny swift pace.

Gallagher never did hit the proverbial "wall," but those last four miles surely weren't easy.
"He paid the price in the last few miles," Mahr said. "But he didn't hit the wall, he just gradually slowed down."

At around 6-feet tall and 165 pounds, Gallagher carries more muscle than many distance runners. But he possesses a fluid running style that is very economic. Combined with his mental toughness, the runner of Irish heritage toughed out the last stretch of the race
Over the last mile, his little brother Logan, himself an outstanding distance runner at Ranchero Middle School, urged him on, running by his side. Just as the pain increased - "that was the longest six minutes of my life" - the Gallagher clan, which included his mother and father, Tina and Patrick Gallagher, sister Ashlynn and brothers Skyler and Logan, were there waving hand-made signs and cheering him on.

After crossing the finish line, Gallagher learned that he not only had broken the three-hour barrier, but he recorded a new school recording, beating Patterson's time with a 2:44:13.

"He called me on my cellphone after the race and said 'good job.'"

The 18-year-old had beat many seasoned runners, coming in sixth overall and averaging 6:16 per mile. Tesfaye Dirba, 24, an Ethiopian-born runner who resides in Inglewood, won the race with a time of 2:19:26.

NEXT GOAL
This track season, Gallagher hopes to solidly beat his personal best of 9:52 in the 3200 meters (approximately two miles). "I'm looking to totally improve on that." Mahr believes he and fellow Sultan runner Art Parra have a chance to join Walters under 9:30. He will also run the mile, probably try the 800 meters and would like to qualify for the 5,000 meters at the nationally-renowned Arcadia Invitational track meet.

Just after he will graduate from Sultana in May, Gallagher is planning on racing the Rock and Roll Marathon in San Diego on June 1. Technically, he could still run as a high schooler. Gallagher and his coach will set a goal of breaking 2:40 or even 2:35. Such a time could place him high on the all-time national high school record book.

After high school, Gallagher expects to go to either Brigham Young University, Concordia University or Azusa Pacific. "But my ultimate dream is to be a Florida Gator. My dad's from Florida."

Mahr wouldn't be surprised if Gallagher continues to make dramatic improvements and become a top U.S. marathoner.

"He could have a chance to make the Olympic team someday."

And the coach, who helped provide fitness training for Navy Seals when he lived in San Diego before moving to the High Desert in 1985, truly believes Gallagher has the makings of a Navy Seal or any other top-level achievement that takes extreme concentration, toughness and character.

But for now, Gallagher is happy to take life one step at a time.

"I like the adrenalin rush feeling you get from running. I like running fast. When you're done you've accomplished something that nobody else has done. It's a blast."