Danny Simmons, who became a national sensation in distance running circles the last two years, will soon leave his running career behind. On July 8, he will set aside his NIL deal and his training and race schedule and postpone the start of his collegiate career at BYU to begin serving a church mission for two years in Atlanta.

Before he takes a running sabbatical, he will compete in one more competition. He will run the mile at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals on Saturday evening in Philadelphia with the specific goal of running a sub-four-minute mile. He also will defend his title in the two-mile race Friday night.

At the outset of the year Simmons set a goal to run a sub-four mile during the peak of the high school season in May. He finished with a time of 4:01.78 in the BYU Invitational in the 1,600-meter run — the mile’s shorter metric cousin — then two weeks later ran 4:01.27 in the state championships.

It says much about his abilities and confidence that he attempted to break four minutes at altitude — Provo’s elevation is 4,551 feet — where the air is thinner and considerably more challenging for endurance athletes. He nearly pulled it off anyway, twice. A mile is 9.344 meters longer than 1,600 meters. By the time you convert Simmons’ 1,600-meter time to a mile, then do the altitude conversion, his time is roughly the equivalent of a 3:57-3:58 mile at sea level. His lap splits in the state championship race were 60, 61, 62, 57. The third lap cost him.

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In Philadelphia, Simmons will have two things he did not have in Provo — sea-level oxygen and better competition around him. In both the BYU and state competitions, Simmons ran from the front, wire to wire, although Herriman’s William Steadman was hot on his heels (4:02.64) in the state championships; that is much more difficult than running behind someone and having someone else handle the pacing chores. In the New Balance mile, he will race Pennsylvania’s Drew Griffith and Kansas’ Clay Shively, who rank one-two in the nation this season, with times of 3:56.29 and 3:58.51, both at sea level.

For the record, there’s an all-out assault underway on the sub-four “barrier,” which has been all but knocked down. After Jim Ryun became the first high school runner to break four minutes in 1965, only two others replicated that feat in the next 36 years. In the 23 years since then, 19 have broken four minutes, 11 of them since 2022, including Utah’s JoJo Jourdon of Olympus High.

No matter what happens, Simmons has made his mark in the distance-running world. Last weekend he competed against professionals and a handful of collegians in the Portland Track Festival and placed eighth with a time of 13:25.86. That broke the national high school record by nine seconds. He missed achieving the automatic qualifying time for the U.S. Olympic trials by a mere .86 hundredths of a second.

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“Daniel Simmons is indeed a generational talent,” says Ed Eyestone, BYU’s head coach and a former Olympic distance runner. “The physical, mental and, I would say, spiritual strength that he brings is phenomenal. We are very fortunate to be getting him.”

So this weekend’s national meet will be Simmons’ final competition for the next two years. He will leave behind a trail of accomplishments and honors.

  • Two-time national Gatorade Cross-Country Athlete of the Year.
  • Ninth fastest prep athlete ever at the two-mile distance, 8:37.13.
  • National high school record holder for both the indoor and outdoor 5,000.
  • Winner of the 3,200-meter run at the Arcadia Invitational (California), the most competitive and prestigious in-season high school competition in the country, clocking a nation-leading 8:34.96.
  • All-class state records for the 1,600 (4:01.27) and 3,200 (8:36.79).
  • Two-time state cross-country champion, four-time individual state track champion.
  • 2023 national outdoor two-mile champion, 2024 national indoor two-mile champion.

“He’s done just about everything that one could ask him to do,” says Eyestone. “The times he’s run are amazing. He broke the 5,000 record by nine seconds and did it in a very strong way, closing his last lap in 57 seconds! That time of 13:25 would be the fourth fastest ever at BYU. That 4:01 (for 1,600 meters) at altitude was as amazing as anything he’s done. And that 3,200 he ran that he ran to win state is better than his Arcadia win, and that was fast.”

Actually, his Utah state championship performance in the 3,200 might top anything Simmons has done. He recorded a time of 8:36.79. Convert that to a two-mile time and you get about 8:39.79. Do the math for an altitude conversion and it comes out to 8:26-8:27. The national two-mile record is 8:29.46, set in 2011 by Lukas Verzbicas of Illinois. And Simmons ran his race alone, finishing 21 seconds ahead of his nearest rival. Remarkably, en route to his record-setting 5,000-meter run last weekend, he covered the last 3,200 meters in 8 minutes, 33 seconds (about 8:36 for two miles).

About the only accomplishment that eluded Simmons was victory at the Nike Cross Nationals. After finishing second as a junior, he was the big favorite to win the 2023 race, but he wore the wrong shoes for the muddy-rainy conditions; the spikes were too short and he struggled to keep his footing throughout the race. He finished 13th only after passing eight runners in the final 1,000 meters. It’s a measure of his talent that he was still voted the national cross-country athlete of the year.

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His running exploits have earned headlines on every national running platform and an NIL deal with New Balance, which paid him to represent the company during his senior year (it will expire when he leaves for his mission).

Here’s how precocious Simmons is: as Eyestone referenced, Simmons’ 5,000-meter time of 13:25.86 in Portland last week would be the fourth fastest in the history of BYU, only two seconds off the school record, and this is a school that has produced numerous Olympic and U.S. champion distance runners — Paul Cummings, Henry Marsh, Doug Padilla, Ed Eyestone, Josh McAdams, Kenneth Rooks, Clayton Young, Conner Mantz, Jared Ward.

“He’s amazing and he’s going to go on and do amazing things,” says Eyestone.

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Simmons had hoped to race once more after the New Balance Nationals, but his bid for the Olympic Trials — a rare feat for a high school athlete — fell short. USA Track and Field mandated that if there aren’t enough qualified athletes to fill a 30-man field in the 5,000 meters, then the next fastest athletes would be added to meet that number. Ultimately, 35 runners met the qualifying standard of 13:25.00, and 32 of them declared they would enter the race. Simmons was the fastest non-qualifier, at 13:25.86.

So Simmons will put his running on hold after this weekend’s national meet. “It’s a happy thought really,” says Simmons, who is guileless and unfailingly pleasant. “I left a good mark. I’m hoping I inspired some people along the way to chase their dreams. I feel pretty good about it all.”

Danny Simmons, American Fork High, receives the male Athlete of the Year award from Brett Greenwell at the Deseret News high school sports awards at the Grand America in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 8, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Mission rules will allow him to exercise every morning except Sunday, provided he’s ready to do his mission work at 6:30 and has a companion who is willing to accompany him as he works out. Monday is “prep day,” which means he is free to do shopping, laundry, household chores, etc., and a longer workout, which could include running or cycling.

“I’ll be focusing on the mission work first of all,” he says. “I’m mainly excited to spread the joy I’ve come to know and what I’ve been trying to do in running, as well. All the victories and the cool things I’ve earned through running don’t compare with the feelings of coming to know my Savior, Jesus Christ, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned and bring this joy to others.”

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