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Scott Strand: Behind the scenes and center stage at the Olympic Trials


Ryan Lamppa
Media Correspondent
USA Track & Field
(805) 696-6232

Scott Strand can't wait for the gun to go off. The Birmingham native carries the tag "hometown hero" going into the 2004 U.S. Men's Olympic Marathon Trials, hosted by the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Ala. on Saturday, Feb 7. In between grueling full-time marathon training, he manages the local Trak Shak running shop, makes PR appearances around town and serves as sounding board to event director Valerie McLean on just about anything concerning the elite athletes and the running of the race. And oh yeah - he also designed the marathon course.

So forgive him if he's ready to get the race underway. "I'll be relieved when the gun goes off," laughs the 2000 USA 10K road champion. "It will be a real pleasure to run in my hometown. I still have to be prepared for the race, but the crowds should help. If the weather holds out, the crowds should be great. As much of a benefit it is to have the race here in Birmingham, I do get pulled in a few more directions than I would really like to be."

But he shrugs off the diversions. "As for distractions, everybody has those. Mine comes in the form of my 15-month-old son, Ethan. I think he caught all the colds and viruses this winter and brought them home to share with Lori (wife) and me."

As hectic as his lifestyle seems, the former Auburn steeplechaser is making sure he'll be ready when he toes the starting line. "I will help promote the race a little more on some TV and radio spots, but for the most part I've cut back at work and hope to be able to rest for the race like each of the other guys."

His recent performance (1:03:55 PR, 4th place) at the Houston Half-Marathon suggests he is right on track to perform well in front of the hometown fans. "Houston went well, obviously. It was a pretty big PR, which is never disappointing. I hope my training and Houston result bode well for the marathon."

At 35-years-old, he is a relative newcomer to the marathon world. He didn't debut until the 2001 USA Men's Marathon Championship, hosted by the New York City Marathon (just months after 9-11) and he ran 2:21:16 to qualify for the 2004 Trials. His second marathon came last year when he gave his Birmingham course a dress rehearsal at the 2003 USA Men's Marathon Championship. He ran 2:16:52, good enough for 5th place.

"The transition to the marathon hasn't been easy," says Strand, who may have the most manifest of all mile PR's - 4:00.01. "I have always been a lower mileage guy. Even now, I probably do fewer miles than 95% of my competitors. I have tried to push it a little more, but it takes time to do it right. I think the hardest part of this training period has been doing the long, hard runs alone. I've got a few great guys to train with, but we're not running the same pace."

So, the gun finally goes off, what is the Scott Strand strategy on the hometown course? "I have to run the pace which I have trained to run. My best guess is between 5:04 and 5:08 pace. It's still a new event for me, and the challenge is the distance, not the pace. I will leave my final strategy open, depending on conditions and the initial pace of the leaders. I know just about anything can happen in a marathon."

Strand's list of favorites is no revelation...Culpepper, Browne, Meb. Throw Shay, Verran and several others into the mix. But he leaves room for a possible 1988 Mark Conover kind of upset. "There can always be a surprise, and there probably will be, but if I knew who, then it wouldn't be a surprise!"

Strand thinks the relaxed Olympic "A" standard (from 2:12 to 2:15) will have an impact in the way the race is run. "It opened the doors for not only those guys who were added to the A qualifier list, but also for those of us who can make that jump in Birmingham. What I think it did for the race was to leave it open to a more tactical pace. The one who will win is the one who can run fast from the gun, or make/counter a big move off a slower pace late in the race."

So what can the runners expect from the Scott Strand signature marathon course? Who better to design a PGA Championship golf course than a pro golfer (ala Jack Nicklaus)? Who better to design a USA Championship marathon course than an elite runner like Scott Strand? And who better to describe the course than the architect himself?

Strand - "When Birmingham was chosen as the host site, I was asked if I could make the course faster than the original design. So, I did a lot of driving around and made several course layouts with a computer program to come up with a faster course. The course started east of downtown at around 900 feet above sea level, and fell to the loop over 9.5 miles to around 600 feet. The loop is 5.43 miles in length and the elevation changes only slightly above or below the 600 foot mark. The loop is done 3 times before heading an additional mile to the finish. The runner's can expect a smooth ride into downtown, where they will be greeted by a large, probably noisy crowd. Once on the loop, the crowd can freely move to cheer the runners onward. The loop course is generally flat, with only slight variations in elevation, so the runners will be able to change the muscle groups that are used occasionally. The objective in this course layout was to combine a net elevation drop from start-to-finish with a spectator friendly layout."

Course designer, race consultant, store manager, PR man, Olympic hopeful - about the only thing Strand isn't doing in Birmingham is firing the starting gun, but he'd probably be more than willing, because that would mean the Trials race was underway!

By Hank Brown, Running USA wire

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