Third-fastest American in 2010 looking to go large in Houston.
Written by: David Monti
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
Brett Gotcher, who ran the third-fastest marathon by an American in 2010, definitely prefers flannel to lycra. At a luncheon last Friday at a local restaurant in Flagstaff, he looked more like a logger than a runner in his red and orange flannel shirt. His long blond hair and scruffy beard completed his lumberjack look.
“That would be cool,” he replies when a visitor to this Arizona mountain town surrounded by towering Ponderosa pines jokes that someone could make a flannel running uniform. “I’d like that.”
Gotcher, 26, has emerged as the unlikely leader of the 14-member Team USA Arizona coached by Greg McMillan here. He was not a star when he ran for Stanford University (in his senior year in 2007 he finished just 25th in the NCAA championships at 10,000m and had a modest personal best of 28:51.65). But under McMillan, his only post-collegiate coach, Gotcher has learned that he has a special talent for the long run. His 2:10:35 at Houston last January was only surpassed this year by two of his better-known American compatriots: Olympians Ryan Hall (2:08:41) and Meb Keflezighi (2:09:26).
“It’s gone pretty well,” Gotcher said, summarizing his year. “I’ve seen some more breakthroughs on the track, and I PR’d in the 10K, and continued having some success on the roads. But, ever since running that first marathon, that’s all I’ve been thinking about along the way, and really looking forward to getting another crack at it.”
Under McMillan, Gotcher has brought down his 10,000m personal best to 28:09.21, his 20K to 58:57 (he won the national title at that distance in 2009), and his half-marathon to 1:02:09. He also made the national teams for the IAAF World Half-Marathon and Cross Country championships in 2009. Those were all solid achievements, but it was last January’s marathon performance that put Gotcher’s name on the lips of fans, journalists and statisticians.
“Brett’s been here three and a half years now,” McMillan explained. He continued: “One of the things we’ve done, and you’re seeing it with Brett since he’s kind of the longest one here, we’re trying to make a career out of this thing. We’re trying to make smart decisions.”
Gotcher, and another seven Team USA Arizona athletes, are getting ready for the Chevron Houston Marathon on Sunday, January 30. His closest peer in the training group here is Irish Olympian Martin Fagan, who will also be running Houston. The two completed an important tempo run last Saturday, and Gotcher feels that he can definitely lower his time from last year in the right conditions.
“I feel like there is more in the tank there,” he said of his marathon debut 11 months ago. “I was definitely spent, but I saw how close I could get to running a faster time that deep into the race. So, I kind of had that taste fresh in my mouth, and was just looking forward go taking another crack at it to really, really go for it again.”
Right after his success at Houston last year, Gotcher and McMillan began working on how he could improve in his next effort. Gotcher definitely had the endurance, but the marathon is a race of small details, a very “technical event” as Paul Tergat once said.
“When Brett finished, he and I both started talking about four or five or ten things you could do different to run faster,” McMillan said. “Because even when you have your best race, you’re always able to point out several things that can make you go faster.”
One thing the pair has focused on was whether Gotcher was getting enough calories during the race, something which the athlete said he hadn’t thought much about a year ago.
“I think one of the big things is fueling,” Gotcher intoned. “I had never really run races which required fueling before, and I don’t think I really took it seriously enough. So, that’s one thing I’ve really been experimenting with leading into this next one, and hoping that I can get a system down that allows me to feel strong throughout the entire race. I think that’s going to make a huge difference.”
Gotcher bypassed the chance to run a fall marathon, and decided to focus on Houston as a way to prepare best for the 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon which will be held there on a different, criterium course. McMillan said that staying on the January to January training cycle would give Gotcher, and his other athletes, a better chance at Trials success.
“So, with our athletes like Brett and Alvina (Begay), who had performed well last year at the same time, we stay on the same cycle that we’ll need for 2012,” McMillan said. “It’s very good practice for us to know what to do in August, September, October, November, December. And for our young athletes, it gives them a chance to hopefully get their qualifier and still go back to the track and work on that. And the same for these guys who can work on short distance.”
Gotcher realizes that he’s still very new to the marathon, and that there will be bumps in the road as he moves toward the physical peak male marathoners usually enjoy four to six years from now. But with an Olympic team to make just 13 months from now, Gotcher is taking an aggressive approach.
“I think we have a great plan set up. It all worked out last year and a lot of it is just coming down to the day, how you’re feeling that day. Like Greg said, just kind of changing your mindset to believe that you can’t run at that pace, and giving yourself a chance to do it. I think a lot of guys maybe are a little bit too conservative to start off with. That works for some people, but for us I just don’t think we have time with 2012 coming up. We want to make sure we make a name for ourselves and have a legitimate shot at making the team.”