No Coming Down For Andrew Lemoncello

Andrew Lemoncello competing at last year's Fukuoka Marathon, where he suffered a devastating hamstring injury. Photo: PhotoRun.net

The Scottish runner returns to racing at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Denver Half Marathon.  

Andrew Lemoncello is not your typical elite long-distance runner. Most athletes begin their careers on the track and slowly move up in distance, eventually ending up on the roads. The 29-year-old Lemoncello has taken a slightly different route, however, and it hasn’t been easy.

Lemoncello has a penchant for tackling grueling events — races that tax the body such as slogging through hilly, muddy cross-country courses or hurdling obstacles on the track in steeplechase. At the age of 18, this child of a Scottish mother and an American father was on the winning junior team at the 2001 World Cross Country Championships. Three years later, Lemoncello was competing on the mountain-running circuit. At the 2004 World Mountain Running Championships, Lemoncello placed eighth overall.

“I grew up in Scotland,” he says. “And by living there, with the terrain the way it is, I was doing a lot of hill running and having fun at it.” Lemoncello says he got accustomed to enjoying the outdoors and when he first enjoyed success in cross country, he eventually started to run around the track — something he admits he never really enjoyed. “I was 16 when it was time to seriously compete on the track,” he recalls. “And I just didn’t want to run around in circles all the time; I wanted to have fun and break up my training.”

But track running was inevitable for Lemoncello and he began to do well in those events, too. Still, he sought to capitalize on his strengths as a vertical runner, and so he took to the steeplechase, eventually ending up at Florida State University. There, Lemoncello quickly established a reputation as one of the school’s best distance runners. By 2006, he held five school records ranging from 8K cross-country down to the middle-distance events on the track such as the 3,000m steeplechase and 1,000m.

A year later, Lemoncello headed to Flagstaff, Ariz., to train under the guidance of world-class coach, Greg McMillan. He’s been there ever since and works out occasionally with the likes of 2:10 marathoner Brett Gotcher.

“Greg and I have a 50-50 coaching relationship,” Lemoncello admits. “I tend to be the guy who wants to push things and he is the guy who will come in and hold me back. When I’ll want to do something like 2400-meter repeats all out, he will say I should be doing 10 miles steady-state.” Lemoncello then chuckles. “We usually land somewhere in-between.”

Coach McMillan’s sage advice to his athlete in terms of holding back has sometimes gone unheeded. At last year’s Fukuoka Marathon in December, Lemoncello tore his hamstring, sidelining him for months. The upcoming Sports Authority Rock ‘n’ Roll Denver Half Marathon will be his first return to racing in 10 months.

“I feel pretty good about it,” he says of the Denver race. “I’m excited to get out there and get racing again.”

Flagstaff, where Lemoncello lives and trains, is actually higher in elevation than Denver, so he admits it’s interesting to be taking part in a high-altitude race that is lower than where he’s used to running. “It’s definitely going to be new terrain for me,” he says “I’ve never actually raced at altitude before. This will be a big learning step for me; it will be a good test.”

This Saturday, Lemoncello will be squaring off against the likes of Colorado runners Josh Eberly, Zachary Hind, and Kenyon Neuman — a solid group of top talent that could severely test the somewhat rusty Scottish-American from Flagstaff. But, regardless how the race turns out, Lemoncello is remaining grounded and realistic about his goals. He says he’d love a win, but the big thing is just the fact that he’s once again healthy and running pain-free. His eyes are instead on a gleaming prize two years away: the Commonwealth Games to be held in his native Scotland in 2014.

“I want to take advantage of these championships,” he says of the Games in Scotland. “I want very much to be running 25 laps at a home stadium and to win gold. Nothing can beat that.”

And after Scotland and the Commonwealth Games, he’s eyeing a potential run at the Olympic team in Rio two years later.

For the time being, Lemoncello isn’t going to bed at night with dreams of championships in his head. He’s just excited to be healthy and back to competing again. “It’s nice to be in this position now,” he admits. “For a while, I couldn’t even walk around. Now I’ve returned. I’m thankful for being able to finally run and race once more.”

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About The Author:

Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, was released in June.

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