Thirty one-year-old Scott Wietecha of Hendersonville, Tenn., surprised more than a few people at Sunday’s Houston Marathon, placing ninth in 2:18:52 to finish as the second American behind Andrew Carlson, who was seventh in 2:17:16, and ahead of 2010 U.S. marathon champion Sergio Reyes, who was 10th in 2:19:27. Wietecha, whose previous personal best of 2:24:10 was set at the Country Music Marathon in 2011, graduated from Harding University in 2004, where he was an All-American in cross country and the indoor 5,000 meters. He ran a season of indoor track while in grad school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and set the still-standing school record of 14:37 in the 5,000 meters.
Wietecha, who teaches elementary P.E. as well as a second-grade remedial reading class, gave up coaching this past school year after leading the cross country and track teams for last three years. “I kinda needed a little more balance in my life, and I wanted to milk my running while I can,” said Wietecha, who is married and has a 1-1/2 year old daughter. “It’s been going pretty well. I’ll return to coaching eventually.”
We caught up with Wietecha, who is a member of Power Bar Team Elite, a couple hours after his big breakthrough in Houston over the weekend.
Let’s look back first to 2004. What did your running look like when you graduated from Harding?
I ran a year in grad school at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, where I had a lot of health problems. I would train really, really well for about six weeks and then I would suck for several weeks. It was just this constant cycle of improvement and decline, improvement and decline. And then I just got frustrated with it. I was teaching fifth grade and I really wanted to try and join the Hansons. I felt like if I ran really, really well on my own I could maybe move there [to Rochester Hills, Michigan], but I just got tired of running, took off several years and did some other things. And then when I first started running again I had a lot of those same symptoms as I had when I would have training declines, and found out I had iron issues. So I started taking iron and now I get routine iron tests. If something goes wrong, I know how it feels. I definitely had a lot of undiagnosed iron issues that I finally got on top of.
Do you think that you’ve learned to listen to your body better as you’ve gotten older?
Definitely. I think that kind of comes with training by yourself, because in college I would just be so consumed with beating my teammates and now I have no one to beat. Training by myself allows me to read my body and focus on that. That’s kind of what happened with the race [at the Houston Marathon]. I was running with these other guys and if they surged I just let them go because my body didn’t feel like it could go with them. I just put in my effort and see where it takes me. I don’t let others control me.
In 2011 you ran 2:24 in the marathon and in the last year you’ve whittled your 5,000m PR down to 14:13 and cranked out a 64 and change half [marathon]. Now you’ve got a sub-2:19 to your name, which is obviously a huge breakthrough. What have you done in the last few years to take your running to the next level and what does an average training week look like for you?
It’s just taken a lot of patience. I’m always reading around the Letsrun(.com) boards and I see all this stuff I want to try, all these ideas. [Renato] Canova talks about these long, fast runs, that’s something I’ve always wanted to try but I haven’t been ready to do that until this past year. So that’s something new that I added this fall, these 18 to 20 milers at about 95 percent of marathon pace. I’m always trying to add something new to my training. And I train by myself, so I feel pretty fresh. I don’t race teammates or race workout partners. I take my easy days easy. In college I used to just hammer all my workouts and set workout PRs, but now I just kind of run most of my workouts as progressions and I feel pretty good at the end. I don’t kill myself like I used to. I got up to several weeks of around 120 (miles), 124 is my highest, but I might try to work that into the 130s if I can. But that’s just a number. I’ll have to see how I respond to it, but I’m definitely a mileage guy.
And now you’re a 2:18 guy, second American at Houston, not far behind Andrew Carlson, who ran 2:11 last year, and Sergio Reyes, who was the U.S. champ in 2010. What were your expectations heading into this race? Did you have a place and/or a time in mind that you were hoping to hit and at what point of the race did you think, “It’s going to happen for me today”?
I was hoping to be in the top-5 Americans overall. I saw the preview sheet when it came out and I felt like I had a shot. I kind of begged my way into the elite race. I was a sub-elite, so I’m thinking that’s what happened with the results confusion (Wietecha’s time didn’t originally register when he crossed the finish line because he had switched bib numbers). I felt like if the weather was perfect, 2:15 would have been my 100 percent perfect race. I wanted to run at least under 2:18 in ideal conditions but I guess I don’t focus on time and just run by effort. Whatever my splits say they are, they are — they don’t affect my pacing in the race, so I just take it mile-by-mile. I was pretty intimidated by the other guys — [Fernando] Cabada, Mike Reneau, and Sergio Reyes — at 4 miles and started freaking out a bit because they’re several levels higher than I am, but we ran together for a while, then they gapped me again and I caught back up, and then Sergio and I ran together probably the last 12, 13 miles. We kind of went back and forth a little bit. I was intimidated by those guys because they have much better resumes, but I was just focusing on my effort and doing what I needed to do. Wherever I ended up, I ended up.
I was real scared of Sergio [Reyes] because based off his resume I know he’s a real consistent marathoner and I think he’s run 28:30-something for 10K. In the 22nd and 23rd mile I went 5:06, 5:04 and that’s where I gapped him but I was still pretty scared of him because I know in the marathon the grim reaper can be behind you and you just don’t know it, so I was always kind of scared but I started getting confident, too. When Cabada dropped out that kind of shocked me a little bit, because he’s always such a stud, so I saw that I might have a shot to do something amongst Americans, so when he dropped out that gave me a slap in the face to wake up and focus. Sergio and I just kind of ran together and worked together and helped each other out.
You just took six minutes off your previous marathon PR in less-than-ideal conditions. What does this do for your confidence heading into the next 3 to 4 years and where do you go from here?
It’s definitely a big confidence booster. Since I took so many years off after college I feel like I have at least 3 to 4 more years of steady improvement, and I’ll continue to add new stuff to my training, so hopefully in another year or two I’ll be at a point when I can train at my ideal intensity and volume. I’d like to try and run that 2:15 A standard but I feel like that’s the upper end of my potential and then you need everything else to go right as well. I’m just gonna train hard and see where it takes me. I’m going to start doing the smaller things now, because I know the faster you get the harder it is to improve, so I’ll need to cut out a little more of the pizza, the beer and the candy.
From here, I kind of want to go back to the track. I’ve never done a 10K and I have that 14-minute barrier in the 5K I want to achieve. In the springtime I kind of like to have a little fun. It’s less structured. I might do the Country Music Marathon [in April] as a long run. I’m kind of debating trying to sweet talk my way into [the] Boston [Marathon], but that’s pretty close. If I got the opportunity, I definitely think I would take it, but I really want to run well at the U.S. half-marathon championships [in June]. I placed pretty well last year [Wietecha was 15th in 65:02] and I beat some pretty solid guys, but I wasn’t totally happy with how it went because I think I went in a little overtrained and fizzled out. It was my fifth race in six weeks, so this year I actually think I have a shot at getting top 10. So that, and maybe try to break 29 in the 10K. I’ll just have to train hard and see what happens. I’d love to make the Trials in the marathon — I’m too old and too slow to make it in the 10K — and get the A standard, but again, I’ll just train hard and see where it takes me. If it happens, it happens. If not, I’ll save my money.