2016 Olympic Marathon Trials

8,253 seconds was how long it took me to finish the Olympic Trials Marathon in 14th place. I loved every single adrenaline filled, excruciating, disappointingly heartbreaking one of them.

Leading up to the race:

I was heading into the trials with little to no media attention, and rightfully so. That was fine by me, especially because my career thus far has done little to warrant speculation that I had a chance to make the team. However, the day before the trials I was invited to the press conference, which was surprising to me. I went only to find out the reason I was there was because I was born in Santa Monica and they had invited myself and a female competitor as the local connections. So I expected I would sit at my table for 30 minutes, probably not answer any questions, get back to my room and rest up for the next morning. However, Kevin from Runnerspace was already waiting at my table, then Runner’s World, and later on LetsRun came over and asked me some questions. In the middle of those a couple Japanese guys were asking me quite a few questions, so I obliged them as we worked through a bit of a language barrier. I thought it strange and maybe undeserved to get this sort of attention, but interestingly enough that is kind of what LetsRun was asking me. They had heard my name from a few other competitors as someone to look out for. They ended up calling me the “Budweiser Long Shot” and the “hottest 2:14 guy at the trials.” My girlfriend got quite the kick out of that one. The morning of the trials they used a quote of mine as their quote of the day. Essentially I said, “despite not having the documented pedigree of the others in conversations to make the team, I have convinced myself I can.” I have had a quote of the day on Letsrun once before, from a blog I wrote after being extremely disappointed with my first marathon, and questioning whether or not I believed I was good enough to do this (running in general as a career). The juxtaposition of these two quotes, although years apart, is a personally intriguing introspection. Being confident without substantiation is something I have struggled to be in the past, although it was necessary (hopefully not foolhardy) as just a 2:14 guy believing I could make the team. I went to the line resolute in my belief that I had a shot to finish top 3 and would be disappointed with anything short of that.

The Race:

The race plan was simple: cover everything after the first 6-mile loop. The first 14 miles of the race were pretty uneventful. However, after the u-turn just before 14 I had realized some of the pre race contenders were already losing contact with our group. I was feeling fantastic at this point and got a boost of confidence seeing that the race was already taking it’s toll on some. The next mile between 21st and 22nd st on Figueroa was probably the high point of my race. My mom had gathered 65 or so family and friends to line the street here, all wearing “Scott Smith fan club” shirts and they were losing their minds seeing me in the lead pack. Each time I would run by this stretch of course I would ease to their side of the road to try and take full advantage of the energy coming off the sidewalk.

A mile or so later the “real” racing started. Heading into the water station just before USC, I noticed Tyler go to the lead of the race. I just assumed he was getting clear of the group to get his drink, as there had already been some hectic water stations. I think others may have assumed this as well, but after I grabbed my drink and turned right onto USC, I realized this was for real. I made a mistake in not recognizing it sooner, because this was the move and I was already back a bit when it happened. As soon as it registered with me that Tyler was indeed blowing the race wide open I had no choice but to do my damndest to try and cover. I knew I may be going to the well too early, but I desperately hoped it was deep enough. After Tyler tore the race open and things settled out I was in 5th place with my eyes laser focused on Jared’s back. I knew Jared was in a great position to make the team as he is smart, calculated, wrote a thesis on optimal marathon pacing, but most of all is tough enough to put all that together (he ended up earning a spot on the team by finishing 3rd). Indeed, I had gone to the well too soon and it dried up on me around mile 19, which from the finish in the marathon may as well be the distance between pluto to the sun and it was starting to feel increasingly like we were running towards its surface.

I want to thank Tyler for making that move. We could have continued running our current pace through 20 miles and the field probably would have whittled down further, and I would hope to not be one of the shavings brushed aside. It would have been far less exciting. It also wouldn’t have allowed me to prove to myself that I had it in me to attempt to cover such a move. Had we continued to just run even paced the decision would have been easy: just run up front for as long as you could. I shocked myself with how simple the decision was for me to go with it relatively early in the race. Tyler allowed me to walk the self-talk I had with myself leading into the race. I can honestly say that I didn’t try to cover that move just so after the race I could say “well at least, you know, you tried.” In the moment it was “you better go right now if you want to have a chance at making this team” (I severely censored that as the actual thought was laden with profanity). As mentioned earlier, that self-confidence is something I have struggled to possess at times, and if Tyler didn’t make that move I wouldn’t have had the chance to demonstrate that to myself. I would be remiss if this paragraph served solely as some self-serving ego stroke. Tyler is a competitor I respect very much, and he is not alone in this distinction. I think maybe the greatest respect Tyler was offered was that Meb covered his move (Tyler made the race and still fell barely short of making the team). When a guy as experienced and savvy as Meb takes you serious enough to go with you, that’s a huge sign of respect.

Ultimately, I finished a forgettable but maybe respectable 14th place. Although, I take no consolation in the notion that 14th place is “still pretty good.” Doing so would be taking comfort in a blanket woven with the deceitful strands of complacency. I am proud of myself, an emotion I don’t always have post-race. It was far from the result I wanted, and not even close enough for a pot-shotted Tonya Harding joke (although, if anyone knows if she offers a baker’s dozen discount, let me know). As I came through the finish to see the top 3 draped in the American flag, the reality of my failure set in. That may seem like a strong word, but I disagree. If the goal was to be top 3 and I didn’t do it, I failed. I’m not scared of failure. Much like in the same way I’m not scared of traffic. It sucks, but when it happens you just deal with it, and maybe try to find a different route next time. It’s a strange feeling to be proud of a failed effort, but I am at peace with it. I left myself with no excuses, and when your result can’t be clouded by excuse it stands as a fact. This may be a simplistic view, but when the simple fact is you weren’t good enough there is only one logical conclusion: get better.

*****This would be a really good place to end but I would be leaving out some things and to me would be an incomplete recap, so feel free to discontinue reading. I totally understand.*****

Post Race:

 Shortly after the race I met most of the family and friends I mentioned earlier at the yard house. As I walked in 60+ people stood and clapped for me. Feelings of being embarrassed by being the center of attention quickly subsided for an enormous feeling of gratitude (a word that will most likely soon be more exhausted than the athletes who ran the trials). That will stand as one of my all time favorite memories. I was completely overwhelmed. I gave and received 60+ teary eyed hugs and heard with wholehearted legitimacy “I’m so proud of you.” Family from as far away from Seattle and friends I hadn’t seen in 10+ years, all came to watch. For such a selfish endeavor as running is, I can’t count the number of times I heard “thank you for letting me be a part of today.” People were saying the nicest things I have ever been told about myself. That is a difficult dichotomy for me to wrap my brain around. Why are all these people telling me “thank you” for watching such a selfish pursuit? I don’t fully understand this, but maybe I don’t need to. My freshman high school cross-country coach had this to say and maybe some sort of explanation: “I want to thank you for sharing this moment with me and my family. Being around your family and friends that believe in you. It gave me hope that my kids can dream big and be whatever they want to be.” Now, it’s entirely possible my friends and family are blindly enabling the silly dream of a kid who just can’t let go, but I think beyond the scope of competition one of the main tenants of family and friendship is support. Perhaps that’s what coach Dunn is appreciating.

Thank-yous:

Nicole is my girlfriend of nearly 6 years and her support of my sometimes not even break even running career has been unwavering. We moved to Oklahoma in the fall of 2013 coming off the most difficult time in her life. We were moving to what may as well be a foreign country for us California brats, (disclaimer: we have grown increasingly fond of OK and love all our friends here) and she was starting an extremely challenging educational journey: medical school. She has yet to roll an eye at me leaving her for months at a time to pursue a career that is far less sustainable than hers. Not only that, but she came to play at the after party. She was ravishing. This is a term Nicole herself has misused before. For being one of the smartest people I know, Nicole’s grasp of SAT words is not always the strongest and she has been known to mistake the word ravishing for ravenous. She would be the first to admit the times she intended to use the word “ravenous” she was not quite “ravishing.” Coincidentally, this night, she happened to be both. Anyway, my other career goal is to win the lottery, but in a way with Nicole I feel like I have. (The following set of ellipses (those are the triple dot thingies) will serve as a break to stop reading and wipe the vomit off whatever device’s screen you were reading this post on, sorry.)

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Julie is my mom of nearly 30 years and main orchestrator of this whole “Scott Smith fan club.” Greg is my Dad of nearly 30 years, and Nic and Alex are my brothers of nearly 27 and 19 years, respectively. They also have been unwavering in their support of my running career, and I thank them for gathering a bunch of our friends and family (as well as all those people) to go nuts on the streets of LA. People make a lot of an underdog proving people wrong, and it would have been a mistake to think of myself otherwise. Being my immediate support system they believed I could become an Olympian and I had hoped to prove them right.

Northern Arizona Elite is the team I have been a part of for just over 2 years. Along with Hoka One One, I owe this organization an un-payable debt of gratitude. Coach Ben and his wife Jen truly believe in us as athletes. It is easy to want to strive for greatness when people like that are in your corner. I have always and will probably always love being part of a team, and this is no different. Thank you to my teammates for believing in me. When athletes of such caliber who see you on a daily basis believe in what you are capable of, it instills true confidence. In particular to Ben, Matt and Kellyn; thank you for making the grind of marathon training less terrible and dare I say enjoyable at times?

I toyed with the idea of naming everyone who came out to the race as well as anyone who sent me any sort of good luck message. Fortunately, for me that would be an enormous list, so I have decided to cop out and say I would be scared to accidentally leave anyone off. So in the spirit of the Oscars, “you all know who you are.” (and at this point I’m probably already screaming over classical music from while being forcibly dragged off stage) Seriously though, every single one of you is extremely appreciated. I honestly am truly from the bottom of my ugly-mangled-hobbit-toes grateful for every single person who reached out to me in one form or another to say “good luck,” “you got this,” or “I believe in you.”

If appreciation is one end of the pendulum of emotions from the weekend, somewhere along it’s trajectory it hitches on heartbreak. My heart breaks not only for my own personal shortcomings, but for all my teammates, training partners, and friends who fell short of their goals. And for some incredibly tough runners who were forced to scratch prior to the race. Now that I didn’t make the team it is easy for me to say that I wished they had toed the line. But I had such a great time competing against the rest of the best marathoners in the country that the competition felt a bit shortchanged in their absence. There is an unparalleled camaraderie in this sport. While in the heat of competition I want to beat everyone, afterwards I realize they are some of the people I have the utmost respect for.

What’s next:

Although I ended up not accomplishing what I set out to do, I do feel encouraged. And while I don’t have any concrete plans of what I will be doing, I am excited to see where this mindset takes me. In college, after a 1.5 year period of subpar performance and attitude I was actually was cut from the team, which forced me to become more committed. My coach asked, “who is this new Scott?” I laughed it off and thought, “this is actually the old Scott.” This is kind of how I feel again, and I feel so lucky to be able to do what I do. The blog I referenced earlier ended on a pretty somber note. I will leave you here being highly disappointed but will be moving forward with a rejuvenated optimism.

 

Thanks for reading,

Scott