Where Your Dreams Become Reality
Scott Anderson's Journal is Back: Washed Up
Editor's Note: A four time All-American at Princeton (and more impressively, survivor of 3 years living with LetsRun.com's Rojo and 2 with Running with the Buffaloes author Chris Lear), Scott "Slicko" Anderson ran the first rounds of the 1500m in the 1996 Olympic Trials in Atlanta. He subsequently joined the Reebok Enclave in Washington DC. Although he failed to qualify for the Olympic Trials in 2000, he set a 3:38.7 1500m pr and 3:59.8 mile pr in the following weeks. After a return to his native Chicago for graduate school, he moved back to Washington DC, where he now lives with his wife Lida, works as a consultant, and runs for the Pacers/Brooks racing team.
Scott rose to LetsRun.com fame in 2000 for his popular series of journals, "A Dream Deferred or a Dream Denied" which chronicled his attempt to make the 2000 Olympic Trials. In 2001, Scott was perfectly positioned as the LetsRun.com billboard, as Scott, wearing the famed yellow LetsRun.com singlet, finished right behind Webb when Webb went sub 4 for the first time. (Scott wrote about that here). Scott then took his writing skills to Business Week Online where he chronicled his business school experience.
“Last call for the Mile!” blares the P.A. system as I finish up a stride on the inside lane of the backstretch, just clear of the hurdles being adjusted for the next event. It’s a week before the start of the Trials in Eugene, but I’m at a meet on the opposite side of the country and even further away on the competitive spectrum. It’s my first track race since 2004, when I made, what, in hindsight, was a half-hearted attempt at a comeback prior to that year’s Trials. My fitness level allows me no such delusions this time around, but I’m still not immune to Trials fever.
Ever since going to watch the Trials in ’92 down in New Orleans on a family vacation after my senior year of high school, the Olympic Trials have represented something magical for me. What struck me the most about those first Trials was the accessibility of the elite athletes.
While watching some prelims in a sparsely populated stadium at those ’92 Trials, I remember my Dad spotting Mike Powell sitting in the bleachers just a few rows away from us. The world record holder in the long jump doesn’t get VIP seating? When my brother Mark approached him for an autograph, Powell responded (in what I would later learn was his characteristic good nature) “Who me? I’m Biff the pole vaulter.” Emboldened by Mark’s success, my 12 year old sister Claire posed for a photo with Tony Dees after he’d secured a spot on the team in the 110M hurdles (he would go on to win the Silver Medal in Barcelona but get banned several years later for steroid use, but we don’t talk about that latter ignominy).
At the time, as a 4:20 high school miler, it did not occur to me that I might later interact with some of these elites, if not quite as a peer, at least in the same sphere. There was Louie Quintana, the Villanova Freshman walking from a shuttle bus to the stadium entrance. I recognized him as the high school stand-out from California, whom I’d read about in Track and Field News. The following year, he would grace the News’ cover after dominating the Penn Relays, and, in what would be perhaps the highlight of my freshman season at Princeton, acknowledge me with a “Nice Race Anderson” after the IC4A trials in the 1500m (from which I failed to advance, as Quintana would go on to defeat a loaded field of studs from Gtown and Providence in the finals).
In 1992, in a mall close to the New Orleans track, I remember recognizing a bearded Bob Kennedy—who had just made his first Olympic team in the 5k behind Hoya John Trautmann—and mustering up the courage to ask him for his autograph. Six years later, I had the opportunity to race him (fortunately not over his signature distance) at this same stadium at the USATF championships. In the interim, I had joined the Reebok Enclave based at Georgetown and heard countless stories from former teammates about Trautmann's legendary toughness and talent, all of which made his miraculous come-from-behind victory over Kennedy back in ‘92 seem more plausible.
Atlanta 96: Randy Barnes, Johnny Gray and Club Anytime
But most important in brightening my mood, I was a beneficiary of what had to be one USATF’s worst fiscal gaffes: they put up all Trials qualifiers, provisional and automatic alike (47 in the 1500m alone), in the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta for the entire span of their event, regardless of whether the athletes advanced to the next round. And regardless of whether they were currently serving a suspension for steroid use. Upon my arrival at the Hyatt, the front desk attendant asked me when my roommate, Randy Barnes, would be checking in (editor's note: Barnes the world record holder in the shot put, never competed at the meet because of his drug suspension). My popularity surged, as college teammates (Robbie Howell, Tony Barrocco, Thom Knowles, Eric Wills) and lackeys (Rojo) in town for the meet—as well as trials qualifiers whose event span was up and were now being evicted from their own rooms (Ted Fitzpatrick in the 5k)—started crashing with me. Meanwhile, I tried not to imagine how the world record holder in the shot put might react to the discovery of 9 skinny distance runners squatting in his hotel room.
The Hyatt lobby was the hub of activity, constantly swarmed by a mix of superstar sprinters, agents, and coaches. Although lacking the autograph-seekers and media prevalent at hotels on the European circuit, I could see why Coach Gags would later house us at out-of-the-way hotels with fewer distractions. But for an anonymous athlete who was out of the competition and didn’t feel the pressure to explain a disappointing performance to everyone in the tight-knit running community, it was runner geek heaven. It was in the lobby that I had my first encounter with Johnny Gray, who, shockingly, turned down an invitation to accompany Sam Wilbur (a buddy who’d suffered a similarly humiliating early elimination from the steeplechase) and me on our nightly pilgrimage to Club Anytime. At a more respectable Buckhead bar later on in the week, I met John Honerkamp, who was to become one of my closest friends at the Enclave. And in the Powerade-sponsored hospitality room, I listened to recent Gtown grads Eric O’Brien, Andy Downin,and Mark Sivieri compare training notes with Derek Treadwell of Maine. Treadwell had somehow managed to make the finals of the 1500m on a workout regime that, to my recollection, consisted primarily of 200s in 25 point. I did manage, however, to squeeze in some spectating at the Trials amidst the socializing—at the Olympic Stadium, where I had just run a mediocre 1500m, Michael Johnson set a world record 19.66 in the 200m, the most amazing and well appreciated athletic event I had ever witnessed (eclipsed only by his 19.32 a few months later at the same stadium in the Olympics).
As it turned out, ’96 would be my only Trials experience as an athlete, and after failing to qualify for the 2000 trials in spite of devoting the 4 intervening years to the cause, I decided to move on. Yet in spite of the frustration, I still look back fondly at the 2000 trials. It probably helps that I eventually did manage to run my first and only sub 3:40 1500m, a 3:38.7 pr (alas, a week after the trials themselves), but probably more crucially, it represented the last time I was part of a team (the Enclave) that shared a common goal and made such difficult sacrifices. It was also the last time I felt so integrated into such a close community.
My career never reached a high enough level to warrant an official retirement announcement, but starting in 2001, running was no longer the top priority. I dabbled in competitive running over the next few years while going to business school and getting my start in the corporate world, occasionally racing against elites, and managing to eke out some 1500s in the 3:46 range through 2004. And then I met my wife, and running fell another couple notches lower on the priority list.
So why am I here at 9 am on a weekend morning at this local all-comers track meet, 8 years past my prime, no Trials to shoot for, no PRs within reach (except for the Beer Mile, but that’s another story), and no pressure from Coach Gags?
Alan Webb, Chris Lukezic, Bumbalough, Debole and the Pregnant Woman
No longer anonymous (George Buckheit, the Pacers Coach presiding at the track, and a former 13:40 5k guy, must have tipped some of the regulars off as to whose presence they were in), the runners launched into the workout as a crowd gathered. And there I was, sitting behind two of the fastest American milers of recent times, and just for a minute, as we clicked off a sub 2:10 800m, I felt the way I had almost a decade ago in Enclave workouts drafting behind the perfect form of Steve Holman and Rich Kenah. I of course was aware that this was a tune-up workout for Webb and Lukezic (and that I was skipping the meat of it—300s in under race pace), while I was getting by on sheer adrenaline and a sliver of muscle memory. But it was enough to motivate me to sign up for the next local track race on the racing calendar: the Potomac Valley All-Comers meet at Langley High School.
The lack of a gender qualification in the final call for the mile should have clued me in to the motley crew awaiting me at the start line. The fast heat was a self selected group, which led to the inclusion of a Pacers teammate of mine, Jackie Gruendel, who must be well into her third trimester. As it turns out, she beat about half the field, including the guy who lined up to my inside, who was clad in a body-suit and whose first 200m reminded me of the Chicago public school cross country meets, where most opposing teams were composed of basketball players staying in shape during the off season. Needless to say, the race itself was a bit anti-climactic after the workout with the two miling phenoms. According to pre-race plan, I alternated leads with Geir Lie, a recent transplant from Norway, but side stitches foiled his effort, and I found myself neck and neck with a kid who looked like he might not yet have a driving license. I resisted the strong temptation to sit on him and coasted into victory in 4:29.7.
Beating a pregnant woman and a few high school kids was not exactly how I envisioned my Trials fever-inspired experience, so a few days later, I called Juli Henner, looking for another fix. I was in luck. Lukezic would be at the track next Tuesday with Matt Debole and Andrew Bumbalough—both 3:40 1500m guys from Georgetown—in one last workout before the trials. On the appointed day, I spent the afternoon at work distracted, and in a move reminiscent of my pre-race preparation rituals in more competitive days, I hit the local Starbucks for a caffeine boost.
At the track, after a
quick introduction and a brisk warm up with the Olympic hopefuls, I
sat down with Chris Miltenberg, assistant Georgetown coach and former
Hoya All American, and watched as the three athletes each
methodically went through their own individual routine of strides and
stretches. I realized I had forgotten that for success at that level,
a lot of mundane efforts must accompany the more immediately
gratifying intervals on the track. And then, there I was again, a bit
more pressed to keep up with my workout partners than in my prior
outing (this time the intervals were 500m at their race pace), but
still feeling the rush. And even as they pulled away from me on the
last 100m of the final interval, my legs and arms filling with lactic
acid, I knew where I’d be getting my next Trials fix. As Matt
Debole said, when I thanked them for letting me tag along, now I have
someone to cheer for at the Trials. And I again felt part of that
elite running community, if only tangentially. As I tune into the
semi-finals of the 1500m tonight to root for the 4 local guys, I’ll
be imagining myself there in the pack with them and remembering a
time when there was a chance, however slim, that I could match their
moves over that last 100m. (Editor's note: This article was written last week but posted on July 10)
Check back later, as we're trying to find some old photos from Club Anytime.