The 2020 5000m British Champion, European 5000m indoor record holder and former 10,000m NCAA Champion, Marc Scott, spoke exclusively to Trackstaa about his “breakthrough” year and his journey to the top of the sport.
Marc Scott Bio
Born – 21 December 1993
UK Club – Cambridge & Coleridge
Pro Running club – Bowerman Track Club
Location – Portland, Oregon.
Coach – Jerry Schumacher
PBs – 1500m – 3:35.93, 3000m – 7:43.37, 5000m – 13:08.87 (indoors) and 13:22.37 (outdoors), 10,000m – 27:56.19, 5km – 13:20, 10km – 28:32.
20 x 200 continuous with alternating rests of 30 seconds and 60 seconds.
We have interviewed some big names for Trackstaa over the last few months, none, however, faster than Marc Scott. The Yorkshireman is now arguably the number one middle distance runner in Great Britain, after achieving PBs this year in the 1500m (3:35), the 5k (13:20), the indoor 5000m (13:08) and, just to demonstrate his range, the half marathon too (60:39).
For the Nike and Bowerman Track Club athlete, it has truly been an outstanding year. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for a breakthrough for a while”, he tells me. “Definitely since I’ve been committed to Bowerman in 2017, I’ve just been waiting and waiting. Hopefully, this can now just continue on. In a way it’s a bit of shame that it happened in a covid year because I couldn’t really show the talent on a big stage. But, I’m pleased because going into the Olympic year, I know what I’ve done and where I can go”, Marc explains.
The signs that this was going to be a stellar season came in February at the indoor meet in Boston. After breaking the European record in a super-quick 13:08.87, Marc conceded that even he hadn’t quite expected to run that quick. “I was camp in January and things were going well but it wasn’t like I was doing anything crazy; all the guys were running well and smashing the sessions”, Marc tells me, rather modestly. “I didn’t think I would run 13:08, for sure. Maybe a better paced race, I think I might have been able to run 13:05. I think it was probably a good stepping stone to bigger things. The plan, indoors, had been to take care of the Olympic standard (13:13) and to get the British and European records was just a bonus really.”
For all athletes, working out what races to compete in this year, indeed whether they would be on at all has been a real challenge and for Marc that was no different. Given the range of distances that Marc has competed and been phenomenally successful in, though, I was intrigued to understand if that was always part of the plan. “We didn’t really have a plan, to be honest”, Marc says, laughing. “After that indoor race. We sort of went into a lockdown, split off our training groups and we were just waiting to see what races would be on. So, we just took it upon ourselves to make our own events with the amount of people we have on the team”, he adds.
One of the most impressive performances of the season was the Antrim Half Marathon and given his previous involvement in 1500 and 5k it seemed a little out of place. “I never really had any intention of running the half marathon. I didn’t even tell my coach I was doing it. I didn’t do any specific sessions for it either. Literally a week before, I won the British Champs (5000m) and I was supposed to take a rest. The only thing I did was just this little thing before the British Champs and then just went out and did it”, he says; making his 60:39, on a less than ideal course, even more astonishing.
He goes on, “I didn’t do any harder long reps in preparation. But yeah I was pleased; at the start it didn’t feel like we were pushing the pace particularly and it was quite twisty and hilly too at the start. So, if you take that out, maybe it was close to 60 flat or even a sub-60 on the right course. I think it gives us some nice momentum going into the next few years to give that distance a good go. It would have been nice to carry that on and have a go at the World Half and see where I got to but that was never the plan and to be honest, I was ready for a break”, he concedes.
Marc was also quick to emphasise the depth in talent that GB has in the half marathon. Sir Mo Farah aside, Jake Smith’s 60:30 at World Half on 17th October suggests that the elusive sub-60 barrier could be within the grasp of a few more of our best distance athletes, particularly when you factor in Jake’s modest age and Marc’s lack of specific training. “That would be nice, it would be good to get more people under that barrier [sub-60] actually, just to help the British rankings and stuff and it’s also just a big mark to break, in its own right.” And looking to the future, Marc explained what direction his career is likely to go. “I do see myself going on and doing more road stuff after this Olympic cycle.”
In such an amazing year, with such a long list of honours, I was intrigued to find out whether he felt any of his particular achievements represented a highlight. “Yeah, I think the British and European record indoors. Saying that though, with PBs across the board, including a 3:35 in the 1500 it has just been a very good year. To get some quality training in injury free too is a big thing and it goes to show the results you can achieve from it.”
The nonchalant manner in which he mentioned his 3:35 in the 1500m, which would have been quick enough to win the British 1500m championships too, only 6 weeks before running 60:39 in the half-marathon, reveals Marc’s natural modesty as well as his incredible versatility as an athlete. He’s an unassuming lad from Northallerton who, despite spending university in the USA and now running for Bowerman Track Club, has not lost even a scintilla of that famous Yorkshire accent. Yet, even on Zoom, and perhaps more so than any of the other elite athletes I have spoken to over the last few months, you can just tell in his eyes how fierce a competitor he really is. There is no stronger evidence of this drive and determination than the story of how Marc made it to the top of the sport.
Bowerman Track Club
There is no doubt that the Bowerman Track Club, Oregon based and across the road from Nike HQ, has a special aura. It’s unique and is named after the co-founder of ‘Blue Ribbon Sports’, Bill Bowerman. Bowerman and his business partner, Phil Knight, would eventually change the name of the company they had opened in 1966 to ‘Nike’ in 1978, floating on the stock market 2 years later. Bowerman’s legacy, however, is not just in the founding of the largest and most successful sports company in the world, he was an accomplished innovator, designer and track coach, coaching 16 sub-4 minute milers and acting as Head Track Coach for Team USA at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.
Bowerman Track Club’s mission is simple, ‘to provide runners of all abilities with the knowledge and motivation to pursue their individual goals. This extends to everyone in the running community, whether their goal is to enjoy a relaxed and fun social setting for their runs, or to qualify for the Olympic Trials.’ Bowerman TC’s work in the community to promote running and support juniors and elite runners alike is unparalleled throughout the sport with a team for elites, masters and juniors who the professional athletes coach and run summer camps for.
“It is an iconic institution, you’re right. It’s easy to forget, on a daily basis just who you are working with to be honest. It has a lot of prestige and hype in the UK and US. That said, it’s just a bunch of really hardworking people, all sponsored by the same company, which helps. But we have a strong belief in the coaching that we have and, with that, all the guys are just striving to be the very best.” The pride the Marc has in representing Bowerman is obvious in his voice as he describes it. That said, he is quick to put the focus on the fact that prestige aside, it counts for nothing if the members of the team are not prepared to put the hard work in.
He goes on to describe yesterday’s session, as an example, “yesterday we were doing track session, there was about 11 of us doing reps on the track together and it just legit feels like you’re in a race. It’s just nice to have that many guys working together and I am just really grateful to be part of the team. There are no big egos, everyone is just trying to be the best they can be and obviously to have the backing and support of Nike goes a long way too.” This distinctive team ethos is clearly working too, if Marc’s phenomenal year and his teammate Mo Ahmed’s incredible 12:47, earlier in the year, is anything to go by.
“The secret to our success is just getting a bunch of guys together who want to work hard and get the best out of each other. It’s same on the girls side too, you will have seen their amazing performances this year too. One good performance brings on another and we just keep clicking that way. It’s just great to be part of the culture.”
Marc Scott and the NCAA
Although, given his successes recently, it might be hard to imagine, Marc is a self-confessed late-developer. One of the few individuals who can call himself a NCAA Champion, the truth is, he struggled to get into the NCAA at all.
“I did struggle, yes. I was kind of lucky to get a scholarship really. I wasn’t a great athlete back then, by any means and when I was looking at some of the universities in the UK, they didn’t even regard me as good enough to get free access to the gym”, Marc tells me, thankfully able to see the funny side of it now. “I had heard of people going off to America and some of the experiences they had so I just decided to look into it a little more and try and focus my opportunities that way. I had a lot of offers from Division 2 universities but I felt I was a bit better standard than that and I thought if I was going to I should set my sights on a Division 1 college.”
Ultimately, Marc would end up at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “In the end, it came down to a Tulsa taking a gamble on me, in reality, they were one of the few schools that offered me a scholarship. Fortunately, it paid off for me and for them” he explains.
Steve Gulley, who is still Head Track Coach at Tulsa, is on record as saying that Marc ‘talked his way onto the team’. Having been in his company for 20 minutes or so by now, I can certainly see how that would be the case. Marc is certainly someone who appears at ease in any situation. I asked whether he recognised Steve’s assessment. “Yeah, I mean I had to because there was nothing happening for me in the UK and the system didn’t really suit me. I didn’t have an issue with leaving home at 18 or anything, I’m quite independent. In the end, I just asked him to take a shot on me and I wouldn’t let him down”, he recalls, before adding; “I think I said I would make him top 7 in the cross country, it’s all team orientated out there. I think a few things fell my way too, but he took a gamble on me for sure.”
Like many of the athletes we’ve interviewed on Trackstaa recently, Marc was also keen to emphasise the positives that can be had by UK athletes embracing the NCAA. “I do think it’s worthwhile. You can get so much more out of it than you can in the UK or Europe and look you can always come home. That said, a good path now is take care of your undergraduate studies in the UK and then move out. By then you’re a bit more mature and more athletically developed as well because some of these 18 year old boys can be racing against 23, 24 year olds and you’re just not on a level playing field. Maybe I’m biased, but I would have really regretted it if I had not gone out there at 18. So yeah anyone who reads the article, I really recommend them to go out and do it.”
For Marc, it certainly worked out, winning the 10,000m at the 2017 NCAA Championships and, quite rightly, it sits atop of all of his wonderful achievements in the sport. “It is a big deal and it is definitely right up there. If I hadn’t won, who knows if I would be here at Bowerman Track Club, sponsored by Nike. I can obviously always say now I’m an NCAA champion, nobody can take that from me. You know, when I look back on it, I worked so hard for 5 years for that title. Stress fractures and injuries along the way so if I had to rank it, it’s tough but perhaps I would say it is second behind my most recent records.”
Despite this success at university, Marc described himself in an interview with Athletics Weekly as “not a very talented junior”. He smirks as I put that to him, “I never won any nationals, inter-counties or nothing like that. I just think I was patient as a junior, I didn’t really train a lot to be honest. I wasn’t like other kids, even in the USA, some kids run like 60 miles a week and I was maybe doing about 20 miles a week maximum and I just wasn’t running enough to improve a lot” Marc admits.
Like many juniors, running competed for time in Marc’s life with football. “I did have a lot going on, I played football a lot and I just wasn’t into running a lot at the time.” His modesty is evident again, because it takes me prompting him to get him to talk about his time in the Leeds United Academy. “I would play football Saturday and Sunday, in my year group and the year group above and I was in the Leeds development squad. Obviously, to make it as a footballer you have to be very good. I had the engine, I run a lot and get around the pitch but I was never standing out above the rest so it was never going anywhere really. I got injured quite badly at 16 and my coach at the time, who actually deserves a lot of credit for my success now as an athlete actually, said to me I had to choose. So, I packed in football at 16 and ended up with a scholarship out to the States 2 years later.”
That being said, it was not the most orthodox route, with Marc competing predominately in cross country and on the fells. “Yeah my first England and Great Britain vests were on the fells. Actually, I think it helps now because it just built up a lot of strength in my legs and these very long aerobic sessions we do at Bowerman just suits me and I feel at home doing that.”
Life as a pro-runner
By now we had talked for about half an hour and discussed his successes and his failures as well as his route to the top. I realised that we had not even discussed whether, as a professional, his love for running still endures. “I do still enjoy it. I wouldn’t go out every day and run 10 miles in the rain. There is something that makes me get out of bed every day and I think that is purely the enjoyment I get from the sport. The highs you can have just make you want to go out and train even harder. I’ve never found it hard to get out and run and I still don’t. It helps having 11 guys waiting for you too mind.”
After keeping myself together for 35 minutes or so, I could not contain my boyish curiosity anymore. The exceedingly thin veneer of professionalism that I had tried to exude was broken in a single question, exposing the façade and, with it, any lingering whiff of journalistic expertise. “Mate it must just be bloody cool to be a Nike athlete, surely it’s the dream?” I asked.
Laughing, he was gracious in his reply. “It is the dream! Even just the fact the campus is just over the road, we get looked after so well. Everything we need is just there for us, in the UK you struggle to get on a track. I always wanted to be sponsored by Nike but never knew if that would be the outcome and it obviously it has. I’m just so grateful to be where I am today with it all.
Living with Centro!
“He’s always on it [Warzone]; he’s on it right now, actually. We’ve lived together since he joined the team. We got this house over the road from Nike because it’s so easy. But no, I’m not into the Warzone thing. He’s actually just upgraded, he’s playing it on PC now”, the tool most often reserved for the geekiest of gamers. “There is an extra Xbox sat there but I’ve not got onto that yet,” he adds.
Goals for 2021
As our conversation draws to a close and after such an amazing year, the obvious question is what his goals are for 2021. The tantalising prospect of an Olympic Games in Tokyo, especially after everything that has gone on this year, is potentially the perfect stage for him to go even better.
“I’ve obviously got the 5k standard, I just need to get top 2 at the trials now. I just need to stay healthy and I am going to give the 10k a crack too I think and maybe double up at the Olympics. I think the standard is probably one of the hardest out of all the events [27:28]. I think that’s the main plan now. I have been to worlds and stuff and I just wasn’t competitive because I wasn’t the athlete that I am now” Marc tells me.
“Running 3:35 puts me in a good place to finish right with the quick guys in the big races. So, my main goal is to be competitive in the 5k final. Then competing in the 10k too would just be a bonus. I think the 10k is actually easier to be honest. I think the field isn’t usually as stacked as the 5k because you have the 1500 guys, running up, the 10k guys who run down and then the all-out 5k guys who can do a bit of everything. I think the fact the 10k is a straight final helps too. I think my strengths lie towards the 10k going forward too and having looked at previous years and the way the race was won I think it suits my strengths more.”
If 2020 was his breakthrough year, 2021 promises to be an even more exciting year for Marc Scott. With the Olympics and hopefully the end of the covid-19 pandemic, it promises to offer all of the necessary opportunities to build on the fabulous performances this year and cement his position as Great Britain’s number one middle distance runner.