At a gym by the M23, world indoor medalist Marc Scott finishes up an elliptical session. He is surrounded by fitness fans who notice nothing but a lean man who enjoys his cardio.
A typical day in a 2023 season that stands in stark contrast to the five that came before as a professional, the four before that chasing NCAA titles.
Missing his first major championship since 2017, this year has been defined by injuries:
“It started at Euro Cross time last year. I had a small soleus tear and the pain didn’t go away, I got it scanned and then I had a stress fracture in the tibia. That’s why I didn’t do Euro Cross after making the team.
Then I just built back up pretty slowly. I went to Kenya in January just building up there. Things were going well. I had a good few months of training and then had another stress injury in the tibia but in the other leg.
In the right leg this time. Then just since then I’ve had another couple of them back-to-back and that’s kind of where I’m at now.”
2022 saw the end of Scott’s nine year stint stateside, leaving Bowerman Track Club and returning to the UK as part of the NN Running Team.
Embarking on a period of self-coaching the 29-year-old appreciates there will be some that see his injury troubles as associated with that shift. He’s adamant, however, that it never really got that far:
“The thing is I haven’t done a whole lot of experimenting because I’ve not been running a lot this year. It’s funny when I leave my old coach and then I get injured a bunch this year.
I like having the flexibility and the freedom to do what I want. It might present some challenges in the future with doing long sessions and not really having anyone to kind of facilitate but at the minute I’m happy with how things are going.
I know what works for me and I’ve got enough knowledge of the sport of what I want to do and how I should get there.”
Any change is likely to require an adjustment period.
For four years Scott was surrounded day-in-day-out by a Bowerman Track Club team devoted to pursuing their craft. Under the guidance of Jerry Schumacher, Scott, Woody Kincaid and Grant Fisher all broke the 13-minute barrier over the 5000m. Scott himself still holds the European indoor record at 12:57.Embed from Getty Images
From the outside looking in there seemed the healthy competitiveness to be the top dog. Each of the trio of big hitters at points boasted that crown:
“A lot of us thrive off that sort of situation (the competitive environment) and that’s what propels us to do what we were doing at such a high level. We all got along so well which is actually pretty unique for the amount of guys who were training at such a high level and living together all that time.”
An onsite physio, the express backing of the Nike machine, as we pass busy roads on the way to a disused railway track Scott’s current set-up couldn’t seem much more removed.
In stepping up to the marathon Scott is faced with an imperfect choice. Whilst it is early on in the North Yorkshire man’s recovery – today it is just a 40 minute run after his gym work – he hints that chasing the Olympic standard may come in Spain in early 2024. Yet finding the perfect training setup is near on impossible.
Deciding on a training set-up
Having made the decision to move back to the UK, an entire year spent at the Global Sports Communication camp in Kaptagat isn’t feasible.
“With the group of guys I was with at Bowerman it obviously paid huge dividends to be with those guys. I think it would be the same with the NN crew but it’s just the living conditions are totally different and the training environment is a lot different. I couldn’t go out and live there, I could go out and do four or five week camps.”
The reality is chasing Olympic standards in the UK is difficult. With only a handful of athletes capable and even those often having different training philosophies, Scott is forced to do a lot of his quality work alone.
Longer term he sees a return to the North, potentially either to Leeds or Manchester, where more established training groups exist. For now, however, he appears an athlete well prepared to face some difficult sessions solo.
Being altitude smart
As much as others spend long periods abroad, it is strategy and not convenience that remains the driving factor in Scott choosing his own path:
“Training for a marathon at altitude is not easy and it’s just like, can you run marathon pace at altitude? Because there’s no point going to altitude and running slower than your marathon pace. Maybe in the foundation phase before the specific work starts you could go and that would work but again there’s a lot of things that need to go right.”
Speaking to Scott it’s clear there’s a respect about the marathon distance. There’s maybe even an element of fear completely absent from his days on the track.
2022 was the year he took 11 seconds off his own European 5000m indoor record. Just over a month later he became the first British male medallist at a World Indoor 3000m for 31 years.
He looks back on 2022, however, as a year of missed opportunities.
For Scott a global medal in the spring doesn’t redeem his performances in the summer.
|2022 Outdoor Championships||Performance|
|Commonwealth Games||5000m – 4th|
|World Champs||5000m – 14th (Final)|
|European Champs||10,000m – 12th|
His early form quite rightly led Scott to believe he would be in medal contention come the outdoor season.
After nine years of consistent improvement, the 2017 NCAA 10,000m champion had emerged at track and field’s top table.
It seems foolish to say that that mindset, that ambition, perhaps even that success won’t eventually follow him to the roads.
But for now, stepping up in distance, he has set more modest goals:
“I want to go to a good debut and then hopefully go on to Paris and do the marathon there.
Hopefully get the standard knocked out. Then I probably want to try and come top three in a major at some point and try and run as close to 2:05 as possible.
I understand now how hard it is to do that (win Boston, London etc.) To win would be great but even to come top three at a majors is really impressive. It’s so hard to do but I want to be realistic at the same time.”
Scott has arguably endured the most difficult time of his career. And in speaking to him you expect to hear some of that pain. But it’s precisely the absence of it that hints the best may be yet to come.
He has shown obvious pedigree on the track. His Great North Run title in 2021 has provided a glimpse that that could translate to the roads. Scott possesses the level head that suggests 26.2 miles may suit him.
He moves into 2024 seeking consistency.
Find it and 2023 maybe seen as a year of respite in a winding journey to global medals.
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Featured images of Marc Scott courtesy of the NN Running Team.