Since he came on the pro scene in 2007, Matt Scherer has been making a name for himself on the U.S. 800-meter scene. The former 400, now 800 runner is currently the fourth-ranked American and is taking it moment by moment as he is poised to contend to make the U.S Olympic Team. In this exclusive Q & A with PreraceJitters.com, Scherer reveals what it is like to live and train in Eugene with the Olympic Trials coming to his home town in less than one week.
PRJ: What is the best thing about living and training in Eugene, Oregon, a.k.a. Tracktown, USA? Is it as interesting as it seems?
The best thing is by far the people. It may be because I went to college here but it is really cool to be recognized at the grocery store or at the mall by real track fans. I don’t know of anywhere else where track athletes are recognized out in public. The fans in Eugene make track seem like a big-time sport.
PRJ: Who did you look up to while running track as a youth? And is there anyone that you pattern your race after?
Through high school and college I always seemed to look up to my peers/competitors. I didn’t follow the pro circuit much. I would look up to a runner until I beat them and then found someone else to take their place as my ‘idol’. I think that’s where my competitiveness on the track comes from; I like to beat people. Some names that come to mind are Adam Steele, Craig Everhart, Christian Smith, and Marc Sylvester.
PRJ: You had a stellar career at the University of Oregon that included a personal best of 45.19 in the 400. Why did you decide to move up from the 400 to the 800?
To me it seemed like a logical move to have my best chance at Beijing. Even though I’d had success at the 400, I really wasn’t that fast in terms of speed. I was always the last out of the blocks but finished well. My 200 time wasn’t anything special either. My best workouts were always the longer, harder ones. It’s also been a new challenge for me. I love taking on new things and this has been one of the biggest, but it may also have the biggest reward in the end.
PRJ: Take us back to the decision making process to move up to the 800. Who did you consult during this process and what pushed you over the top to make the move?
I talked to my coaches Dan Steele and Vin Lannana quite a bit about the decision. Dan was supportive of whatever decision I made and Vin (being on the distance side) was excited about the possibility of moving up because not many people at my level had done so. But what tipped the scales was Frank Gagliano and the opportunity of the Oregon Track Club. I had talked to several pro athletes while in college and the theme seemed to be that it was very difficult to transition to the pro athlete life because so many things change. So the opportunity to stay in Eugene and keep training at my home track with a coach that I was very comfortable with actually made the decision to change events very easy.
PRJ: What time are you shooting for at the U.S. Olympic Trials and how difficult to you anticipate the rounds to be?
My first goal is to run under 1:45.50 and past that I’m shooting for the 1:44’s. I’ve typically done well with rounds, especially mentally, and so am not very concerned about running 3 rounds. And having a day off before the final is awesome. Typically in meets like this (in college) I would be running 6 or 7 races in 4 days. Now I only have to run 3 (hopefully!).
PRJ: Your seasons best time of 1:46.11 puts you in the mix going into the Trials, what would making the Olympic Team mean to you?
First, I’m just excited to be in the mix; to have my name mentioned in people’s discussions about who has a chance to sneak into that 3rd spot. At this point I really don’t think I can even comprehend what making the team would mean to me or even feel like. I guess with the Trials next week I should start visualizing that… haha. But the only experience I’ve ever had with the Olympics is watching on TV. I don’t have anything that I can compare what the feeling might be. But at the same time that just means I have less to worry about. If I make the team I’ll be ‘that guy’ that people say, “He should act like he’s been there before.” I’ll be out there on tv acting like a fool.
PRJ: Do you feel there is additional pressure to make the U.S. Olympic Team squad because you live and train where the Olympic Trials are to be held?
No, not at all. The only pressure I have is what I’m putting on myself. Everyone around me (teammates, family, and the community) are just happy that I’m doing so well after changing events. That’s been nice to not feel any pressure from them. I’ll leave that to the Nick Symmonds’ of the group. I feel much more comfortable being a dark horse than being the one that is expected to make the team. Now, I will say that eventually I’d like to be in that position but for now, and in this situation, I’m perfectly fine where I am.
PRJ: What has been the biggest difference you have noticed in the training regimen for the 800?
Hands down – tempo runs. Those were a new concept for me. It seems like I start out running hard and keep getting faster until I die. Over the past 2 years I’ve gotten better at them almost every time, literally. Most everything else I can compare in some way to something I did as a 400 runner, but tempo runs were something else. Note: and I usually only do 3 mile tempo runs so you know it must be hard for me. Meanwhile, other OTC guys are doing like 8 mile tempo’s. I don’t envy those guys!
PRJ: You recently ran 1:46.11, and ran the “A” standard for the Olympic Trials. How did that feel?
That race felt really good actually. I finally got a chance to try something I’d been wanting to for a long time, which was going out in 49 in a fast race. My last 100 wasn’t very good but after a 49 most people’s aren’t. But I was glad to have felt how that pace feels and learned a lot about what my optimal race is. As for the time I was very confident that I would run a 1:45 that day. And even though I PR’d by half a second I was actually a little disappointed that I wasn’t .11 faster. And on the positive side of that it is still keeping me very hungry to get that first 1:45.
PRJ: Have you had a welcome to the professional circuit moment? A situation or moment when you realized “wow, I am running with pros?” If so, can you share with fans how that went down?
The first time that feeling hit me was shortly after graduating from Oregon. I was in Europe to run a couple races that summer and at my first meet I had to start from the blocks with a starter that wasn’t speaking English. In fact, I didn’t even know what language he was speaking. And I remember being in the set position before the gun thinking, “This is pretty cool, I can’t believe I’m racing in Europe…hmmm…I hope that last word meant set (I then look at the guy behind me to see where he was in the blocks).”
PRJ: Your times have been incredible this year, how have you been able to drop your times so effectively in the relatively short amount of time of running the 800-meters?
I’ve always been a big fan of the “naive” mentality. By that I mean having a mentality that is oblivious to the typical limitations that people have. As far as I am concerned, it shouldn’t be a big deal to go run 1:43 at the trials. It’s only a couple seconds off my PR. Most people would say that is impossible for me right now to me its in the realm of possibilities because in my mind I don’t even know how good that is. Andrew Wheating of Oregon is a perfect example of that. The kid just goes out and runs and has no idea of what his current times mean. He just shrugs it off and says, “That was fun.” I love that attitude and have been using it since high school. As a freshman I ran 49.4 and had no idea why people were amazed. I was actually disappointed because I lost. Now I at least realize that 49 is good for a 9th grader but I still carry the same idea into my mental training now.
PRJ: As you are maturing in the 800-meters, are you relying less on your speed and more on race strategy?
To be honest, I still have no clue about what I’m doing in an 800. I learn so much about the race every single time out. My speed is my greatest asset though so I have to utilize that to my advantage. The big difference between this year and last is that I have a lot more strength now which only allows me to use my speed in the first half of the race. It is a misconception (at least for me) that people have that since I have speed they think I should be able to close the last 200m. But it is really the opposite, at least for now. I use my speed to go out in 50-point and feel more relaxed than everyone else even though they are 51 or 52. That gives me a head start for the strength portion of the race: the last 200. That’s why people like Nick Symmonds are so good with 100 to go. Nick has the most strength out of anyone I know.
PRJ: What is your go-to music to get you in the groove before you hit the track for meets?
I actually don’t listen to any music. I usually am on my computer working on websites or sending emails right up until I leave for the track. I am one of those people that has to keep busy. I don’t like to have a lot of time to think. Even warming up I often stop to talk to people or am joking around. Thinking too much about the race is a negative for me. I step up to the line just trusting that my body is ready and am focused on hitting those couple of key objective points of my race. But if I did listen to any music it would be Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw.
PRJ: I know you are an integral part of Runnerspace.com, how often do you post and update your profile?
Definitely not as often as I should. I am usually busy with other parts of the site, making sure content is getting up or helping plan coverage for events. Oh and I play the arcade games quite a bit. I may actually be more competitive in those little flash games than on the track. Haha. We’ve all played those games before – pacman, frogger, kick-ups – but RunnerSpace keeps track of your scores and ranks them against other members. Its one of those things that you get addicted to because you want to get one of those trophies the top 3 people get. Oh, and I’m pretty good at them and challenge anyone to my best game: F/A-18 Hornet. (and the overall winner of the arcade each month wins $100).
PRJ: You have your own company FastRunnerZ.com and Emerald Valley Marketing. Between that and Runnerspace.com, do you think you’ll go into that stuff full-time when you retire from running track?
I hope to. I’ve taken the last few years to learn as much as I can about the internet business and web design. All that “mumbo jumbo” code seems to make a lot of sense to me and I absorb it very easily. Right now web design is one of my side jobs that I hope to develop into a career when I’m done running. And I’ll always be involved in RunnerSpace in some capacity. Its just too good of an idea to fail and has the back end site operations that hasn’t been seen in the track world.
PRJ: Thank you for taking the time out to sit down with us. Good luck at the Olympic Trials and the rest of your season.
By Jay Hicks.