Brett Gotcher’s First and Next
The “Next Step” for the marathon trials fifth-placer isn’t the New York City Marathon. It’s going home
by The Trailer
APTOS, Calif. – A girl with blood-red hair screams “Discipline!” as Brett Gotcher runs his final track workout before the 2012 New York City Marathon. She screams it again and again.
The girl is part of the second of two gym classes that have been herded onto the Aptos High School track infield to play half-court soccer while Gotcher, an AHS alumnus, hammers kilometer repeats and dodges errant balls. In between intervals, which he averages just under 3 minutes, he says, “I forgot how loud high schoolers are.”
There’s a lot Gotcher has forgotten, because it’s been a long time since he’s lived in his home of Santa Cruz county. The 28-year-old Watsonville native was still technically living there during his five years at Stanford University. But most of his time was spent on campus in Palo Alto an hour north. And then after college in 2007, when he was recruited to the fledgling McMillan Elite, he’s been most often in Flagstaff, Ariz.
“[Flagstaff] was the best thing—it was the only thing. I don’t think I would be where I’m at right now if didn’t have that situation,” he says.
But, he adds, there’s always been the pull home.
It’s the pull of the ocean, the pull of the redwood forests, the pull of the summertime fog. “You start thinking about things when the [Olympic team] trials are over,” says Gotcher, who was fifth in the marathon in January. “You start looking over the next four years and start thinking about what you can do different.”
He and coach Greg McMillan were talking it over and decided to implement the first change for the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4, before which he’d spend his final month at sea level acclimating to marathon-paced workouts.
But Gotcher’s long-term plan, with girlfriend Valerie, has always been to move back to California. She just provided the impetus.
“[Santa Cruz] is a place we both want to end up; we just didn’t know when,” Gotcher says. “We decided, all right, you get your dream job, and we’ll let that dictate when we come back. Six months later, Val pretty much had it.”
So a month before the New York City Marathon, instead of visiting Santa Cruz again, Gotcher and Val packed up their Flagstaff home and moved back. Gotcher will remain part of the McMillan team, and will travel back a few times a year for altitude—details like frequency and duration are still being worked out. But in the meantime, he’s reacquainting himself with his hometown.
“It’s different, just because I haven’t lived here for five years. A lot of the stuff is new to me again,” he says. “But it’s funny to come back and see the same people, a lot of them doing the same thing. Some things don’t change. It’s comforting to see that and slot right back in.”
It’s not only the mental side that affects him; Flagstaff had four pristine tracks that the McMillan group couldn’t use. In Santa Cruz Gotcher has a track, has the dirt roads of state parks, and has his family. He has everything he needs, including access to altitude in Flagstaff a few times a year, to bring him into the next level as a U.S. marathoner.
And now that’s he’s taken the first step by moving home, New York is just the next.
In Sunday’s race, Gotcher looks to be competitive with the top Americans as well as going sub-2:10, a time he says is as much a mental barrier as it is a line of demarcation for U.S. marathoners. He debuted at 2:10:36 in 2010 (the fourth-fastest American ever), sophomore-slumped the next year, and then ran the trials in 2:11:06. Despite his age, he remains relatively inexperienced compared to his peers—and therefore has the highest potential.
“You see a lot of guys rush it just to get one in. They go out and run 2:15 or 2:16, and it’s like, who cares? That’s the women’s world record,” he says. “Why not just go out there and know you’re prepared. I think we had the right approach.”
Gotcher knows he’s prepared for New York, and he knows his move back home is a gamble. “But it’s being able to take the scenic route home after a run, driving by the ocean and just sitting there for a minute. There’s a lot of magic here for me,” he says.
“Greg and I are both willing to experiment and probably fail at times to figure out the right program. But that’s the risk you take. To get better, you have to take risks.”
Only if you’re cool with Brett Gotcher will he show you the Secret Sandwich Shop in his boyhood stomping grounds of La Selva Beach, Calif. (Go with the sourdough roll. It is worth it.) He’s not on Twitter, so follow his agent, Dan Lilot, who tweets athlete news with the fervency of a soccer mom.