Scott Gragg’s New Title: Marathon Man

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

All anybody really wants, when they are minutes away from taking the first steps on an arduous journey of 26.2 miles, is a moment of levity. Anything will do, as long as it temporarily brushes aside the questions and doubts that naturally come with being a first-time marathoner.

Scott Gragg, Montana’s assistant head football coach and co-offensive coordinator, found his Sunday morning in Frenchtown, as the start of the seventh running of the Missoula Marathon bore down.

“All I wanted was 26.2 miles and not a single step more. I didn’t want to expend one  single ounce of energy if I didn’t have to prior to the gun going off,” he says.

“And here were these competitive runners going through their warm-ups and running around prior to the race. I actually kind of enjoyed it.”

Scott_Gragg_Mug

Scott Gragg – Montana Assistant Head Football Coach and Co-OffensiveCoordinator.

When the gun sounded at 6 a.m., Gragg quickly lost sight of those runners, but by the end of the day he was able to claim the exact same title as marathon champion Jason Delaney and the other 1,098 who crossed the finish line 26.2 miles away in Missoula: marathon finisher.

Gragg, who hadn’t done a race longer than 10 kilometers prior to Sunday, was inspired to run this year’s Missoula Marathon at an odd place: church.

“A year ago, the week after the marathon, a group from church all wore their marathon shirts,” he says. “They raised money for Haiti in the process, and I thought, Hmm, that sounds interesting. I’ve never thought about doing a marathon. So I started thinking about it.”

For those unfamiliar with Scott Gragg, a visual: Think of Haile Gebrselassie. Then picture the complete opposite.

Gragg is a former Grizzly great and played 11 seasons as an offensive lineman in the NFL, so he was a professional athlete, but when your nickname is “Lurch” and you stand 6-foot-8 and weigh 250-plus pounds, you don’t exactly fit the mold of marathoner.

So the dream’s baby steps began, one sizeable shoeprint at a time.

Scott Gragg

Scott is entering his fourth season at his almamater.

“I had been struggling to get into a workout routine, so I thought that no matter where I was that I could always go out for a run,” he says. “I began running when the season started last year, just two or three miles here and there.

“I knew I had a lot of things going against me. Former offensive lineman who’s 6-foot-8 and 250-plus pounds. I figured my knees would start hurting, or my feet would start hurting, or my back would start hurting. Amazingly all those things started to feel better once I started running, so I jumped in.”

Missoula offers plenty of race options for a novice to dip his toe into the water, to maybe slip into the safer waters of the shallow end of the pool: the five-kilometer Homecoming Hustle, the eight-kilometer Turkey Trot, the 10-kilometer Riverbank Run. Even marathon weekend offers a half-marathon option.

“I thought if I was going to run long, I was going to do the full marathon,” he says. “I didn’t want to do just the half-marathon. I wanted to jump in and do the whole thing. I thought I would give it a shot and see what happens.”

So like his fellow congregants at Missoula Alliance Church, who had raced in 2012, Gragg found a training plan and then buttressed it all with a cause he could believe in. Because everybody can use a little extra motivation on those mornings when the 16 scheduled miles feel like 15.9 too many.

For Gragg it was the memory of two friends, both gone too soon because of cancer. One was an assistant coach at Montana when Gragg was a player. One was his agent when Gragg moved on from the Grizzlies to the NFL.

1609_208785355936352_507662883_n“I’d lost a couple of dear friends, Phil Ryan and Ken Staninger, and I kind of used their memories as inspiration,” he says. “I also ran for the Seed Company, which is a Bible translationministry.

“I thought having something bigger to race for than just myself would give me some motivation and kind of help hold me accountable.”

In late January Gragg started in on his training plan.

“I knew that if my long run got up to 14 or 15 miles and I couldn’t handle it because my body started locking up, then I would know that a marathon was maybe out of reach,” he says. “But once I reached that point, I knew I could handle the rest of the training.”

Gragg’s training plan peaked out at 20 miles (“I had six training runs that were longer than a half-marathon, and I didn’t get a single ribbon for any of them.”) and brought him up to Saturday night, when he faced the pre-race restlessness and sleeplessness common to so many endurance athletes.

“I didn’t sleep well at all. I ate early and went to bed at 7, but I don’t think I fell asleep until 9:30 or 10. And then I was up every hour looking at the clock to make sure I didn’t miss my alarm,” he says.

Scott Gragg runs Missoula Marathon 2013

The marathon has been described quite accurately by someone who’s been there and done it as 20 miles of hope and six miles of reality. Add one more believer in that creed.

Gragg, who did most of his long-run training at a pace between 10:20 and 11 minutes per mile, ran the opening 10 kilometers at a pace of 10:06 and came through the race’s midway point in 2:13:04, or an average pace to that point of 10:09.

He still had an average pace for the race of 10:30 when he passed mile marker 20. At that point he was ahead of the group being led by the 4-hour, 30-minute pacer, a heady spot for someone who started the race with a goal of breaking five hours.

“I was feeling great. I didn’t feel like I was pushing at all. I thought, This is my day! Then I hit the 20-mile mark, and it felt like I hit the wall that you always hear about. Everything started aching,” he says.

The last 6.2 miles were covered at an agonizing pace of 13:50.

“By the last part of it I was walking quite a bit,” he says. “You start playing a lot of games with yourself those last few miles when you’re hurting that bad.

“I was going to wait until (the Higgins Street bridge) before I started to run again, because I was just dead. But when I passed Hellgate (High School), my wife and son, aunt and uncle and mom and dad were all there cheering. I knew at that point that I was going to push until the end.”

Scott Gragg Marathon Man

Gragg crossed the finish line in 4:55:58.

The thing about endurance events? All those negative thoughts and all those deals made in the final miles are quickly forgotten in the glory of the finish line and the post-race glow that can’t be replicated in any other way.

And then there is the small matter of pride, something race directors everywhere count on. It gives them a guarantee of repeat business, no matter that their events have people paying money to run or walk 26.2 miles.

“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and right after the race, I thought I couldn’t see myself ever doing something like that again,” he says.

“Then a day later, when a lot of those aches and pains start to go away, you start to think, I wonder if that final 6.2 miles would have gone better if I had trained a little bit differently or had added a few more miles to my training. I guess you could say I haven’t canceled the idea of doing another one.”

See Scott Gragg’s Coaching Profile.

Montana Sports Information  —  GoGriz.com

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