Team Turns Unsung Runners Into Elite Marathoners

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The following paragraphs come from a NYT article by Gina Kolata. This is only part of the article. Here’s the link.

ROCHESTER, Mich. — When Mike Morgan was in high school in Lincoln, Neb., he wanted to be part of a sports team. But, as he saw it, he did not have much choice. Football was out — he was 5 feet 7 inches and 105 pounds. That left cross-country and track.

So Morgan became a runner, doing well but not turning any heads. When it came time for college, no coaches recruited him and he ended up at Nebraska Wesleyan, a small Division III college.

Morgan, now 27, is part of an unusual team, the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, whose goal is to give runners like him a chance to see if they can compete internationally at the highest levels.

He is one of 13 Hansons-Brooks runners who will compete in the Olympic men’s marathon trials Nov. 3 in New York; the top three finishers will represent the United States at the Beijing Olympics next summer. Nearly one out of every 10 men in the race is a Hansons-Brooks runner.

And nearly every one of those athletes is, like Morgan, a runner who would otherwise have dropped by the wayside.

The tale of the team and its runners reveals a sport in which money is short, fame hard to come by and glory elusive for all but a very few. It involves athletes who are ready to put their lives on hold for 8, 10, even 12 years while they live a monastic existence in a group home here, far from family and friends, doing little but running, twice a day, day in and day out.

It also is the story of Keith and Kevin Hanson, the brothers who founded, financed and coach the team. They know they have the fate of gifted athletes in their hands and they know there are few scientific studies showing the best way to train.

They have their goal, though. “We want to put somebody on that Olympic team,” Keith Hanson said.

The Hansons started the team in 1999, after deciding that something was wrong with American distance running. “We said, ‘Why is it that Americans were such a factor in the early to mid-1980s and not now?’” Kevin Hanson said.

They reasoned that it was because Americans had abandoned group training. “Ethiopians train in groups, Kenyans train in groups, Japanese train in groups,” Kevin Hanson said. But most Americans were trying to work full time after college while training on their own.

The brothers owned three running stores in Michigan — in Utica, Royal Oak and Grosse Point — that were doing well, so they decided to invest $250,000 a year in a team. They would provide essentials like housing, health insurance, travel money and equipment. And they would give the runners part-time jobs if they wanted them.

Eight years later, the Hansons have spent $2 million, have added another running store, in Lake Orion, and their team has 20 runners —16 men and 4 women. They have two sponsors — Brooks, the athletic shoe company, and Saturn, the car company. Most of the runners work 20 to 25 hours a week at one of the Hansons’ stores, where they are paid $10 to $12 an hour.

The runners start their day at 7:30 a.m., meeting at a duck pond beside a packed-dirt trail. Most end up running 120 to 140 miles a week. Brian Sell, the team’s best hope for making the Olympic team, runs 160 miles a week.

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