Scott Wietecha cruises to victory at the Nashville Marathon on April 29, 16 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher. Wendy Fielder
After taking an extended break from running last fall, Wietecha began the year well heavier than his usual racing weight. His training regimen, at that point, consisted of a bit of occasional road cycling.
“I really wasn’t going to run this year,” Wietecha said.“I was barely running last fall and put on 20 pounds. But in January I started running again with some high school kids and over the next few months dropped the weight. I only trained hard the last month, but luckily it worked out.”
Over the years, Wietecha has made returning to the Nashville winner’s circle a priority. It hasn’t been easy, given his full life. His wife, Mary, is a kindergarten teacher and they have two young children. He teaches physical education at an elementary school in Nashville and coaches year round.
Yet there he was on April 29, collecting his fifth-straight winner’s trophy.
“It’s a curse and a blessing,” Wietecha said of his winning streak. “It’s a blessing, because I get a lot of recognition and it puts me in a position where I can share my passion for running. But the flip side is the pressure, because now people expect me to win. The other day a guy told me he was at a baseball game the afternoon of the marathon, and the umpire asked whether I won again. And then he said it made his day to hear that I did win. That’s cool, but it sort of adds to the pressure.”
Wietecha grew up in South Carolina and won state titles at 1600 meters and 3200 meters in high school. At Division II Harding University in Arkansas, he earned All-American honors in cross country and at 5,000 meters indoors before graduating in 2004.
The next several years Wietecha worked at various teaching jobs, and his running was a source of frustration, as a string of injuries and an iron deficiency stymied his progress. Feeling burned out, Wietecha stepped away from the sport and switched to weight training.
In October 2008, Wietecha jumped in a small 10K in Tennessee hoping to collect the $100 winner’s prize. Essentially untrained, he ran 39:27 and was the first male finisher, although the overall race winner was a woman two minutes in front of him. Wietecha promptly stuck his running shoes back in the closet for another three months.
In 2009 Wietecha began coaching the distance runners at Beech High School and running with them on occasion, and the sport began to resonate with him again.
“Through that year I got into it a little more,” he said, “and eventually decided to train for a marathon. Just a little bucket list thing.”
Wietecha surprised himself with his marathon debut, a 2:27:08 for third place at Rocket City in Huntsville, Alabama, in 2010. Over the course of five years, he lowered his PR to 2:17:02 in October 2015 in Chicago. He also started his Nashville winning streak in 2013.
But another bout with iron deficiency and fatigue sidelined him from the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles.
Although his top ambition has long been the Olympic Trials, Wietecha has also made returning annually to the Nashville part of his calendar.
His lack of quality training, combined with hot and humid conditions prompted Wietecha to throw time out the window and focus solely on taking his fifth win. He crossed the finish line in 2:40:25, 16 minutes ahead of runner-up Ryan Regnier in 2:56:28. Wietecha’s time was nearly 15 minutes slower than 2016.
He likes to joke about his propensity to put on weight when he’s not training seriously. He has an aversion to vegetables and prefers cheeseburgers and donuts. “When I’m training hard and burning 4,000 calories a day, I have to consume as much fuel as possible,” he said. “There are some [foods] I won’t buy at the store, but if it’s offered to me I won’t turn it down, that’s always my rule.”
Wietecha likes to keep his running simple. “A lot of hardcore runners are obsessed with all the details,” he said. “And if something is off, they kind of fall apart. What I care about is the training. If I don’t sleep well, I don’t sleep well. If my diet’s bad, my diet’s bad. The little things don’t bother me.”
One thing he does wonder: whether he has left his best marathon out on the road during training somewhere. “I’ve never run the marathon I feel I have in me,” he said. “But the mental grind of training is so tough, I’m not sure I want to climb all the way back up and go after it.”
But whatever he has given, it has been enough for five consecutive wins in Nashville.