Friday, March 26, 2010

Meet Alan Horton, favourite for this week's Knoxville Marathon

By Stefan Cooper, BlountToday

Basically, his dad had trained four, long years for this, so Riley Ray Horton decided to go ahead and get on in here and catch the race.
Alan Horton will take the start line for Sunday’s Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon as one of the pre-race favorites. His preparation the last four years could hardly have gone better.

Two years ago, the former William Blount Governor led the field through the first mile of the Boston Marathon, Horton finishing the race as the eighth American to cross the line and 25th overall. There were 25,283 entrants at the start line, with 21,948 finishing the 26.2-mile course.
Two years prior, Horton had made William Blount history, becoming the first athlete from the school to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials. He’d done so at the 2006 Chicago Marathon, Horton beating the qualifying standard by a razor-thin 2 seconds the line.

Horton’s training partners on Knoxville’s Runners Market racing team include defending Knoxville champion Stewart Ellington and fellow pre-race favorite Andy Baska of Farragut, who works at Clayton Homes. The only uncertainty in Horton’s preparation as of a month ago was Riley.
Horton and wife Micelle were expecting the couple’s first child on March 21, less than a week from the Knoxville race. If Riley arrived the week of the race, Horton said he’d decided he would pull his name from the start list. Riley made it a moot point two weeks ago, making his much-anticipated debut on March 7.

Wife and son are doing well, Horton said. With concerns for Michelle and Riley allayed, Alan said he’s returned his focus to the marathon.
“If I get enough sleep here the next few days, I’ll be fine,” he said.

Ellington, Baska and Horton have taken significantly different paths to Sunday’s race. Ellington was a four-time All-American at the University of Tennessee. He won his first Knoxville Marathon two years ago, repeating last spring.

“He’s the four-time All-American,” Baska said. “We’re just scrubs.”
Must be an awfully tough room.

Baska did it all in high school, winning two state cross country titles to go with 1600- and 3200-meter state crowns on the track. A former Vol as well, Baska’s race results the last two years include wins in the Strawberry Plains Half Marathon, the Alcoa Spring Sprint 5K and the Kiawah Half Marathon.

The former Admiral smashed the state record for 15K by 32 seconds two years ago. In 2009, Baska finished second overall in the Knoxville Half Marathon.
“He’s definitely a talented runner,” Horton said. “He’s only 26, and he’s got a lot of raw speed.”

Baska, who likes to cue up the heavy metal band Tool in his iPod when he trains, is also the ultimate, rock-and-roll runner.
“They’re my favorite band, by far,” Baska said. “I’m big into anything where there’s screaming in my face.”

Unlike Ellington and Baska, Horton’s road to Sunday has been decidedly more gradual, albeit sometimes reluctantly. His freshman season at William Blount, Horton couldn’t train enough. He’d already decided distance running would be his ticket to college.
“I didn’t make the golf team,” he said. “I guess I’m thankful for that bunker on No. 9 at Royal Oaks Country Club. Cross country was the next sport (to try).”

The problem in those early years was Horton was training too much, William Blount cross country and track coach Chris Frary said.
“There were times when we had to rein him in a little bit because he wanted to do too much,” he said.

When Horton laid out a 20.5-mile course near his house on which to train, Frary intervened.
“He said, ‘You should never do that again,’” Horton said. “‘Let your body develop for marathons.’”
As a collegiate runner, Horton said he began to see the wisdom of Frary’s advice.
“He trained us well,” Horton said. “He didn’t burn us out. He trained us to our potential so we would keep running.”

Horton ran to sixth in the state cross country championships his senior year at William Blount. After a stopover at UT Martin, Horton finished his collegiate running career at Eastern Kentucky University, a highlight coming when he won the 5000 meters at the 2001 Ohio Valley Conference Championships.
The 2002 OVC Scholar Athlete of the Year was making steady progress, much as Frary had earlier hoped. The Chicago and Boston results were tangible proof Horton was right on track.

“Alan’s one of those young men you hoped would have the successes he’s had,” Frary said. “He’s had a steady progression all through high school and all through college and just keeps getting better and better.”
Horton said he took some time off from running after college, the flame for the sport reigniting during a year abroad in Mexico to perfect the Spanish he’d learned in college.

“I’m thankful, in hindsight, I had a couple of races in college that didn’t go the way I wanted them to,” Horton said. “I didn’t reach my potential. I had some unfinished business.
“I left college feeling empty in a lot of ways. I had a lot left to prove.”

Since 2004, Horton and Baska have been all but inseparable as training partners.
“We know each other’s strengths; we know each other’s weakness,” Horton said. “So it’ll be interesting to see how it goes Sunday.”

Maybe a little too interesting, Baska said.
“It’s scary what great shape he’s gotten into,” he said. “There are five or six guys in the race that can win it. It’s going to be a battle. I just hope a local guy takes it home. I hope it stays in Knoxville.”

A select few, including a certain three-week-old, would like nothing better than to see the trophy move to Blount County for a while.
“It’s going to be an interesting race,” Frary said. “No doubt about it.”

The Horton family relay: Horton, 29, will also take part in a race within the race during Sunday’s Knoxville Marathon. Older brothers Brian, 41, Paul, 38, and Daniel, 35, will team with their baby brother on an unusual relay.

Alan will leave the start line with a relay arm band, passing it Daniel at the 6.2-mile mark. Daniel, 6.2 miles, Paul, 7.9, and Brian, 5.9, will then finish the relay as Alan presses on in hopes of taking the overall.