Matt Scherer: Master of time
By: Cait Chock
In less than 140 characters, on July 19th Matt Scherer officially announced his retirement. "I was really taken aback at the attention my tweet got." By the next morning there were over 400 Retweets and 1,000 Favorites. He shouldn't have been so surprised, after an illustrious competitive career Scherer became one of the best professional pacers our sport's ever seen.
"It was great having not just fans but a lot of pro athletes tweeting out replies or sending me text messages. It goes to show how close the track family can be." Every runner can attest to just how much of a burden is lifted when you're not the one left thinking about hitting the splits. There's a unique bond foraged in the silent laps between racer and pacer, made even more powerful when the execution if flawless.
Track is a sport than revolves around the numbers. Records, places, medals, hopes, dreams, and redemption hinge upon them. In the quest for chasing time standards and lowering what numbers define THE best, professional pacing can be a career. That is, only if you're good at it.
"I always felt like I could be one bad pacing job from not getting any more gigs," Scherer speaks of the pressure that comes with pacing. His projection isn't far from the truth. There's no shortage of pacing horror stories, when a World Record is in contention you certainly don't want to be dubbed the rabbit who couldn't nail the split.
At the same time, having the unique ability to run like a metronome can open one up to more than just the exhilaration of competition but as well the inner world of track and field. Pacing comes with a myriad of rewards. "When I first started being only a pacer, I was really just trying to find some way to stay in the sport another year or two. I was content with being done with my competitive career but not really ready to stop training, or get a real job...I know how it feels to cross a finish line and see that you've run faster than you've ever run before, and to see guys do that dozens of times a year became very rewarding."
Professional runners become so because of an intense passion for the sport, coupled with motivation and at times single-focused determination. When running's been such an integral part of your life for so many years, nearly every athlete struggles with how running will fit into their life after competing. For Scherer, pacing presented the perfect opportunity to stay connected to that world, more importantly his friends; the community he'd been ensconced in since he took up the sport.
A leading force in high school, Scherer went on to run for the University of Oregon. Even after graduating and turning professional, a member of the American Record-setting indoor distance medley relay team, Scherer still counts the day he wore a Duck's jersey as his proudest moment as a racer. "My most memorable race was winning Pac-10's in the 400-meter my senior year at the University of Oregon in front of a home crowd at Hayward Field. That was the biggest race I ever won and was the only time I ever celebrated crossing the finish line." Such is the power and magic Hayward Field.
Six years ago Scherer shifted his focus to pacing. In doing so he effectually led countless harriers to fulfilling their own dreams. "The FBK Games in Hengelo, Netherlands in 2012 where I hit the intended 400-meter split exactly to the hundredth of a second at 50.50 while 7 guys hit the Olympic A Standard, securing their spot in the London Olympics. There were a lot of happy faces in the mixed zone that day." Just one such instance, but for Scherer, the amount of palpable energy felt on the track that night will forever be special.
Not every race ends that way and each year Scherer assessed his pacing as well as his bank account. To fill in the gaps he also worked part time for Runnerspace.com, a venture he will now be moving to full time. "I'm really excited to be able to stay so close to the sport and get more involved in the media and events side of things." Once a runner, always a runner.
In stepping off the track in Heusden, Belgium, "I was really hoping to go out on a good one and I did." He went back to his hotel, with a couple Leffe Blonde's, in the company of training partners, Mark Wieczorek and Cas Loxsom, "It was nice to just relax and reflect back on running and other stories while having a couple beers with two great friends." In running, your training partners, competitors even, become family. "That's one of the things I'll miss most...sitting around coffee shops and hotel rooms in Europe hanging out with other runners."
Finishing his time in Europe, Scherar fully celebrated his retirement in Cabo with his girlfriend. Back in the States, he will move forward to the next chapter, one which begins in San Francisco, CA.
"Of course everyone's dream in running is to become an Olympian and win a gold medal or set a World Record," Scherer recognizes. "I'm perfectly content with what I've accomplished trying to cross finish lines. But obviously I became better known as a pacer and I love that. I was better at that than I was at competing and it allowed me to travel to new places and participate in the best meets all over the world. At the end of the day that's a pretty sweet thing to have done and even better to be known and well regarded for it."
In a circuit where numbers rule, having exceptional mastery of time is a feat to be recorded itself.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.