Steve Scott is one of America’s greatest middle-distance runners of all time, having posted three American mile marks, a world championship silver medal, two Olympic appearances and a record 136 sub-4 miles in a career that spanned nearly 20 years. (His 3:47.69 in 1982 was the second-fastest mile ever run and stood as the U.S. record for 25 years.) The prolific, fiercely competitive racer also founded the Carlsbad 5000, which celebrates its 30th year on March 29. We caught up with Scott, 58, who’s now the track coach at California State University, San Marcos, and is on the home stretch of treatment for prostate cancer.
What makes the Carlsbad 5000 so special—and fast?
Besides running along the Pacific Ocean, it’s got a nice fast first mile, and you have a lot of fast people there. And it’s spectator-friendly. Most races everybody starts together, and when the elite racers finish, no one’s there watching them because everybody is still out running. Here everybody else runs, then you watch the elite runners. The course isn’t the fastest course around with the two U-turns, but because everybody’s watching and the competition is very good, people expect to run fast.
What it’s like to run a sub-4 mile?
I’ve had some very painful 4:10 miles that were a lot more painful than a sub-4-minute mile. No matter how many people run under 4 minutes, when you do it your first time it’s something special. If I didn’t break 4:00 in a race, it was a lousy race for me. But it was still a special feeling every time I did it.
Why hasn’t someone broken the world mile record in 15 years?
Well, because they were able to find a way to detect for EPO! I’m not naming names, but I think a lot of the fast times in that period were aided. It’s not circumstance that the record hasn’t dropped in several years. I think we’re catching up with the cheats and making it hard for people to use performance-enhancing drugs.
How is your cancer treatment going?
Everything’s going really well. I finished my treatment on Halloween. Now I have to wait four months before I’m tested to give radiation the chance to fully work. I made the whole thing public just for awareness, because I caught it fairly early. I didn’t anticipate all the people who would contact me hoping everything went well. It was pretty amazing.
What has coaching been like after your racing career?
It was a godsend, because I was really floundering after my career was over. I was trying to break 4 minutes as a masters runner, just hanging on by the skin of my teeth to try to stay involved in running. I was working in jobs where I hated what I was doing. So when the coaching came around, it was the perfect fit. [Cal State San Marcos] was in the NAIA, but now we’re going into NCAA Division II. I realize that I’m not dealing with future Olympians, I’m dealing with that next level of athlete down, and my goal is to try to make them better athletes, make them enjoy running and want to continue to run once they’re through and not use up every ounce of their ability in college. And I think for the most part I’ve accomplished my goal.