Nick Szczech plans to waste little time making the transition from collegiate runner to top marathoner.
His debut over 26.2 miles will be the 31st annual Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon on Sunday, and with a little help, the former Marquette Golden Eagle plans to chase the 2:19 time that would put him into the trials for the U.S. Olympic marathon team.
His MU teammate, Keith Schueller, will serve as a rabbit for Szczech and any other runner looking to crack the 2:20 mark. To comply with USATF rules, Schueller has to provide a pacing assist for anyone who wants it.
Amber Druien, from Woodstock, Ill., also will take the start line at Grafton High School intent on posting a time fast enough to earn a spot in the marathon trials in Houston. Jessica Monson, from the Wisconsin Runner Racing Team, will set the early pace for the elite women.
The rabbits will be a new addition to the Lakefront Marathon, and the runners worked with rules technician Dan Held to ensure the assist will be valid. The race will serve as the Wisconsin USATF championship and the national championship for the Road Runners Club of America.
Szczech, 22, has an ambitious plan, but a realistic outlook.
"It is my first marathon, and I don't want to bomb completely," he said.
He figured an Olympic trials qualifier is within reach, based on his 10K times. Endurance will be a question he hopes to answer on the route to Veteran's Park.
If he fades, expect Ryan Meissen, from Mukwonago, and Scott Jansky, from Two Rivers, to be ready to take the victory. The winners of the 2009 and 2010 Lakefront Marathon have the potential to be right around the 2:20 mark at the finish.
In all, 3050 runners are registered to race on what should be an outstanding day for a marathon. The field includes the 62 athletes who will run tethered together in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record and raise money for Jenny Crain.