Whenever Andrew Lemoncello is back on home ground in St Andrews, he runs on the sweeping stretch of sand where David Puttnam filmed the famous Chariots of Fire scene in which Eric Liddell, Harold Abrahams and the rest of the 1924 British Olympic squad plough through the surf in training.
"I used to work as a waiter at the Old Course Hotel," the 27-year-old Scot, a member of the British Olympic class of 2008, says. "I'd start at 6am and my morning run would be early doors, going out along the Old Course and then coming back along the beach. It's wonderful at that time of the day. You see the sun rising over the town and you cannot help the music coming into your head."
As he pictures the scene, Lemoncello is looking up at the sun glinting on the Portland stonework of Tower Bridge. This morning the Fifer will be running across the London landmark as a marathon virgin in the Virgin London Marathon. He will do so with hopes on his slender shoulders of turning the clock back some of the way towards the glory days for men's marathon running in Britain – in the direction of the 1980s, when home winners in London were par for the 26.2-mile course (Hugh Jones in 1982, Mike Gratton in 1983, Charlie Spedding in 1984, Steve Jones in 1985), and 1990, when Allister Hutton of Edinburgh Southern Harriers achieved the one victory in the English capital by a Scotsman.
Catching up with the African speed merchants who have moved the international marathon running game into a new dimension would be too much to expect, but Lemoncello will have the 2hr 10min mark in mind when he sets off for his debut at the classic distance. The Scottish record set by Hutton as the third-placed finisher behind the Welshman Jones and the Englishman Spedding in London in 1985 – 2hr 9min 16sec – is another target he has in his sights, for 2011 if not 2010.
Lemoncello's times at shorter distances (27min 57.23sec for 10,000m on the track and an unofficial 61min 52sec for the half-marathon on a slightly downhill course in Austin, Texas) point towards a performance in the 2:10 region. "Yeah, that's the goal," he acknowledges. "My training partner, Brett Gotcher, ran 2:10:47 on his marathon debut in Houston in January, so there's a bit of rivalry in the training group to try and outdo each other. He set the mark and I've done pretty much the same training he did. I just want to go out there and run fast and strong.
"I've got the Scottish record to think about in the future. That's the big one. If I find myself on pace for that on Sunday then, yeah, I'll go for it. But we'll see. If I'm anywhere close to it at halfway, we'll see how I'm feeling and what the weather's like. I'm more thinking of that for next year, with a little bit more experience."
Lemoncello may be a marathon novice but he could hardly have crammed more miles into his preparation. Since his disappointing run in the 3,000m steeplechase at the Beijing Olympics in the summer of 2008 (he finished 10th in his heat), he has been banging in the miles in preparation for the 26 miles, 385 yards from Blackheath to The Mall today. Most of them have been clocked up on the country trails of Flagstaff, Arizona, where he now lives with his American fiancée, Julie, although for the past two weeks he has been back in St Andrews on the Chariots of Fire trail.
On more than one week, while he works part-time in a sushi bar to fund his running career, Lemoncello's mileage has nudged past the 150 mark. None of the British marathon greats of yore could accuse him of skimping on the hard graft. "You hear about it all the time, about all the training they did back then," he reflects. "They didn't have it wrong. That's why they ran so fast. When I started thinking about the marathon, I read that a lot of the top runners were doing 140 miles a week and I vowed to myself that I wasn't going to go into the event unprepared. If I could get away with doing that high a mileage and not break down, then that was what I was going to do. I've not found it difficult. I'm not worried at all about the distance on Sunday. That feeling from 20 miles on – I've trained to really dig deep and get my head ready for that."
Clearly, all of the miles have dug deep into Lemoncello's body fat. As a fully trained-up marathon man, his shape has changed from the lean to the positively skeletal since his steeplechasing days. There has been another change. He has converted to the Catholic faith, partly to strengthen the spiritual bond with his fiancée ahead of their November wedding. "It has made me stronger," he says.
His accent has more than a hint of Flagstaff and Florida mixed in with Fife. Lemoncello was born in Tokyo to a Scottish mother, Phyllis, and an American father, Stephen. He was brought up in St Andrews and edu-cated at Madras College secondary school in the celebrated golfing town. His German master was Donald McGregor, the Scottish distance runner who finished seventh in the marathon at the Munich Olympics in 1972. He studied at Stirling University before venturing Stateside, initially on a sports scholarship to Florida State University in Tallahassee, and since 2007 to join the elite distance-running group coached by Greg McMillan in Flagstaff.
Still, the adopted Flagstaffian remains a proud member of Fife Athletics Club, and a proud Scot. When the sun glints at the start at Blackheath, he'll pull on a pair of sunglasses bearing the Saltire design – the cross of St Andrew for the son of St Andrews on his maiden marathon journey.
First British male finishers in all London Marathons
When Paula was 'best of the blokes'
2009: 13th Andi Jones (Salford) 2:15:20.
2008: 13th Dan Robinson (Stroud) 2:13:10.
2007: 9th Dan Robinson (Stroud) 2:14:14.
2006: 12th Pete Riley (Leigh) 2:14:31.
2005: 6th Jon Brown (Sheffield) 2:09:31.
2004: 15th Jon Brown (Sheffield) 2:13:39.
2003: 17th Chris Cariss (Bingley) 2:17:57.
* First Briton: 16th Paula Radcliffe (Bedford) 2:15:25.
2002: 8th Mark Steinle (Tonbridge) 2:09: 17.
2001: 6th Mark Steinle (Tonbridge) 2:10:46.
2000: 11th Mark Steinle (Tonbridge) 2:11:18.
1999: 4th Jon Brown (Sheffield) 2:09:44.
1998: 8th Jon Brown (Sheffield) 2:11:11.
1997: 5th Richard Nerurkar (Bingley) 2:08:36.
1996: 3rd Paul Evans (Belgrave) 2:10:40.
1995: 5th Paul Evans (Belgrave) 2:10:31.
1994: 8th Eamonn Martin (Basildon) 2:11:05.
1993: 1st Eamonn Martin (Basildon) 2:10:50.
1992: 5th Paul Evans (Belgrave) 2:10:36.
1991: 4th Dave Long (Coventry Godiva) 2: 0:30.
1990: 1st Allister Hutton (Edinburgh SH) 2:10:10.
1989: 6th Tony Milovsorov (Tipton) 2:09:54.
1988: 2nd Kevin Forster (Gateshead) 2:10:52.
1987: 3rd Hugh Jones (Ranelagh) 2:10:11.
1986: 2nd Hugh Jones (Ranelagh) 2:11:42.
1985: 1st Steve Jones (Newport) 2:08:10.
1984: 1st Charlie Spedding (Gateshead) 2:09:57.
1983: 1st Mike Gratton (Invicta) 2:09:43.
1982: 1st Hugh Jones (Ranelagh) 2:09:24.
1981: 3rd Trevor Wright (Hallamshire) 2:12:53.Reuse content