John Lucas admits he lacks foot speed, a natural running rhythm and the overall talent that most top-flight distance runners possess.

John Lucas admits he lacks foot speed, a natural running rhythm and the overall talent that most top-flight distance runners possess.

But the former Eagle Point High and University of Oregon runner has the guts of a bull rider and the stamina of a pack mule, and that's what makes him effective in his new endeavor: the marathon.

Lucas won the first 26.2-mile event he entered, the Portland Marathon in October 2005. In March 2006, he finished 17th out of roughly 21,000 entrants at the Los Angeles Marathon, clocking 2 hours, 21 minutes and 53 seconds to provisionally qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Then last October, he bettered the automatic Trials qualifying standard of 2:20 by running 2:18.50 at the Chicago Marathon. Lucas will compete at the U.S. Trials Nov. 3 in New York City.

Not bad for someone who never finished higher than 16th at the Pac-10 Conference cross-country meet or found his way to the NCAA Track and Field Championships.

"I've found my niche in the marathon," Lucas, 26, says. "To be quite honest I'm not that talented of a runner compared to the world-class athletes. I'm short and I don't have a natural track rhythm or stride, but marathon running is a blue-collar sport.

"I've always been most comfortable on cross country courses, sloshing through mud or running up and down hills, and marathon running requires that same mental toughness."

Lucas, who stands 5-foot-8, says that running the first 20 miles of a marathon is relatively easy compared to the last six.

"Being able to hang on those last six miles is everything," he says. "It's where the race begins, really. It's where the body starts to shut down and the mental part of it comes to the forefront."

Lucas, who lives in Eugene and works as the sales director for an athletic apparel company, has been working out seven days a week in preparation for the U.S. Trials. A typical training schedule finds him running 10 miles on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, along with weight training in the evenings. Wednesdays are hard- tempo workouts, where Lucas runs eight to 10 miles at a 5:10 to 5:20 per-mile pace. Saturdays are more of the same, except Lucas cranks things up even more, clocking sub-five minute miles with two-minute rest periods in between.

On Sundays, he logs 20 to 22 miles.

"Because I'm working full-time, I usually only work out once a day," says Lucas, who ran at a 5:17 per-mile pace in the Chicago Marathon.

Lucas admits he'll be a longshot to snag a top-three finish at the Olympic Trials and gain a berth to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. The top five qualifiers have all clocked 2:10 or faster, although Lucas believes the U.S. Trials event, which will be contested in New York's Central Park along four- and six-mile loops, will be more of a tactical race.

"I'm thinking maybe 2:12 or 2:13 will win it, and given the right circumstances I think I could run 2:16, and that would put me in the running," says Lucas, who was married on July 7 and has been honeymooning the past two weeks at Disneyland, Hawaii and the Oregon Coast. "But I know I'm a huge underdog. Finishing in the top 20 (out of about 100 who will take the starting line) would be a great accomplishment."

By hitting the automatic qualifying standard, Lucas will get an all-expenses paid trip to New York. Plane tickets, hotel accommodations and meals will be provided.

"Regardless of where I finish in the race, it's going to be a memorable trip," says Lucas, who plans to visit some of New York's famous landmarks after the race. "I've already met so many neat people in this sport and been to places I had never been before."

With any luck, it will pour down rain and the course will turn muddy during the U.S. Trials run. Lucas would feel right at home.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail dhunt@mailtribune.com