Hanson brothers proud of the boys on the bus

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    John Niyo / The Detroit News

    They're in it for the long haul. And now they've got the tour bus to prove it.

    When members of the Rochester Hills-based Hansons-Brooks Distance Project hit the road next week for the Chicago Marathon, they'll do it in style. A charter bus provided by Saturn, one of the team's newest sponsors, is expected to make its maiden voyage, ferrying a group of 18 Hansons runners entered in the Oct. 22 race.

    “They haven't named the bus yet, but I'm sure they'll have something for it before too long,” laughed Keith Hanson, one of the team's co-founders with his brother, Kevin. “We're excited about it.”

    The brothers Hanson, running enthusiasts who own a chain of shoe stores locally, started this training group in 1999 with a trio of small-college standouts. Now, there are nearly two dozen runners — men and women — in the program, one of a handful that sparked an American resurgence in distance running. At the Boston Marathon last spring, the Hansons team placed three runners in the top 11, four in the top 15 and seven in the top 22 in the men's race.

    The leader, Brian Sell, heads to Chicago with his sights on another strong finish in what likely will be his final marathon before next year's U.S. Olympic trials. Sell, 28, native of Woodbury, Pa., finished fourth at the Boston Marathon — part of a 3-4-5 finish for the Americans — with a personal-best time of 2 hours, 10 minutes, 55 seconds. He'll attempt to shave another minute next weekend.

    “He has been training great,” said Keith Hanson, who just returned from Hungary, where another of his runners, Desiree Davila, competed at last weekend's IAAF World Running Championships. “Brian's goal is to run a 2:09 marathon, and that would certainly put him in very good company there. He's very capable of doing that right now.”

    “I was just thinking about that on my run today,” Sell said of the trials, scheduled for New York in early November 2007. The top three finishers qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

    The Hansons men — Clint Verran and Luke Humphrey are among the other Olympic contenders — aren't planning to run another marathon before the trials. They'll likely head to New York in January to get a feel for the course, a criterium-style loop in Central Park that Sell has run twice. After that, there's talk of a trip to Japan for the Ohme-Hochi 30K in February.

    Meanwhile, for Sell, this Chicago trip is another reminder just how far he has come since joining the Hansons team in 2001. He didn't finish his first marathon attempt in Chicago in '02, then clocked 2:19:57 a year later on the same course before surprising everyone at the 2004 Olympic trials in Alabama. He grabbed an early lead and held it until mile 22, then faded to 13th.

    Since then, Sell's stature has grown along with his stamina, and a strong showing in Chicago would cap an impressive 2006. He finished second at the U.S. half-marathon championship in January, fourth in Boston, and two months ago he won the Chicago Distance Classic, a half-marathon he used as a warm-up for next weekend's race.

    “It really has been kind of a gradual progression for me since college,” said Sell, who was a track All-American at St. Francis (Pa.) College. “It's not like all of a sudden, 'Here I am.' I mean, I've always had goals like this.”

    The goal in Chicago has little to do with placement, though. Sell's plan is to run his own race, going out in 1:04.30 for the first half-marathon, ignoring what almost assuredly will be a faster pace set by the lead pack.

    In fact, while there's more buzz surrounding next month's New York Marathon, where Rockford native Dathan Ritzenhein will make his much-anticipated debut, Chicago boasts what is arguably a more impressive field. The top two finishers in Boston this spring — Robert Cheruiyot and Benjamin Maiyo — lead a group of talented Kenyans on the men's side. Five runners who have run under 2:07 and three more with sub-2:08 credentials.

    “People come here to run fast,” race director Carey Pinkowski said. “Our philosophy is to get the best athletes we can and turn them loose.”

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