SAN JOSE -- Danville's Scott Bauhs is about to step into the unknown when making his marathon debut next month in New York City.
"I've never run that far before," Bauhs said of the 26.2-mile distance. "It is going to be a debut in every sense of the word."
It also could shape how the former San Ramon Valley High star handles training over the next four years for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Bauhs, 26, needs a strong performance at the prestigious New York marathon to jump-start a promising career that has underscored the economic struggles of most American distance runners.
Although one of the favorites in the Rock 'n' Roll San Jose half marathon starting at 8 a.m. Sunday, he is considered a second-tier runner who trains without a sponsor. The Adidas shoe company dropped him at the end of last year even though Bauhs finished 14th at the 2011 World Championships in the 10,000 meters.
Yet the runner who lives in Mammoth Lakes calls himself lucky because he has earned enough from prize money and appearance fees to pursue this passion.
"It's crazy how money in the sport works," he said. "The guys who are the very best make a whole lot. Guys like me a little and those just behind me don't make any."
Former Cal All-American Giliat Ghebray falls into the latter category. From 2009-11 the Oakland runner worked the front desk at a truck rental company. Now he's a part-time physical education teacher at American Indian
Ghebray, 28, used to be a member of the Transports Adidas Racing team but the shoe company dropped its sponsorship last year. He will wear the logo of Transports on Sunday in San Jose because the East Bay running store still supports Ghebray as best it can.
Like Bauhs, he's not complaining: "It's a sacrifice we have chosen to make. I don't see it as being too bad."
But Ghebray, who dropped out after 22 miles at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials this year, hopes to run well Sunday to attract new sponsors.
Facebook's Patrick Reaves just want to run as fast as possible. The former University of Maryland runner has given up any aspirations of turning his passion into a full-time career. He will finish up his workday at Facebook sometime Friday evening and then starting thinking about the half marathon.
However, Reaves, 26, trains like a pro, averaging between 80 miles and 90 miles a week. He understands the shortcomings for runners such as Bauhs.
"That's a tough place to be," Reaves said. "My heart goes out to those guys. Many times they are struggling to make ends meet."
The weak economy has compounded the problem. Shoe companies have to make cost-effective decisions on whom to sponsor. As Let'srun.com co-founder Weldon Johnson said, "It's not a charity."
Decisions are driven by performance where even some of the world's best athletes are perhaps a bad race or bad season away from seeing their incomes disappear.
"You've got to almost be crazy to try," said Johnson, who became a top American after competing at Yale.
Bauhs went to the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., in June hoping to be one good performance away from a big payday. But hamstring muscle problems this year had interrupted his training.
He dropped out of the 10,000 event after one of his shoes came undone during the race. Then Bauhs finished ninth in the 5,000 meters, almost three seconds off his personal record set this year.
He didn't let the setbacks deter him. Bauhs returned to Mammoth to prepare for the autumn road race season, which has a big day expected for Sunday with the Chicago Marathon and the San Jose race that is expected to attract more than 14,000 runners.
Bauhs is using the flat, 13.1-mile run as a tune up for New York, which is scheduled Nov. 4. He sounded carefree about the marathon despite the impending financial pressures.
"Everybody who loves running would do it no matter what," Bauhs said. "We're making the shoe companies' decisions easier by not having the base drop out of the sport."
Good results have helped ease the anxiety. He set a personal record in the half marathon in January in Houston with a time of 1 hour 1 ½ minutes. It's the second-fastest half marathon run by an American this year, though all of the elite competitors focused on the London Games.
Bauhs, a three-time NCAA Division II champion at Chico State, also had a best in the 5,000 meters of 13:28.40.
Those times supported the promise he showed in 2008 when he became the youngest American to break 28 minutes in the 10,000 meters and four minutes in the mile.
The accomplishments have come in a year his marriage to a former Chico State runner dissolved, adding to the stress of losing his shoe contract.
"It has been a year of struggle," his mom Teri Bauhs said. "He'll learn from it and find another path, find another love. That's been his strength."
Bauhs fell in love with distance running after winning a 5-kilometer race in second grade. The rest of the family played volleyball: Teri Bauhs met her husband Tom on the court in college and their other son, Mark, played at University of the Pacific. Tom Bauhs was the San Ramon Valley girls' coach until last year.
Scott, a 6-foot, 140-pound runner, progressed naturally from high school to college to the professional ranks. Although racing marathons is the most lucrative side of road racing, Bauhs didn't rush into it.
He learned patience from Mammoth Track Club coach Terrence Mahon, who trained world-class stars Meb Keflezighi, Deena Kastor and Ryan Hall when Bauhs joined the group after college. The young runner realized he needed to get stronger on long training runs before considering the marathon, a brutal test of mental and physical will.
"I've always done better the longer distance I've run," said Bauhs, who is considering entering an MBA program at San Diego State.
He hopes to do well in New York, but the ultimate goal is to get a feel for the marathon and perhaps draw enough attention to ward off having to find a part-time job in Mammoth. But no matter what the impending future holds, he doesn't plan to stop.
"I think I would go crazy if I didn't run," Bauhs said.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.