The Road to Beijing: Emily Brown

During the lead-up to the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials this June, USATF Minnesota will present interviews with Minnesota’s top Olympic prospects. We're calling the series “The Road to Beijing.”

In this installment, USA Track & Field Minnesota contributor Chad Austin speaks with Team USA Minnesota’s Emily Brown about her preparation for Eugene 2008. Brown’s breakthroughs this spring – setting big PRs of 9:45 and 15:19 in the steeplechase and 5000 meters, respectively – have thrust her into the Olympic mix.

Austin: If running had an award for Most Improved, your name would be at the top of the list: first American at the World Cross Country meet, winner of the Drake Relays steeplechase, and winner of the Cardinal 5,000m. Are you a little surprised by the success you’ve experienced so quickly?

Brown: I am continually surprised by the success that I am having but I also try to brush it off like it is no big deal. It is great to see my training pay off and the past few races have definitely been confidence boosters, but at the end of the day I have to remind myself that only one race really matters this summer and that will come at the Olympic Trials. My birthday is on July 6th and I am hoping that on that day I will be able to take a moment to reflect back on all of my racing and tell myself that it was a successful season.

Austin: What has been the key difference(s) between running for Coach Wilson at the University of Minnesota and Coach Barker with Team USA Minnesota?

Brown: I don’t think the key differences lie so much in the coaching but rather in the circumstances under which I am running. At Minnesota, as at most colleges, the ultimate goal is to win team championships. We were a team that was very focused on winning Big Ten titles and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I was also in a position to run in a number of Regional and National meets. Although winning championships and qualifying for NCAA’s are both markers of a successful season, they also require a runner to do a lot of racing and have multiple or sustained peaks throughout all three seasons. Each year I had a lengthened season; the time I had to rebuild my base got shorter and shorter. Now that I am out on my own, my racing has been much less and I haven’t had to be top shape for any particular race yet. I had a very long period to build my base and increase my mileage and I think that is the main reason why I am running better than I did in college.

Austin: Every runner goes through a stretch where they seem to set a PR every time they lace up their spikes. It’s easy to take them for granted after awhile. Then, of course, years later they realize just how special that stretch of races was. Are you enjoying this ride you’re on right now?

Brown: I am enjoying the ride for now but I constantly remind myself not to get too caught up in it because it could all crash down at any race. I know I am in great shape right now and mentally I am racing much better than I have in the past but I don’t want to be in my best shape right now. To be honest, I would like to have a mediocre race at some point so that I know I still have some work to do to peak at the Trials and again in Beijing. I am happy to see that the program that Dennis has had me on is working and now I am just going to focus on fine-tuning my training so that I can continue my stretch of good races when it really counts.

Austin: At the Cardinal 5,000m you shaved over a minute off your previous best time. What was your goal heading into the race and were you happy with how you ran?

Brown: I was really glad that I got the Olympic A standard in the steeplechase at Drake because that meant that I could just relax going into the 5K the next weekend. My spot was secured in the Trials so I didn’t need to worry about that. The 5K was just going to be a backup and since it was a “new” race for me, I just decided to start with a blank slate and run without fear of what would happen if/when I crashed, because ultimately it didn’t really matter anyway. Luckily that didn’t happen and I felt stronger as the race went on. In the end, I was very pleased with how I ran and don’t think I would have done anything differently.

Brown leads Rasa Troup in the Drake Relays steeplechase. Photo by Gene Niemi.

Austin: You’re running “unattached” while others with slower times have sponsorship. Has your recent success led to any possible sponsorship deals?

Brown: Nothing yet but I know my agent is working hard to get me something. At times I wish professional running was like a normal job where you could go on an interview with a perspective agency and explain to them why you would be a valuable asset to their company. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way and you have to let your feet do the talking. I hope that my races up to now have proved my value as a runner and hopefully somebody will recognize that soon.

Austin: You now have the “A” standard in the steeplechase and the “B” standard in the 5,000m. Will you run both events at the Trials or just focus on one event?

Brown: I hadn’t given that any thought. I think racing both would be too much. I like my chances in the steeplechase better but that race is also a little more unpredictable since there is greater risk for major falls and other slip-ups. It is something I will have to talk over with my coach but I think right now we are set on the steeplechase as my best shot at making the Olympic team.

Austin: What other meets do you plan on competing in leading up to the Trials?

Brown: I am not sure yet. I think I would be fine with not racing again until the Trials. I put in two hard races in two weeks and just ran a road mile four days after the 5K so I think now it is time to step back and refocus on what we can do with my training to get me ready for the Trials.
Austin: Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure in making the Olympic team. Outside of training, what do you like to do to keep from going crazy?

Brown: As many know, I am in a full-time dietetic internship that doesn’t end until the week after the Trials. Everyday I wake up and basically go to a full-time job (although week to week I am at different locations). I run a little before work, run my major workout after work, and watch a lot of TV the rest of the night. I don’t really have the time or energy to think about making the Olympic team because I always have something else on my plate that has to get done. I don’t get too worked up about it like others might because it is all they are focused on each day. It may be good for some people but for me, ignorance is bliss!
Austin: What has being a part of Team USA Minnesota meant to you, personally and professionally?

Brown: My teammates are some of the most talented runners in the U.S., but they are also so down-to-earth and such great people. I love how it is not all business all the time. They are a really fun group to hang out with and I think we all do a very good job at keeping our training atmosphere as relaxed as possible. We get the job done but we have fun doing it. I feel really lucky to be a part of this program and I am thankful every day that I have a great coach, great teammates, and a well-organized and well-funded program in place to help me achieve my running goals.

Austin: Do you have any advice for other college runners that may be contemplating their post-collegiate running career?

Brown: I guess I would just say be patient. Some runners may get sponsorships right away and that is great but I think you need to spend the first few months figuring out whether or not running is what you want your life to be. Running professionally is very time-consuming and it is a career, whether you are making a lot of money or not, so make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Look to train with people you can get along with and find time to do other things that have absolutely nothing to do with running! Running could be a 24-hour-a-day job if you really wanted it to be, but who else do you know who works 24-hours-a-day?