Emily Brown is the first Gopher in 20 years to garner All-American honors in both cross-country and track. In November, she ran 21:18 (6K) at the NCAA National cross-country meet. In the process, she earned her fourth All-American honor and helped lead the Gophers to an 11th place showing. The senior is now switching her focus to track, where she is the reigning Big Ten champion, as well as an All-American. (Photo courtesy of Evan Roberts)
Congratulations on your second straight All-American honor for cross-country and for helping the team qualify for Nationals for the second year in-a-row. Were you happy with your individual (29th) and team (11th) results?
I can’t necessarily say that I was “happy” with my results because it was my final collegiate cross country race and I really wanted it to be my best one but the conditions just weren’t ideal for that. Even though it wasn’t my best race, it was probably the best last race I could have had because it made me NEVER want to run cross country again! It was the first time I think I ever finished with everything I had left out on the course. That is the way I wanted to go out.
As for the team, I think we were all a bit disappointed considering we finished 9th the year before and we thought we were a stronger team this year. I thought that we were a top 5 team going in there, but on any given day anything can happen. We got a little unlucky with Jaime Cheever getting sick the day before and we were pretty inexperienced seeing as only 2 of the 7 [women] had been on the championships team last year and 4 of the 7 [women] were in their first collegiate season. Given all the adversity I think everyone gave all that they had that day and that is all you can ask for from your teammates. They have a lot of potential and they will be back next year with an even stronger team.
The women’s team qualified for Nationals every year from 1997 to 2001. Then during your first 3 years at the university, they failed to qualify. Does that make leading the team to their two best finishes (9th and 11th) ever in your final two seasons more gratifying?
Last year’s trip was really meaningful to me because I got to share it with a handful of teammates that came in freshman year with me to a team that had 5 straight national appearances only to then fall short 3 years in a row. Those 3 years were filled with a lot of disappointment but also a lot of growing. The girls who graduated last year helped set the framework for what we have now.
The secret to our success is an indestructible team chemistry that was lacking for a few years but is in full effect now. It is gratifying to have helped build that and it is even more gratifying to see the younger athletes follow in our steps to continue to build down the road what we helped start. It isn’t the end results that mean the most to me, but the journey it took to get there.
What has training been like since the end of cross-country, as you prepare for indoor track?
I took a little break over Thanksgiving (it is REALLY nice to not have to run on Thanksgiving Day!), and then started back into some base building. I increased my mileage a little bit and tried to focus on doing longer runs and longer, endurance-building workouts. For the past 4 weeks we’ve been getting back on the track and doing basic interval work. The winter and indoor season go by pretty fast, so I can’t really remember doing much else besides just trying to stay healthy and not break anymore bones in the snow!
Speaking of track, you’re the reigning Big Ten Champion and All-American (4th) in the steeplechase. What are your goals for both indoors and outdoors?
My goals for indoor are to get stronger at longer events like the 3k and 5k. As for Nationals, I will probably just focus on the DMR [Distance Medley Relay] because for some reason I just can’t get the times in the individual events. I want to score as many points as possible for the team at Big Tens and hopefully pick up a NCAA qualifying time in the process. During outdoors, I would really like to defend my steeple title in the Big Ten. I am nervous but excited at the same time because the Big Ten is sure to be the toughest conference for the steeple again this year. Then for Nationals I would like to improve upon my placing and repeat as an All-American.
In another interview, you mentioned that you prefer the mile but that you are a better steeple chaser. Can you describe yourself as a runner?
To me, the steeplechase is a lot of work and REALLY painful, whereas the mile is more of a cakewalk (maybe that’s why I’m not too good at it!). What I am trying to say is the mile is a much more “comfortable” race for me, but I don’t seem to have the tools to be a great success at it.
In all reality though, if someone gave me the option of trading in my steeplechase skills for 4:35 mile, I’d probably keep the steeplechase skills because it is more rewarding for me in the end to be successful at something that is very challenging for me. It is quite the paradox to be a runner that hates pain, but is most successful at the events that cause the most pain. However, I just accept it and go with it.
Do you attribute your current success and positive attitude to something or someone in particular?
I’ve been lucky to have coaches who care more about me as a person than a runner. I think anybody will perform better if they are treated like a person rather than a number or an object or a certain amount of points.
I have also been given a lot of second chances. I know that people might have had their doubts about me after not running track for 3 years, but my teammates and Coach Wilson in particular never made me feel like I wasn’t going to make it. My teammates and coaches having faith in me when I didn’t have faith is myself is a big reason why I was able to be successful. Being able to overcome those hardships and have everything come out okay in the end allows me to have a positive attitude no matter what challenges I face.
You’re originally from Wisconsin and your high school coach (Doug Jordan) was coached by the U of M’s Gary Wilson, when they were both at UW-LaCrosse. How big a role did that connection play in your coming to Minnesota?
That connection meant everything to my coming to Minnesota. I basically had just one standout cross-country season and my stats in track weren’t anything much for coaches to look at (I’m a little embarrassed to admit it but I was a 12:01 2-miler). After my junior year of track in high school, I was starting to consider some D-3 schools in Wisconsin.
I didn’t even think about going to a D-1 school until I started having some success in cross-country senior year. My mind obviously turned to Wisconsin at first but my coach said he would contact Coach Wilson at Minnesota just to open lines of communication. Wilson was the only D-1 coach that recruited me, so in the end my decision was pretty easy. I visited one school, signed one paper, and the rest is history I guess. Had it not been for Coach Jordan I really don’t know where I would be now.
Have you thought about continuing to pursue running after college? If so, what event(s) would you focus on?
This is an area I have put a lot of thought into throughout the past year. I’ve recently decided to put my career goals on hold for a year in order to focus on the Olympic trials. If I qualify for the trials, I want to be able to put all of my energy into training for them because for me it is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would really regret passing up.
I will focus on the steeplechase but will probably race more 3ks, 5ks, and miles in preparation. Once the trials are done, depending on how things go, I will probably move on and start building my professional career in nutrition. But if I keep getting better and it looks promising, maybe I will keep pursuing running. Only time can tell so I just take it day by day.
For college runners, summer is the prime time for base-building. What type of routine did you have in order to get in your mileage, while also working?
I was lucky enough to work at a recreation center this summer. I worked as a counselor for a youth programs camp that was located at one of our rec centers on campus. I either ran in the morning before going to work (I didn’t have to worry about looking good so that wasn’t a big deal) or ran after work, usually on the treadmill because it was crazy hot out in the afternoon and the treadmill was interesting because all of the little kids would come talk to me on their way out to meet their parents.
My job was really active so my legs didn’t get tight from sitting around all day. It also gave me unique ways of getting in little workouts by playing tag games, dodge ball, and big base kickball. I got my weight lifting in by lifting kids over my head, giving them piggyback rides and tossing them around in the pool. It was pretty much the best job I could have and it was really conducive for my workout routine.
Finally, what advice would you give aspiring high school runners that want to be great some day?
My main advice is to not take running too seriously in high school. High school is a really important time to grow physically and mentally. Being too intense about running can force you to grow up too fast (or not enough physically) and by the time you get to college you might start burning out. If you want to be great, you’ve got to be well-rounded.
I had a discussion with someone, I can’t remember who, about if there is any good kind of “-holic”. You’ve got your alcoholic, and that’s not good. A workaholic, that’s also not good. And you’ve got your chocaholic…I think the jury is still out on that one, but in general it is not good. Conclusion: I don’t think any kind of “-holic” is good. So in short, my advice is don’t be a runaholic or a trackaholic or whatever (I am done making up words). Just train hard, eat right, and stay competitive, but don’t let it be your entire life.