Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Nate Brannen: The Faster Somebody

"There's always somebody faster, so just make sure you have fun with it." 

That was my Dad's advice to a younger version of myself after a "disappointing loss" in the 7-8 year-old age group category in a local triathlon.  Man, what a tough pill to swallow for my 7-year-old brain, but remarkable advice nonetheless.

What is so great about these words of wisdom is that they transcend my own running.  In fact, they apply to pretty much everybody.  So, my friends, feel free to learn from this lesson, be happier, run faster, and conquer the world because of're welcome.

However, notice how I strategically placed a "pretty much" prior to "everybody else."  Why, you may ask?  Because this advice just does not make sense for some people.

Take for instance the guy in the middle of this picture: 

Nate Brannen, 2011

Who is that?  Nathan Brannen.  If you don't already know, he IS that guy my Dad was referring to- the elusive runner who is always faster.

 My Dad's advice would have been just plain nonsensical for him; sorry pops.

Brannen is one of the fastest middle distance runners Canada has ever produced.  His personal bests are ridiculous, including a 3:52.63 mile and a 3:34.22 1500m.  This speed has resulted in a career that is littered with impressive feats such as a silver medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, and the opportunity to represent Canada at the 2008 Olympic Games.

Most recently he has qualified to run for Canada at the 2012 Olympic Games.  He is now running faster than ever, and is definitely a guy to be watching in London.  Here is what Nate had to say during a recent interview with me:

SD: Nate, first of all, congrats on the huge A standard performance in the Netherlands last weekend. You needed a 3:35:50, and destroyed it with a PR 3:34:22. Take us through that race- what was the pace like early on? At what point did things start to hurt? Were you surprised to walk away with the personal best?

NB: Thanks Sean! I've had a very solid year of training with little to no set backs, something I have never been able to say before. I knew the time was there but I just needed the right race. I went into Hengelo just focusing on running 3:35.50 and the plan was not to get too aggressive and just focus on running my race and getting the time. I was pretty conservative through the first 1000m and started moving over the final 500. With 100 to go I felt very strong and closed really well. There is definitely more in the tank and can't wait for another big opportunity this summer.

SD: Prior to the 3:34, you had a number of A-standard close calls (including 3:35:88 at the Oxy High Performance Meet just a week before WATCH HERE). Was this all part of your plan? Did you ever doubt your ability to hit that A-standard?

NB: The plan was to get in a few races then get my time at the Oxy meet. Fortunately enough, training was going well and my first couple of races went much better than I was expecting, which made it look like I just missed the A standard but in no way or form was I approaching those races trying to attack that standard. The time was close just by focusing on racing and having fun. Oxy was the plan for the year to hit my time but they decided to split the race into 3 even sections. unfortunately for me, my race was a little slower than I would have liked and I came away with the win in 3:35.88. Had I been in any of the other 2 heats the time would have been there and there would have been no need to travel to Europe to race Hengelo; but that's just how things unfold sometimes.

SD: Now that you are headed to London (fresh off a new PR), what are your goals for The Games? Is there room to get even faster between now and then?

NB: The goals for the entire year have been to make the Olympic final. I never focused on just hitting my time or winning nationals but focused on the bigger picture and just assumed the time would come and I would be on the team. I knew I had to have a bigger focus if I want to make the final. And yes, there is definitely room to go even faster. I have a couple seconds in me.

Nate winning the 2012 Victoria Classic  (CLICK to watch)

SD: Aside from your Olympic aspirations for 2012, what else do you want to add to your list of achievements before you walk away from the sport?

NB: I plan on competing through 2016 so I have some big goals over the next 4+ years. Canadian records and some more major championship medals are at the top of the list.

SD: Nice, it's awesome to hear you are still hungry and will be competing into 2016.  That being said, you've already accomplished so much, and we should talk a little about that.  What are your top 3 proudest running moments?

NB: My first proudest moment was when I won my first NCAA 800m title my sophomore year in University. The second was winning the Silver medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and my third was qualifying for my first Olympic Games. I've listed them in chronological order. Making my first Olympic Team is by far my proudest moment and hopefully I'll have a new one this summer.

Nate at the 2008 Olympic Games

SD: And those accomplishments have not come without hardship.  You’ve conquered a number of very tough injuries throughout your career (including back surgery for a herniated disc, torn hamstring, stress fracture). Through these times, did you ever doubt your ability to come back to running? What kept you hungry to regain your form and perform at a high level?

NB: I definitely never doubted my ability to come back. That is one place where I am very strong. I am very realistic with my ability and where running can take me but I also know that I can overcome anything if I really want it bad enough and with running I do. The biggest thing that has kept me hungry was seeing how good I can be. I've done a lot in my career but I think I'm nowhere near my potential and that there is a lot more in me. I have come back from injuries and after only 6 weeks of training run 3:35, so I know with consistency I can really do some exciting things. I am one of those athletes who truly loves what he does. I don't know if I can say that about too many other people, especially runners. Running isn't that glamorous, the training is pretty brutal and you're away from home a lot but I just love racing and competing and training hard. I feel great satisfaction when I complete an extremely hard workout that leaves me gasping for air, face down on the track.

SD: Speaking of motivation, back in high school, you would not only win races, but absolutely dominate the competition. It is one thing to race for the win, but another to relentlessly pursue a higher level of performance just for the sake of being fast. Where does this drive come from? Is it something you were born with, or developed?

NB: In high school I only knew one thing: running fast. That's all I wanted to do and every race I went for it. Since then, my racing strategy has changed a little and the big reason is the different races I compete in. There are two types of races, championship races and time-trial type races. Championship races are about winning, and time-trial races are about running fast. The motivation to win is there in every race I compete in. I would say you have to be born this way, it's not something that is just learned over time. Anything I do I want to win at no matter if it's running or playing scrabble.

Nate in 2003 running for Michigan at the Big 10 XC Champs

SD: Back in those earlier days (high school, college) you were a big 800m guy. Any thoughts of going back to that distance at all? If so, when does that fit into the plans?

NB: Simple answer, yes! I wont fully focus on the 800m again but the plan is to split one of these seasons with the 800m and 1500m and trying to run fast in both. This season was supposed to be the year but I just didn't have a chance t get in a fast 800. I'm hoping after the Olympics to get into a really fast 800 and finally lower my PR from 2002.
SD: There many local younger runners who think it is just not possible to come out of Southern Ontario as one of the best middle distance runners in the world. This is especially true when you start looking at the depth of the distance running power houses like Kenya.  What are some of the best pieces of advice you would give to these aspiring young runners?

NB: Out of anywhere in Canada, Southern Ontario has probably produced the most 1500m runners in Canada. Looking back you have guys like Kevin Sullivan, Graham Hood, Doug Consiglio, Matt Kerr and Jay Cantin just to name a few. The big piece of advice I can give is focus on yourself and your running and not what the Kenyans or whatever other countries are doing. If you are consistent in your training, have goals for yourself and really want it, then anything is possible.

SD: Last question- could you have beat Steve Prefontaine?

NB: Ha, I wont even answer that. Who knows who he could have been? One reason Prefontaine is such a hero is the 'what if' that surrounds him. He ran fast and was very gutsy but by no means was he the best ever. Maybe he could have been, and maybe not, but that fact is no one will ever know.

And there you have it folks, one of the best Canadian middle distance runners ever.  Humble, confident, driven,  competitive and running faster than he ever has.   Mark these dates on your calender, and watch Nate compete against the best in the world:

Fri Aug 3rd: Round 1
Sun Aug 5th: Semi Finals
Tues Aug 7th: Final

Also, keep up to date on his training and racing here:

Most of us have to settle for working hard and having fun with our racing, but also accept that there will always be somebody faster.  Nate, however, does not fall into this group.  He has the ability to do great things in the sport, and London is shaping up to be the perfect place to showcase his immense talent.