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Interval Session #92 - Stephanie Brown

By SteveU - January 22, 2009

The mark came screaming into DyeStat’s headlines on a late winter night, in the middle of the week, rocking the world of hardcore prep track fans who sleepily booted up their computers the following morning.  Most states had finished their indoor seasons and it was the slow period before the big outdoor meets really rev up.  It wasn’t even a big enough meet to have auto timing or a weekend date, but there it was: Stephanie Brown, 2:08.1.  Maybe some national pundits, not familiar with Brown, shook their heads in disbelief that such a mark could come from such a modest meet on a flat track.  But even the Illinois fans of the Tri-Valley junior were giddy with excitement from the explosive state record that came in the buildup to the Illinois Prep Top Times meet.

And why not?  Check out the video.  It was a classic example of two of the best-ever runners from the Land of Lincoln transforming what should have been a very good matchup into an all-time classic.  Brown and Ashley Verplank pushed each other every step of the way, but every time Verplank worked up a head of steam to try and pass, Brown bore down to hold her off.  Finally, Verplank redlined and Brown crossed the line in glorious victory.

But now it’s 2009 and the followup for Brown wasn’t quite what she hoped.  Sure, she had plenty of victories and titles, but the 2:08 was never surpassed outdoors.  She cranks up her indoor campaign now, however, with a new approach and already it has paid dividends in the form of an eye-opening 800, this time an early January, near-solo effort way down in Fayetteville AR.  That 2:08.41 leads the nation.  As she gears up for the Reebok Boston Girls Junior Mile on Feb. 7, Brown takes time to talk with DyeStat senior editor SteveU about her career – past, present and future.

Stephanie Brown wins the 'A' 800 at IPTT last winter.
Photo by John Dye

1) Congrats, Stephanie, on the fine start to your season – particularly the 2:08 in Arkansas.  Can you tell us about that race and what it told you about your training and fitness?  How did it end up that you and several other athletes went all the way down to Arkansas to compete at this point in the year?  Collaborative effort or just coincidence?

My race went really well.  I started it off at the pace that I usually do, which was around a 30 for my first lap.  I was in 3rd place and passed everyone on the backstretch.  Then I pounded the 3rd lap to get away from everyone and finished hard.  Running that time let me know that what I am doing for training is working, and that my fitness is at or around the best it has ever been for the 800.

I am not really sure how so many Illinois kids ended up going down to Arkansas to race, so I would say coincidence.  The main reason I went was because I wanted to get on the banked track for the first time.  Since I have verbally committed to Arkansas it was a nice visit.
2)  Now you’re part of the Reebok Boston Indoor Games mile field in a few weeks.  What are your thoughts about an opportunity like this?  Other than the state meets you’ve competed in, is there anything to compare?

I am super excited that I have been invited to this race!  I think this will be a great opportunity to test myself and see what I can really do with some competition.  I haven’t ever run in a race this big with this many competitive girls, so to me it’s huge deal and there is nothing that can really compare.  I did run in the Midwest Distance Gala a couple years ago which was pretty competitive.

3) I’ve read that you cut your athletic teeth in soccer and developed some qualities that have carried over to running, partly due to the methods of a rather well-known youth soccer coach you had.  Can you tell us about that?
Soccer, more than anything else, helped me develop the endurance and speed combo.  It also gave me the chance to experience being competitive.  I have played on many different soccer teams and have had a lot of coaches.  They have all helped me to learn to utilize my speed.

Dale Sizemore was my coach for about a year (Note: Sizemore was a United States Army Ranger who fought in the First Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 and was portrayed in the 2001 film Black Hawk Down). We did a lot of aggresive running and drills.  I really enjoyed doing them and being around his competitive nature.

4) As you got into the sport more and more, during middle school and high school, was there a turning point for you where you realized you could really be a champion in Illinois and perhaps beyond?  What has that journey been like?

I think the first time I realized that I had a gift for running was in 7th grade when I won AA state in the 800.  Then in 8th grade, I set the all time Illinois State Record in the 800.  Having success in middle school helped me believe I could have a successful high school career in Illinois. 

But my real turning point was when I met Darren Kerschieter (he helps with my workouts) and he told my parents that I was very talented at running and could become great.  After that he just took me under his wing, and I really owe a lot to him for all he has done.  Also Janet Leet (puts on the Sub 5 camp I attend) has inspired me and helped me to realize what I can do.  It has been an amazing journey. It’s really cool to look back and see how far I have come.  It’s been hard but so much fun, thanks to my coaches and teammates.

5) I suspect a lot of people in Illinois, when they hear the name Stephanie Brown, they think of that titanic 800 battle between you and Ashley Verplank last winter.  But for our national readers … let’s hear the story in your words.  And almost a year later, what have you taken from that race to get better?

   Stephanie and her mom and dad.  Photo submitted
Well, the best way to describe that battle was exhausting!  Ashley and I had raced 2 times when I was a freshman and she had beat me both times.  Then we raced once in the spring of my sophomore year and she beat me by just 0.02 seconds in an 800.  So going into this race, neither of us wanted to lose and everyone knew it would be a fast 800.

When the gun went off, I knew I wanted the lead.  I didn’t really have a plan going into the race except that I wanted to be leading.  Ashley ran right along my shoulder when we were on the straights and tucked in a little bit on the curves, but not much.  We ran our first 400 in a high 63.  There were a few times she tried to pass me and I just really didn’t want to lose the lead, so I surged every time she tried to go around. 

Then the 3rd lap we ran another 32.  When the last lap came, I knew I had to just push it as hard as I could because Ashley is a really good kicker.  So we both took off hard and I started to pull away with 100 to go, then just pushed it in.  I ended up running a 2:08.1 to her 2:09.9. 

It was an incredible race.  I am very glad we got the chance to race that last time.  I learned a lot about my potential from that race.  Even though it is a year later, I still think about it. It gives me confidence that I can really push myself.
6) After a spring that maybe didn’t quite meet your hopes and expectations, you’ve had changes in coaching and your training/competition plan.  Can you tell us about that?

Last year, after indoor, I got really run down and almost injured.  I was running several races each week, in events from the 100-3200.  I had not taken a break in-between indoor and outdoor.  Also my outdoor training was different than my indoor had been and I was not working as well with it. 

This year, I have new coaches and we have mapped out a better plan for the indoor to outdoor season.  I will be taking a little break so that I don’t get run down again like last year.  My training is going to stay more consistent to what works for me.  I plan to run some races after the high school season this year.  I am really excited to see some new competition.  Being from a small school is hard sometimes, because you have to learn to push yourself alone at a lot of the races.

7) The 800 seems to be your main event, but you obviously have abilities in shorter and longer distances, too.  Do you consider yourself more of a 400/800 runner, or an 800/mile runner?  Or maybe an 800 runner who can run the mile and 4x400?

If I got to choose, I would say I’m all three, but it’s almost impossible to be that.  I think I am truly more of an 800/miler.  I have run the 800 and 1600 at state every year since 7th grade.  I always run the 4x4 right after the 1600 in regular high school meets.  I really enjoy all three of them.

8)  The 800 is clearly one of best events in the country for girls this year, with sub-2:05 runners Laura Roesler and Phyllis Francis returning, along with Jillian Smith and Becca Addison – the 1-2 finishers from Nike Outdoor last year and both at 2:05.  Do you have aspirations to join that upper echelon of national talent, and what are you trying to do to get to that level?  Has the early-season 2:08 given you a lot of confidence for that?

I definitely want to get to that sub-2:05 level!  It’s my goal to run that by the end of this year.  Running the early 2:08 gave me more confidence that I will be able to do that if I keep working hard.  If I get to run against these girls, I will get the chance to run the time I want.

9)  I’ve read that you have very supportive parents, who both contribute in different ways to your success.  Can you tell us about them?

My parents are super supportive!  They care so much about my running.  My Dad is the more vocal of the two.  If you go to a meet and see me or any other Tri-Valley kid running a race, no matter where you are, you would more than likely hear my Dad cheering.  He really gets me fired up before races and believes in me more than anyone else. 

Now my mom, on the other hand, there isn’t really a chance you are going to hear her yelling loudly. You would see her everywhere taking pictures of everyone!  I always have to pass out pictures to everyone (even my competition).  She keeps me from over-thinking races and different things.  Having both sides is a really good balance.  I pretty much get the best of both worlds.

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