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Interval Session #23 - Brandon Jarrett

December 13, 2007

St. Benedict’s NJ sr Brandon Jarrett has a way of confounding expectations at the Foot Locker National Championships. Last fall, as junior, after finishing just 8th at the FL Northeast Regional, Jarrett ascended all the way to 12th in the Finals, situating himself as the #3 returner for the 2007 season. Although he had a very solid junior track season, hitting a 9:09 3200, he lacked the visibility of some of the higher profile distance stars because his school is not a member of the New Jersey state association, public or private, which somewhat limits his racing opportunities.

His senior campaign got off to a later start than most, but opened with a bang at the September 28th Cougar Invitational, where his 15:03 winner was only 5 seconds shy of Craig Forys' course record. That set up a "Jersey Showdown" with fellow Garden Stater Doug Smith in the Manhattan Invite 'A' Race, a matchup which fizzled when a nagging groin injury sprung up and ended Jarrett's effort. Several more low-key wins led to this year's FL Northeast Regional, where a blistering early pace left a wilting Jarrett hanging on down the stretch to again finish 8th in the qualifier. Given his history at the national meet, a big race might have been expected, but he once again blew up the formcharts with his stirring rally for 6th in the closing mile, cementing his status as the best from New Jersey this season.

DyeStat assistant editor Dave Devine makes a post-Foot Locker pilgrimage to the Garden State to sort out the season of New Jersey's latest harrier star.

1) First of all, congratulations on your great race at Foot Locker Nationals. You really closed well at the end. Can you take us through the development of the race, and when you realized you could make that charge deep into the top ten?

The pre-race plan with my coach, "Doc" Martin Hannon, was to go through the first mile at about 4:40 - 4:45. However, if the lead pack went out faster, I should stay in range and gain on them later during the race. After the first mile, I should keep a steady pace and make small surges to catch those who were ahead of me. This is almost exactly what had occurred.

At the beginning of the race, Luke Puskedra and other lead runners went out pretty fast, but I was easily able to stay with them for about 1200 meters. Realizing the pace might have been a little too fast, I slowed down to conserve energy while still situating myself at around 8th place. After the first pack went through the mile in about 4:28, I trailed closely behind in a time of 4:39. Heading up the major hill of the first loop, a runner from the Midwest passed me at the top. I sat on his shoulder and waited for a chance to make my move. As we made our way through the first loop and began the second, I saw an opportunity to surge over the humps of the back course and lose my opponent. I continued to surge forward and realized I was getting closer to the leaders who had separated a bit from each other. Right before the second downhill I passed another athlete which positioned me in 7th place.

As I was storming down the final hill of the course, with about 400 meters to go, I realized there wasn’t anyone within close range to catch. However, I decided to give it one more shot and put in a final surge to keep the runner behind me at bay and to drop my time as much as I could. As I came around the final turn heading towards the straightaway, my fellow Northeast teammate Donn Cabral came into sight. It appeared to be a stretch, but I put everything I had left into a final surge that ended up closing a 50 meter gap between Donn Cabral and myself. This allowed me to finish as the number one man for the Northeast team, 1 second behind Luke Puskedra, and the 6th place finisher overall.

2) You've had a bit of an up and down season, with injuries and a few expected showdowns failing to materialize. Did the sixth-place finish at Foot Locker offer some redemption, and did you head into the race thinking you had a shot to be the top guy from the Northeast?

The past is the past, so I don't see my finish at nationals to be any kind of redemption for things. Yes, it was unfortunate that my season didn’t go as planned at times, but I was able to learn a lot from those experiences. I'm just grateful I was able to come back and compete for a national title!

Thanks to my coach for keeping me focused, I entered the race with a positive attitude and believed anything could happen.

3) Besides the race itself, what was the best part of the Foot Locker weekend for you? Any particular memories or friendships you'll carry away from the trip to San Diego?

The whole weekend was incredible! Every moment of the trip was fun, but Saturday night after the race had to have been the best part. Plus I made plenty of new friends and memories to go along with it.

4) At the Foot Locker Northeast regional, you really blasted that first mile, not unlike Luke Puskedra in the Finals. Was that part of your plan for the qualifier at Van Cortlandt, or did you get caught up in the moment? Were you afraid you wouldn't be able to hang on as guys started streaming past, and did the experience affect how you raced in San Diego?

I definitely got too caught up in the moment of trying to qualify for Nationals. Going out that fast was not in the plan which scared me a little after realizing what I had done. I paid the price going through the back hills but kept believing I could still qualify. The experience of going out too fast definitely affected how I raced in San Diego. I made sure not to repeat what happened at Van Cortlandt Park and tried keeping in contact with the leaders rather than storming ahead in a time that would be too fast.

5) A lot of people were looking forward to a "Jersey Showdown" between you and Doug Smith at the Manhattan Invite, but it unraveled when you were unable to finish that race. Can you share with us what happened that day?

To make a long story short, I was just recovering from a groin injury that occurred at the Cougar Invitational about 2 weeks prior to the Manhattan College Invite. I thought everything was feeling good, but it was obviously too soon to be competing again. As soon as the race started I knew there was still something wrong with my leg, but I thought I could run through the pain without it affecting me too much. As we approached the bridge, the pain became unbearable so I decided to stop shortly after, rather then to keep going and risk further injury.

6) In the US, it often seems that when a young runner who happens to be African-American expresses an interest in track, the assumption is that they will be a sprinter, not a two miler/cross country guy. Steve Holman, the great US miler from the 1990's, talked about that issue in his own early years of running. Have you encountered that reaction at points during your running career, and if so, how have you handled it?

Yes, I have definitely been confronted indirectly about this issue. Sometimes I'll get the strange looks when someone points me out to others, or sometimes my dad overhears people saying things about me when I'm running that has to do with me being an African American. I don’t let these things deter me at all. It's actually a form of motivation to perform at a higher level and prove this perception wrong. There are many African Americans with the talent for both sprinting and distance running. I just hope that more African Americans see what I have accomplished and realize that it is not a far-fetched idea to excel in this sport.

7) What's it like attending St. Benedict's Prep and training there? I read that the school is "guided by The Rule of Benedict, written in the sixth century...combin[ing] rigorous academic study with an emphasis on building a community whose members are responsible to one another for developing virtue, character, and talent." How does that rigorous approach spill over into your running, and vice versa?

"Whatever hurts my brother hurts me." This is our school motto that creates the basis for everything the St. Benedict's Prep community is about. It is used to develop various personal traits and values such as high academic standards, leadership, motivation, strong character, and perseverance in all aspects of life. This has enabled me to be very focused, disciplined and determined to develop the talent God has given me for distance running.

8) Finishing on a lighter note...after the Foot Locker races have been run, people are always curious about the happenings the rest of the weekend. Care to dish out any details on the post-race dance or late night hi-jinx at the Hotel del Coronado?

What happens in Hotel Del Coronado, stays in Hotel Del Coronado! Haha

All I can say is that it was a lot of fun hanging out with all these amazing runners from all over the country, and learning that they're no different from me. I will never forget you guys and the memories we share. NORTHEAST!!!

Photo by Vic Sailer

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