© Copyright – 2012 – Athletics Illustrated
Cambridge, Ontario native Nate Brannen, is a twenty-nine-year-old Canadian middle-distance athlete who specializes in the 1500m distance. He was a sub-4 minute miler (3:59.85) in high school, which attracted the attention of various US colleges. He settled on the University of Michigan because of coach Ron Warhurst’s success as well as boyhood hero Kevin Sullivan, had also attended Michigan. Brannen competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games finishing 9th in the semi-final with a 3:39.10 finishing time. His personal best is 3:34.65.
He is looking to compete in the 2012 London Olympic Games. Brannen first needs to run as fast as 3:35.50, which is the Canadian A-standard or 3:38.00, the B-standard twice, plus finish top-3 at the Canadian Olympic Trials, which happen June 27 to June 30 in Calgary, Alberta.
Brannen is currently training in Flagstaff, Arizona.
CK: At what age did you start running seriously? Did you play other sports growing up?
NB: I started getting more serious with running in the 11th grade. This meant actually doing off day runs and running more than just three days per week. I was fairly successful in the 9th and 10th grade, but I would say it was the 11th grade that I really started making a name for myself. I grew up very athletic and played every sport possible, but hockey was by far my favourite sport. I had aspirations when I was 8-9 years old of one day playing in the NHL. I played hockey for eight years and finished my final season in the 9th grade when my club coach at the time, Peter Grinbergs, said I had to make a choice and that running was clearly the direction I was headed. I initially saw running as an opportunity to get a free education and compete in the NCAA but never thought I would have had the success I’ve had.
CK: Leafs fan?
NB: Grew up a Leafs fan but after spending eight years in Michigan I started cheering for the Red Wings but I will always be a Leafs fan.
CK: When Ron Warhurst recruited you, was that it, off to Michigan? Or did you take your time choosing? Who else was in the mix?
NB: Originally I was 100% set on going to the University of Arkansas. I saw the powerhouse John McDonnell built there and thought that was the place I needed to be in order to reach my goals. Much like the Chicago Bulls of the 90’s, Arkansas dominated the NCAA and really had a legacy going. I came into my senior year and decided to look around a little bit more instead of fully committing to one school. I visited Texas A&M University, the University of Michigan and the University of Arkansas that fall. I loved all three schools, but the final decision came down to the fact that Michigan not only had a great reputation in distance running and a slew of great Canadian distance runners, they excelled academically and I also really got along with Ron. Michigan was the full package and I knew that was the place I wanted to go.
CK: You have had some big changes in your life recently, getting married to Theresa and having a child. Any chance you will move the family to Flagstaff for future training after London?
NB: No, definitely not. I’m only in Flagstaff for a short training stint but have no intentions on ever living here full-time. In the fall, while my wife was pregnant, we moved to Ohio to be closer to her family. Since I am gone so often racing and training we decided this was best for us so at least when I’m gone she has the support of her family close by.
CK: So the family is in Cleveland?
NB: We bought a house in Westlake, a suburb of Cleveland.
CK: Is this the wrong time of year to be a Cavalier’s fan? Are the in-laws still upset with Lebron moving to Miami – old wounds!
NB: Ha, upset! That is a good way to put it. I’m pretty sure the entire state of Ohio actually hated Lebron when the move was made to Miami. I have always been a Detroit Pistons fan so it didn’t mean much to me. The biggest thing for our family is the rivalry between me and my wife’s alma mater, Michigan and Ohio State. Her entire family are very strong Ohio State fans so there is a lot of smack-talk the last weekend of November each year when Michigan and Ohio State play each other in football.
CK: The next round in the NBA looks pretty clear. Who you cheering for?
NB: Well, with the Pistons out I would have to go back to the team I cheered for as a kid, Chicago. Who didn’t love the Chicago Bulls when they won six NBA championships in eight years and had Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin and Dennis Rodman?
Back to running
CK: In another interview you said, “if I walk away not an Olympic finalist, I’ll feel I didn’t achieve my goals and reach my potential this year,” also: “Once I make it to the final, there’s the world’s 12 best guys on the line. On any given day, the three spots for the medal contenders could change.” At Beijing you did not make the finals. What have you changed in your training to get there?
NB: I’ve been training with a new group and coach for the last two-plus years and we’ve adjusted things slightly and I’m also much healthier than I’ve ever been. In 2008 it wasn’t a lack of talent that prevented me from reaching the final, it was the fact that I ran so well in my first round that I didn’t sleep for two straights day. I was so amped up about knowing I had a solid shot at making the final that I let my excitement get to me. The major difference is I’ve been there, I know what it takes to make the final, and I am as healthy, if not healthier than ever.
CK: When you talk about being “healthy” are you referring to typical running injuries?
NB: I’ve had to overcome some very serious injuries in the past, some that have actually ended many runners careers. I partially tore my the head of my hamstring off my ischial tuberosity in 2007 (similar injury that Solinksy had last year that resulted in surgery and screws to hold it in place), had back surgery for a herniated disc, and in 2010 had a navicular stress fracture in my left foot. All of these injuries were pretty severe, and not to mention the other injuries I’ve had in the past. So yes, when referring to being healthy and about my body being injury free. I’ve never had this many consecutive months of being injury free in my professional running career. I’ve always said if I can just stay healthy for an extended period of time that I thought I could do something special and things are finally lining up for me. I’m really excited about where my fitness is at and can’t wait to really start racing this summer.
CK: Have you run some telling workouts that indicate where you fitness level is at?
NB: I’ve had a few very solid sessions that show I am capable of running the Olympic ‘A+’ (3:35.50) standard now. My most recent workout on Saturday definitely solidified the fact that we are right on track and definitely ready for a good race.
CK: Your 800m and 1500m personal bests of 1:46.00 and 3:34.65 are not that far apart performance-wise – mind you, you ran 1:46.00 a decade ago. Any chance you may go for standard in the 800m too?
NB: That’s funny you ask. I’ve had that plan in my head for awhile now. Of course the focus is to make the Olympic Team in the 1500m and everything will be geared around achieving that. If I am able to hit my standard early, we might look at some 800’s in hopes of hitting the Olympic A standard in that event as well. It more be more of the icing on the cake and nowhere near our focus for the season.
CK: Well the 800m final is on the 9th, two days after the 1500m final, perhaps reaching your goals on the 7th will lead to excellent sleep and a relaxed world-class 800m final.
NB: I’ve been so focused on the 1500m this year and what it’s going to take to make the final and the dates of that that I didn’t even look at the 800m schedule. In the past there was an opportunity to double at the Olympics of World Championships without overlapping and based on this summer’s schedule that is clearly not the case. I just noticed now that the 800m first round is before the 1500m final, which means no doubling for me if I was to qualify in both.
CK: You have a short window of opportunity compared to other years. What meets are you planning to focus on?
NB: Because of the short window, we’ve adjusted my training to be ready to hit my standard a little earlier than in past years. The focus is on the Oxy High Performance meet on May 18th, and if for some reason I don’t hit my time there I will fly right over to Europe to race Hengelo on May 27th and possibly Rome on the 31st. After that I will have a few more races before the Canadian Olympic Trials; Prefontaine on June 2nd, and either the New York Grand Prix on June 9th or the two National Track League meets on the West Coast (Harry Jerome and Victoria) on June 10th and 13th.