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September 15, 2020
Gorriaran, Newbould are August Athletes of the Month
(Moses Brown HS/Providence, RI) and
(Whirlaway Racing Team/Exeter, NH) are the USATF-New England (USATF-NE) Athletes of the Month for August 2020. Despite competitions just recently resuming in New England, the pair stood out with record-setting performances.
Gorriaran set a New England High School record in the 800 meters at the Music City Distance Festival in Memphis, Tennessee. Her 2:02.97 was good for fifth in the elite heat filled with mostly professional runners, and was less than a half second shy of the Olympic Trials qualifying standard.
This comes despite the cancellation of Sophia’s high school outdoor track season, which resulted in her only being able to race four times. The time was an improvement upon her 2:03.98 800 meter time run at Boston University during the indoor season - which established a national freshman record - and a 2:03.36 run at an all-comers meet in RI during the spring.
In March, she finished second in the mile at the New England High School Championships, and at the 2019 USATF National Junior Olympics, Sophia won the 800 meter and finished as the runner up in the 1500 meters.
Brandon won the 3-day Ragged 75-Mile Trail Race in Danbury, New Hampshire. He won all three stages and completed the course with a record-breaking time of 13:11:34, nearly an hour faster than the previous record.
Since coming to the area from Alaska in 2009, Brandon has numerous Mountain Running Circuit wins and top placings in road race championships. In 2019, Brandon finished 3rd in the USATF-NE Marathon Championship in 2:27:41 and has a personal best time of 2:26:50 set in the Hartford Marathon in 2014.
Aside from his own running, Brandon also is the boys cross country coach and boys and girls distance coach for indoor and outdoor at Phillips Exeter Academy.
USATF-NE spoke with Sophia and Brandon about their accomplishments.
USATF-NE: When you ran the 800m at the Music City Distance Carnival, you finished less than half a second over the Olympic trials qualifying standard. Was that something you had as a goal before the race?
SG: We went to MCDC because it offered me a chance to run in the top heat against professional runners. I really wanted the opportunity to experience what it would be like and hopefully learn something from the pros. I have been thinking a lot about making the Olympic Trials in the 800m since last year’s Junior Olympic Indoor and Outdoor National Championships, but at MCDC I was only looking to improve my 800m PR and see what time that would give me (with fingers crossed for the standard).
I was a little concerned with my race sharpness, as I had only run one 800m since February and had started my club lacrosse season in mid-June, which meant more lacrosse practice and lacrosse tournaments in my schedule. At the end of July, I tried out for the Under Armor All-America Lacrosse Tournament and was selected to represent the New England Region. I was afraid I would have a conflict with the Tournament and MCDC, but everything worked out OK.
USATF-NE: You’re only a freshman, but you’ve already set some very impressive records. What would you say your proudest accomplishment is?
SG: I am most proud of my consistency and steady improvements in my race results over the last 7 years. Our long term plan has given me the confidence to know I can compete at the highest levels if I stay on track.
USATF-NE: How did the cancellation of the high school outdoor track season affect your training?
SG: Cancellation of the season was terrible for all athletes, but it allowed me more time to train and get ready for my next race, whenever it would occur. I have mostly just been praying that we would get the opportunity to run anywhere. My coaches realized that all the cancellations also pushed back the Olympic Trials to 2021, and this delay would now allow me to be eligible to run in the Trials.
All last year, I never knew that there was a minimum age requirement to run in the Olympic Trials. At the end of Indoor, my Dad finally told me that, at 14, I was too young to go, because the minimum age is 16. With the delay to 2021, we looked into it and realized that the rule is you are eligible the year in which you will turn 16. I will be 15 at the start of next year’s Trials but will turn 16 two days into the Trials and before the first round of the 800m. This was the most wonderful news I heard through all the horrible cancellations, and it really allowed me to stay focused on my training.
USATF-NE: Who would you like to thank?
SG: I would like to thank my coaches Jon Barnes and my Dad, my family, all my many practice partners, my friends, mentors, competitors and everyone that’s helped me improve along the way. I would like to thank the dedicated people who actually managed to put on track meets this Summer and give athletes a place to compete, giving us a chance to see where we’re at and how training is working out.
USATF-NE: What’s next for you?
SG: I’m running varsity cross country for the first time and am enjoying it. I’m hoping to get stronger for my 800m. I’m looking forward to Indoor and running at BU in December to try to improve my 800m time and praying we have an Indoor season.
USATF-NE: What would you say is your most memorable performance?
BN: I think my first marathon win, which was Bay State back in 2009; that was a real highlight for me. It showed me what might be possible with pushing the envelope. New England was a new world for me in terms of competition, and the opportunities with different kinds of racing. I love it about the scene here because you can find great competition on the roads, there’s good mountain racing, trail racing, ultras, and basically anything you want with lots of new faces. In Alaska, it’s very different. There’s beautiful mountain races and long trail runs and there’s road races, but you see the same four or five guys at the top of every event, or at least it used to be that way. Doing the marathon here, there were always new faces and new challenges, and to come into that marathon and get the win, it made me feel like I could compete more and enjoy that scene fully. I’m really proud of that. I’ve been able, fortunately, to have a lot of great experiences with other races in New England, but that one stands out.
USATF-NE: You still compete in both road and trail races. How does your training change depending on which type of race you’re training for?
BN: I think I always do some trail running, not only because the soft surfaces are good for me, but it’s what I love. I don’t quite want to say it’s where my heart’s at, because I love competition and I love racing regardless of the surface, but I think my love for the training was born on the trails and in the woods. I do a lot of stuff outside of running, and that all ties together for me. From a training standpoint, I always spend time on the trails and in the woods, but if I have goal races coming up on the roads, then I do some specific sessions to prepare myself for that. That’s also true for mountain racing if my focus is going to be on that, like it was for Ragged Mountain. A lot of my biggest workouts were very specific for the session. I wasn’t doing road tempos or anything like that. If I were, they’d be hard to recognize as roads.
USATF-NE: Do you have a specific goal that you’re working towards right now?
BN: Nope, Ragged Mountain was kind of it. After I did that, there was another trail race that came up in about a week, so I’ll be doing that Kismet race up in North Conway next weekend. Then, I’m going to adjust after that race. I’m sure a lot of athletes in New England can relate, after the pandemic, we’re used to having a full cross country season up here, or big road races or a fall marathon, or any number of events that may or may not take place. Most of them won’t. I don’t want to set goals personally and then have them taken away from me, so I’m going to really make the most of this next race the same way I did at Ragged [Mountain], kind of worry about recovering later if there’s something else coming up.
USATF-NE: How has COVID-19 affected your ability to coach your athletes?
BN: It’s continued to be remote until now because Exeter is getting a later start than other schools. Greater Derry opened up our practices around halfway through the season and I’m able to be in-person for those training session. At Exeter, when we do begin, it’s going to be drastically affected. We’re going to have to run in masks and we’ll be limited to campus for a while. I have international students, so it’s just more restrictive than public schools. We’re going to make the most of it. I know it’s very important for the kids to get out and hammer away, so we’re going to keep doing what we do and find some adventures in our training and have fun.
USATF-NE: Do you have any advice for runners who are struggling to stay motivated after being forced to train alone during the pandemic?
BN: As a coach, I want to have a good answer for that. I really sympathize, I can relate a little bit to the lack of motivation. As much as I do love training, that may not in the moment be enough. It can really be hard to get out the door at five o’clock in the morning or for the afternoon double if you’re someone who gets after it with training volume.
For me, it’s more of a challenge to raise the intensity in my training as often as I should if I want to be ready for a competition. I think my advice would be something that a lot of people have already grappled with, which is kinda getting back to really think about what gets you going. Why do you like to run? I coach with all kinds of different athletes, not all of them really enjoy training, especially younger athletes. Some of them are in it because they really like to compete. I don’t want those folks to get left behind. I don’t apologize for competitiveness, I think it’s a beautiful thing, people that are wired that way, I’d love for that to find their athletic pursuit.
If you’re someone who is motivated by competition, you might need to be a little bit more creative, but those things are out there. I was able to find Ragged Mountain, and I understand that’s why I’m being interviewed here. It was one of the only events I could find and it served as a great motivator for me to do some good stuff, knowing that I had that challenge coming up. For other people, they may be motivated just by getting out on the trails, and if that’s the case, get out on the trails. Don’t force yourself through treadmill runs. Give yourself the opportunity and make it enough of a priority to do that. I think if we’re creative, we can find ways. The hindrance might be family, kids, work, whatever, but I think generally we can find a way to get out there.