September 18, 2014
It’s not unheard of for a school to land two sub-9:00 two-milers in the same recruiting class. Schools such as Oklahoma State, Oregon and Wisconsin often bring in loaded classes (Heck, when LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson was at coaching at Cornell, he once realized that even Princeton had seven sub-9s on the team).
It’s less common that those two sub-9:00 guys are twin brothers, but that did happen as recently as three years ago when the Rosa brothers decided to attend Stanford (Stanford also brought in twins Brad and Brent Hauser in the 1990s, both of whom were Foot Locker finalists). But twin brothers Jack and Tim McGowan, both of whom broke 9:00 for two miles last spring (8:57.57 for Jack, 8:56.60 for Tim), didn’t choose to attend Stanford. They didn’t choose Oklahoma State, Oregon or Wisconsin, either. No, the McGowans picked Division III Roger Williams University, located in Bristol, R.I., which competes in the Commonwealth Coast Conference. Yes that’s right, high school running has become so absurdly fast that sub-9 guys are now going DIII.
Since LetsRun.com was founded by twin brothers, we were already interested in the McGowans. When we found out they had gone DIII, we decided to interview them. There’s more to them then their decision to eschew the big time of Division I for a small New England liberal arts school and go DIII. They were also high school teammates with autistic star Mikey Brannigan at Northport (N.Y.) High School on Long Island. Together, they teamed up to become the first set of three teammates to all break 9:00 for the two mile in the same race at New Balance Outdoor Nationals on June 15 (Northport also finished 11th at NXN last fall). Then, six days later, the McGowans, Brannigan and teammate Justin Leopold ran 17:06.92 as part of a 4xmile relay squad for the second-fastest time in high school history. Indoors, Tim won the New York state title in the 3200 meters and was also second in the high school boys’ mile at the Millrose Games.
Last year, Roger Williams finished just 19th at the NCAA Division III New England Region Cross Country Championships, a performance the McGowans will be looking to improve upon this fall. We caught up with the pair over the phone on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the McGowans ran their first 8k race at Saturday’s Dartmouth Invitational (Tim had the lead at the 4.5 mile mark and placed 5th; Jack was 14th).
LetsRun.com: Why did you decide on Roger Williams?
Tim McGowan: Jack committed before I did, back in March. I was looking around and kind of thought to myself, “Where would I be most comfortable? What’s the best distance from home?” I met up with coach [Sean] Livingston, he told me about the program and it just seemed like a fit. When it took the visit, it seemed like somewhere I could picture myself.
Jack McGowan — I’ve always loved the Rhode Island area and didn’t want to be too far from home. I felt really good about this program and what the team has to give.
As sub-9:00 two-milers, you must have been recruited by a lot of bigger schools as well. What made you decide to run at the Division III level instead?
TM: The thing that I really wanted to do was go into a program like I did in high school. When I came in [to Northport High School], we weren’t a big deal in our county, but when I left we were a dominant power. Rather than going into a successful program, I wanted to be part of building a program over the next four years.
JM: Everything Tim said was true. I figured there were some D-III schools where we could help build the program.
Did you guys enter the recruitment process thinking that you would be a package deal? Or did you approach your recruitment separately?
TM: When we started the process, we were both looking at completely different schools on different sides of the country. We never really said we want to be together or don’t want to be together. Jack committed to Roger Williams and a couple of months later, I said I’m going there too. It wasn’t that we wanted it or didn’t want it; it just kind of happened.
What about the school appealed to you outside of running? A lot of people outside Rhode Island haven’t even heard of Roger Williams.
TM: Since we were about four or five years old, we were going to Rhode Island. We were always around the area. It just seems like a very fitting environment that you could get used to.
How do you approach races? In cross country, coaches often like to have teammates run together. Do you two try to work together or is there a rivalry between the two of you?
TM: It depends on the team goal. That comes first. As for [the] Dartmouth [Invitational], it’s your first 8k, so it was just a chance to get your feet wet. We’re twins, but we train differently. I like cross training, the weight room and the pool. We have different strategies.
JM: It’s all been based on how Tim started running before me. I started as a sophomore and since then I’ve been working to get where Timmy is. Every race, I’ve been running on his heels and trying to stay with him as long as I can.
TM: It wasn’t until my senior year that I wanted to stop hugging the back and take control a little more from the front.
You guys ran for a very strong high school team and had three guys sub-9:00 in the two mile at New Balance Outdoor Nationals, the first time any school had three guys do it in the same race (teammate Mikey Brannigan won the race in 8:53.59; Tim was 3rd in 8:56.60 and Jack was 4th in 8:57.57). Tim, I read that Craig Virgin talked to you before NBON when you were trying to accomplish the feat. What did you two talk about? What advice did he offer you?
TM: I was really surprised when I found out he wanted to talk to me. Craig was amazing, one of the greatest guys I’ve ever talked to. Once I hung up, I was so stoked to run the race. But when I was on the phone, I was very nervous, very shaken up. We talked about a lot of strategy and he gave me his personal experiences about what he used to do and his personal strategy. He talked about not only what I had to do but what my teammates had to do to get under 9:00.
Craig is one of the greatest runners in American history (two-time World Cross Country champion), but he’s from before your time. Did you know much about him before you spoke?
TM: I knew who he was. I didn’t know him as well as the guys from now like Galen [Rupp] or [Evan] Jager. And I knew about the guys from now from that area like Lukas Verzbicas. I did some reading before he called and after he called I looked up all his races. It was cool to hear from someone from where he was standing.
Obviously you were all contenders for the individual title at NBON, so what was your strategy for that race? How did your coach tell you to approach it?
JM: [Coach Jason] Strom always tells me to just stay on Tim and Mikey, don’t lose them.
TM: He told me before the race to be very selfless. The goal is to get three under 9:00, so he told me not to lead the whole race but to make sure we were under 4:30 at the mile. Mikey and I wouldn’t split off laps but he’d sort of stay right behind me.
Jack, did you feel pressure as the one who hadn’t gone sub-9:00 yet to do it in that race?
JM: Definitely. I was under so many nerves in that race. At the beginning of spring track, Coach told me if we can get you sub-9:00 we can really make a difference in the program. At NBON, no matter how many times people told me I could do it, I was shaking, I was nervous. But when I did it, I looked back and realized maybe they were right.
You guys were part of another impressive race when your 4xmile relay team ran 17:06.92 (#2 all-time) at Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle on June 21. On the one hand, that’s a great time, but you also just missed the national record of 17:06.6. How did you guys feel after that race?
TM: We weren’t really invited until the last minute. We were just trying to beat all the teams from Washington and win the race. I didn’t know what the record was until Alex [Lohr] from Flotrack told me the night before. I was trying to do the math in my head, but I didn’t think we could get the record. At first, they said we didn’t get it but then XCNation said we got it and there’s an argument that we got it.
JM: The moment we heard we missed it, we had just won and didn’t care. But when we found out later we had it, we were so excited we had it.
There’s been some debate about whether you have the record or whether it still belongs to the 1976 South Eugene team that ran 17:06.6 (hand-timed). Where do you guys stand on that issue?
TM: Personally, I think we have it but I know if we do, it’s a technicality. To me, we didn’t really have it unless we crushed it. As far as my mindset, I think we got it, but for anyone that doesn’t, I recognize it’s a technicality. When the XCNation thing happened, I stepped in and said whether you think we got it or not, we think we’re blessed to have run the time.
JM: I could see why people could be angry or think we did not get the record, but I think we do have it so I’m happy with it. I shouldn’t listen to what other people say.
Your teammate Mikey Brannigan has received media attention because he is autistic but has still managed to achieve tremendous success in running, most recently a piece on NBC Nightly News. Can you tell us what it was like having Mikey as a teammate?
TM: He got brought to the team as a eighth grader and I was a freshman at the time, so we were both new guys. We were both not as good as the varsity guys but better than the new guys. So when everyone dispersed, it was just me and Mikey. At first it wasn’t a lot of talking, but then he opened up it wasn’t as different as people might think it is. He’s one of our best friends. Before we left for college, he came to my house to say goodbye to me.
Jack, you came to the sport later than Tim. Can you tell me how you each started running?
TM: I started at 12 or 13, I think. I played lacrosse, and it’s hard to imagine now, but I wrestled. But I was always too small for those other sports. I was looking for something to do and my mom signed me up for a four-mile race without telling me and I ended up liking it. Then, when we were signing up for events in seventh grade track, one of my friends dared me to sign up for the mile and I ended up winning it. I stuck with it.
JM: When I was a freshman, I didn’t do cross country or winter track, but a friend of mine talked me into spring track. I didn’t do very well. Then one day as a sophomore, my coach told me that I could be a good runner if I worked hard. Eventually, when I did great in a race, I figured I liked the sport. Most people would hate running every day but I liked it.
We’ve got to ask this — who is the older twin?
TM: Jack — he’s two minutes older. He won that race.
JM: [Laughs] Yeah, I beat him in one race.
Editor’s note: The older twin was also the faster twin in the case with the Torres (Jorge was better than Ed), Hausers (Brad was better than Brent), and Johnsons, (Weldon was better than Robert) but not the Rosa (Jim is older than Joe who nearly always beats him).
In what respect are you two most different as runners?
TM: I think we have the same goal: to keep improving. We have the same goal in that aspect as far as helping the team. I think I’m more of the anchor; a front-runner. I see myself as a front-runner and I also like to do other stuff as far as training — weightlifting, core.
JM: I’m not really sure how to describe myself. I think I’d just describe myself as a member of the team; I listen to the coach or the captain. I picture Tim as the leader on the team — I think we all have.
What are your goals at Roger Williams? When you graduate, what do you hope to have accomplished in your four years there?
TM: I’m a superstitious guy and don’t like to do specific goals. But I’d like to take us from 11th in our region to seven guys on a podium. And I’d like to see some records fall. I think with Coach’s training and the team’s attitude, we could raise the bar a little.
JM: Like Tim, I’m superstitious too, but my goal is to help the team as best as I can.
Division III schools aren’t allowed to offer scholarships. As sub-9:00 guys, you probably could have gotten some money to run at a Division I school. How did you handle that discussion with your parents? Did that ever come up as an issue?
TM: It came up, but when it comes down to it, you have to be happy with where you are. Some of the schools I was looking at, the cost difference was a big factor, but my parents put a big emphasis on the fact that I was going to be the one living there for four years. And there wasn’t a lot of debate that, out of all the places, Roger Williams would be the one where I’d be the happiest.
More: Discuss this article in our forum: MB: Two sub-9 HSers go to the same college….. And it’s DIII…..
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