NAU’s Brian Shrader Talks About Surprise Win At The .US 12K Championships, Living His Whole Life At Altitude And Possibly Having To Turn Down $20,000 In Prize Money
November 16, 2014
We catch up with the NAU senior who’s raised himself to a completely different level this fall, going from a collegian who hasn’t made an NCAA outdoor meet to a US champion and American record holder. He also says he’s undecided about taking his $20k prize money and turning pro or finishing out his NCAA career (he has indoor & outdoor left).
December 1, 2014
Last weekend we got a chance to catch up with Northern Arizona senior Brian Shrader, who two weeks ago unexpectedly won the .US 12K Championships in Alexandria, Va., in an American record time of 34:10. Shrader doesn’t have any more cross country eligibility so he ran on the roads for the fall while prepping for the NCAA indoor and outdoor seasons. While Shrader is a two-time All-American in cross country, he has never made an outdoor NCAA meet and is a complete unknown on the pro racing scene. After the win, we know many of you were asking who the hell is Brian Shrader? — albeit in a slightly nicer way, as the actual messageboard thread is titled: MB: What can you tell me about Brian Shrader? Just won US 12K Champs.
Well, Shrader was born and raised in Flagstaff, Ariz., at 7,000 ft. He was very good as a prep where he ran for the recently arrested Bo Reed. As a junior, he was 11th at Foot Lockers; as a senior, he won the West Regional and was fifth before at FL finals before departing for Oregon where he struggled for two years. He dropped out of NCAAs as a frosh and only garnered a 14:33 pb as a sophomore. Then he transferred to NAU, and he’s flourished in Flagstaff as he was 15th at NCAAs as a junior and 28th last year. On the track, he improved to 14:15 in year one and 13:44 last year.
After he won the .US 12K Champs there were also questions about what he would do now that he had won a US championship as a collegian. People on the message board asked: MB: If you’re Brian Shrader, do you take the $20k and skip senior track season?.
All this got our attention so we contacted Shrader to find out more about his career and his plans for the future. Our full interview with him is below.
Shrader’s pbs: 1:51.14 (800); 3:43.35 (1500); 7:59.62 (3k); 13:44.55 (5k); he’s also run 8:11 for 3k at altitude (converts to 7:51)
LRC: Why did you decide to go to the University of Oregon out of high school? Did you consider NAU at the time?
BS: Like many high school runners, Oregon was the dream school for me. I grew up idolizing the stars that Oregon had and I thought that is where I needed to go if I were to ever make it to that level. Didn’t exactly work out that way. I didn’t consider NAU as seriously as I should have. Looking back, I probably was letting the idea of a big college experience guide my choices rather than ideal training situations. Plus, NAU did have all of the Olympians that I also grew up idolizing. Lopez Lomong and Dave McNeill were probably two of the biggest inspirations for me. I just didn’t realize how good of a program and situation it was since I grew up 5 minutes away from campus.
LRC: Why didn’t things go well at Oregon? Why did you decide to transfer to NAU?
BS: I couldn’t really tell you why things didn’t go well at Oregon. It wasn’t anything personal, in fact the opposite. Coach [Andy] Powell and Vin [Lananna] really gave me every chance to succeed and they were probably just as confused as to why I was running so poorly. Training was always going well, but I could never put together a halfway-respectable race. I eventually got borderline depressed being away from home and running so poorly. I went to Oregon to become the best runner I could be and when that wasn’t happening it was hard for me to stay positive. I was probably a little impatient but those were my expectations for myself. I talked to coach Powell and Luke Puskedra a lot about transferring. They wanted me to stick it out but they also probably saw how unhappy I was so were supportive in me looking at the possibility of going home. I remember Luke telling me that I would run 13:30’s and be All-American as long as I was in an environment where I was happy and myself again. I went home the summer of my sophomore year with the intent to go back to Eugene. But the more time I spent running in the mountains, the more I knew I couldn’t go back. Actually going through with transferring was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I wish it would have worked out because I did have so much respect for everyone over there, but I also was extremely excited to start fresh and commit 100% to the school I grew up with.
I was always envious of NAU when I would see them at meets. They looked like a team that was full of brothers who would do anything for each other. It sounds weird, but I might have even been a little jealous that they were able to represent Flagstaff while I no longer was. It was a team that my heart wanted to be a part of.
LRC: Did Flagstaff’s altitude (and Oregon’s lack thereof) have anything to do with your struggles at Oregon/return to NAU? Did you know 100% you wanted to transfer to NAU or were there other schools you looked at transferring to?
BS: I had never trained at sea level before going to Eugene so it was definitely different. I think I was worried that I wasn’t training as hard as I used to be, or could be, since I wasn’t at altitude anymore. This probably affected me mentally more than physically though. Now, being more mature, I do want to eventually do stints of training at sea level because there is training that I have never been able to do that is probably necessary at some point in the future.
I was fairly certain that I wanted to transfer to NAU but I also kept my options open. After looking around more though, it became easy for me to feel that I needed to be in Flagstaff.
LRC: Prior to Oregon, you lived your entire life at altitude. Some people feel that’s part of the advantage Kenyans/Ethiopians have. Do you find yourself making those comparisons? Does it feel weird when you are training away from altitude at sea level?
BS: I’ve never really made those direct comparisons but I have had people tell me that it is an advantage. Growing up I never really thought about the altitude. It was just the norm. Now I do notice that I am able to workout at 7000 feet a lot harder than most people. However, I really don’t notice too much of a difference when I go to sea level to workout. I may be going faster, but eventually the pain level is the same. Also, sometimes it’s hard to workout at sea level because you do need to go faster for the same effort but your legs feel like you’re sprinting.
Plus I’m twice the size of most Kenyans.
LRC: What was the thought process behind doing the .US 12K Champs this fall? Were you trying to peak for this race? If not, was there a specific race this fall that you were/are trying to peak for?
BS: I originally was going to do the US 5k road championships, the Phoenix 10k, the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, and then an indoor race in December. I was very fortunate to get top 5 at the 5k, which qualified me for the .US 12K all expenses covered. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go out there otherwise. Doing the 12K instead of the Phoenix 10K and Turkey Trot worked out well. I definitely was gearing up for the 12K, but I only took one easy week rather than a full taper, which I am saving for December still.
LRC: What is your situation like as a collegiate athlete with no fall eligibility? I heard you say you train a lot with Diego [Estrada]. Do you still train with the NAU team and get your training from Coach [Eric] Heins or have you been doing most of your stuff separately on your own or with Diego?
BS: I’m training with the team still. Coach Heins is still completely in charge of my training. However, I’ve been able to hop in a workout every other week with Diego, but that’s about it. His training is very intense so I probably wouldn’t even be able to last a week with him. I did sometimes have to train on my own when the team was racing though. It was hard not being as big a part of the team but I was also excited that I would be able to get a lot of uninterrupted training in.
LRC: How had your training been going coming into the fall racing season? Was it markedly different than the past? If so, what was the key difference that might have led to this jump in performance?
BS: The biggest difference in my training has been the number of doubles and the intensity of my workouts. I read a lot about different runners’ training and I walked away realizing I wasn’t training hard. It got to the point where I knew I had one more year to make a name for myself so I went all in. I’ve been trying to double as much as I can (5, even 6 times a week). I just made it part of the routine. Then Heins has made it a point to do really intense workouts every once in a while. So really, I was just consistently running more and harder than I ever have been. Not too exciting.
LRC: What was your mileage in this fall buildup compared to the past when you weren’t doing (as many) doubles?
BS: In the past I had usually been doubling 2 or 3 times a week. I would usually be in the mid 80’s range for my mileage. This fall I would consistently be running around 100 miles a week. I was pretty safe about the increase though. I would listen to my body so if I needed to take a morning off or lower the mileage, I would. The team and I also really believe in taking our easy days easy. So even though there may have been an increase in volume, I am still recovering so that I am ready to go hard on the workout days and long runs.
LRC: Everyone was shocked to see you win last weekend, but maybe they shouldn’t have been completely surprised. At the US 5K champs in Providence you were 4th in 13:59 when Diego won in 13:57. Being that close and in the mix at the end of a US Championship race you had to know you were pretty fit. Was that race kind of the first indication that you might be at a different level this year?
BS: Going into the US 5K I wasn’t in good shape yet. I was lucky it was a sit and kick race because my fitness wasn’t ready to go all out from the gun. It did show me that I was further in my fitness than I thought though.
The next month of training is what really took off. I was doing tempos faster than I ever have in my life. Apparently I had the fastest 4 mile tempo by an NAU runner at Buffalo Park, which is just crazy to me when I think of all the legends who have passed through here. I knew I was on a different level than in the past when Diego and I did 10×1000 in 2:45 each, pretty comfortably.
LRC: Was that 10×1000 workout in Flagstaff or did you go down for it? Do you ever drive down in elevation (like Sedona or Camp Verde) for workouts and if so, did you do that a lot in this fall buildup? Or do you do everything at 7000 ft?
BS: All of my workouts are done here in Flagstaff at 7000 feet. We only will go down to Camp Verde during the winter if we are snowed in. Being able to get down to lower elevation quickly is a great advantage for people training in Flagstaff have, but we just don’t have the time to do that too often while we are still in school.
LRC: Did the 5k make winning the 12K champs less of a surprise or was the 12K still a huge shock?
BS: The 5k told me that I could be in contention, but it was a complete shock to actually win the 12k. Being in contention and winning are two completely different things.
LRC: On that note, you’ve never ran even 10,000 so that was a big jump to 12K. Where you worried about the distance at all?
BS: I wasn’t too worried. Like I said, I was doing some longer workouts that indicated I was the strongest I’ve ever been. Plus I figured it couldn’t be too different from a 10k on a cross country course.
LRC: During most of the 12K, Aaron Braun was leading at a pretty good pace and it was almost surprising that it was that fast and there were so many people left with less than a mile to go and obviously some very big names like Braun and Diego. At one point did you go from thinking “Just hold on to these guys as long as I can” to actually trying to beat them to the tape? When did it finally dawn on you that you were going to win a US Championship? Did you know 200 out that you had the wheels to win or were you not sure you had it until you actually crossed the line?
BS: I knew that Aaron Braun would take the race out so I wanted to stay right on him the entire time. I was so engaged in trying to stay right with him that I didn’t even know what paces we were running. When we hit 1 mile to go I remember thinking how exciting it was that I was still in contention. I was hurting quite a lot though and there was still a group of 6 of us so I thought they would all take off on me. It wasn’t until about 600 to go that I realized I would be in real contention and it wasn’t until about 200 to go that I realized I could win. I knew I’d have a good kick but I also knew how strong my competitors were so I wouldn’t have been surprised if they would have responded. It wasn’t until a few seconds after crossing the line that I really knew I won.
LRC: There was a $20,000 prize for first place at the 12K champs. The NCAA rules on prize money are complicated and ever changing. How much of that do you end up being able to accept? Do you only get to take enough to pay for your expenses for this one trip (which I would imagine are $1,000 or less), or can you write off training expenses for the whole year (could be $10,000 or more if you count shoes, gear, gas driving to meets/practice, nutritional supplements, etc)?
BS: I’m not able to accept any travel money for this weekend because they covered my travel and hotel. I am able to accept training expenses for a year but that rule seems pretty complicated so it will take more research to safely do. I guess I need receipts for the past year for proof, which is going to be fun trying to do.
LRC: So how much did you end up getting to keep and if you had to turn down most of it, how hard was that to do?
BS: I haven’t been able to accept anything yet. I also haven’t had to officially turn anything down yet though, but I would imagine that would be pretty hard.
LRC: Did you think about taking the money and forgoing your final NCAA season? A lot of people would say your final season in the NCAA is worth $20,000, some people would say that’s crazy and $20,000 paydays don’t come around that often in the running world. What were your thoughts on this whole process?
BS: That is definitely an option. I look at it two ways: One, I will never have the opportunity to race for a team and race at NCAA’s again so that opportunity is priceless. Or two, I’ve been in the NCAA for 4 years already and it hasn’t been too kind to me. It may not be a lot to other people, but for me $20,000 is something that could really help me for the next year as I try to make the jump to the post-collegiate scene. It all happened so fast that I haven’t really had time to think about it too much.
LRC: When do you need to make a decision on whether or not to accept the $20,000 money? Is it pretty flexible or does USATF push you to make a decision soon? Can you even start the indoor season racing unattached and wait until to NCAAs to decide?
BS: I’m not really too sure when I need to make a decision about accepting the prize money. I’m assuming someone will contact me or my coach at some point about that. USATF wouldn’t push me to make a decision though. They were very excited for me after the race and want me to do what is best for me as well. I am planning on starting the NCAA season just as I normally would. Once I make my decision I will fully commit to it.
LRC: Do you have any more fall races planned?
BS: Yes, I have an indoor 5k planned. The whole plan this fall was to get in good shape to try to get an [NCAA] qualifier for the indoor season out of the way.
LRC: What are your goals for indoor and outdoor?
BS: I don’t really have any goals right now for track. I’m sure my goal will be to go for a win at NCAA’s. It sounds crazy but that has been my goal for a while now. Last year I got 8th in the 3k at NCAA’s but I still wanted to go for the win. I’ve “failed” with so many goals that I’m not afraid to set them high now. You can never win and really breakthrough if you don’t have it in your mind. If I’m competitive in every race then all of my other goals will happen by themselves.
LRC: You’ve never run a 10,000, but after killing it at the 12K distance do you think it’s going to be the year to finally move up? Why did you never try the 10,000 previously?
BS: Last year I was considering doing a 10k on the track. Those plans were scratched because I’ve always wanted to make it in the 5k so badly that last year I ended up just wanting to get as comfortable as possible with that distance. I’ve also always had good speed at the shorter distances so it’s been hard for me to see myself as a 10k guy. My coach and I always (kind of) joke that I don’t know if I should focus on the 800 or the 10,000. We’ve really committed to the longer distances now so this year I will run the 10k at some point. The 12k just reinforces that I can have success with the 10k distance. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a learning curve to racing the 10k on the track.
LRC: What would you need to do this season (whether it be place at NCAAs or times) to walk away and say you were satisfied … that it was worth giving up 20 grand?
BS: A boring answer, but I would never think about the money again if I turned it down. That would only eat at me and make me question myself. But I do know that if I won an NCAA title the last thing I would be thinking about is the money.
LRC: What did you think of NAU’s performance at NCAAs? They were only ranked 10th coming in after you guys finished 2nd last year but ended up 4th (we initially asked for a prediction but Brian responded after the meet was over).
BS: I knew the guys would be ready to podium again. It was a matter of how high they would podium though. Working out with them, it was easy to see they were ready for a big race. In fact, I would argue that we had a pretty average race this year. I could have seen Futsum [Zienasellassie] winning, [Matt] McElroy being top 10, [Caleb] Hoover top 30, and Tyler [Byrne] and our number 5 top 60. I think the race being so slow made the results a little less predictable. We can’t complain with a 4th place finish though. Being on the podium 3 years in a row is never an easy thing to do. It just proves that Coach Heins is one of the best and most consistent coaches in the country. I believe he’s now been on the podium 5 of the 8 years he’s been coaching (Brian is correct).
More: : Molly Huddle Dominates As Unknown Brian Shrader Wins Men’s Race
*MB: What can you tell me about Brian Shrader? Just won US 12K Champs.
*MB: If you’re Brian Schrader, do you take the $20k and skip senior track season?