HOUSTON (12-Jan) -- Aaron Braun had one of the best seasons of any American distance runner last year, taking runner-up spots at two national championships, winning the Manchester Road Race and tying the course record, and twice running sub-27:55 for 10,000m, including a 27:41.54 personal best at the Olympic Trials where he finished fifth.
But many of those performances went unnoticed by both fans and the media alike because Braun didn't win a national title or make the Olympic team. However, they put the 25 year-old athlete, who grew up in Fort Collins, Colo., and ran for NCAA Division II powerhouse Adams State, squarely into the top echelon of American 10-K athletes, just below Galen Rupp, Dathan Ritzenhein, Matt Tegenkamp and Chris Derrick. Braun, who will run tomorrow's Aramco Houston Half-Marathon here, said that his work ethic, not his talent, has brought him to this point.
"Ever since I started running, part of the reason I love it is because the more hard work you put into it the better and better you're going to get," he said in an exclusive interview with Race Results Weekly. "Maybe if you have a lot of talent you can succeed right away, but up until then there's no shortcuts to success. You just have to put in the work."
Braun puts in that work under coach Greg McMillan in the thin air of Flagstaff, Ariz., where he lives with his wife, Annika, and their 15-month-old daughter Makenzie. He joined McMillan's group in the fall of 2010, and won the USA National Club Cross Country Championships that December. He made six national championships podiums in 2011 from the mile to 15-kilometers, but did not win any titles. Still, he knocked his 5000m time down to 13:27.01, and broke 28-minutes for 10,000m for the first time (27:57.88). Methodical improvement is what works for him, said Braun.
"I've been working at this for a long time, probably, seriously, since I got into college," Braun reasoned. "I believe I've gotten a good amount better every year, and I just believe in the sport in general, as long as I keep doing the things I've been doing and believe that I can make those strides every year."
At Sunday's half-marathon he has a chance to record his first-ever mark at the distance (he dropped out of the national championships here in 2011). He said his training had gone reasonably gone well, and he's been anxious to run another top-level race after his Manchester victory. He said he intends to treat the first ten miles like a "long tempo," then "turn it into a race" for the last 5-K.
"I like to race. After Manchester it was tough to know that I was fit and excited to race, but had to wait another seven weeks for this race," he lamented. "Workouts didn't go too great the first couple of weeks (after Manchester), so Greg and I decided to take kind of a down week to rest, really more mentally than physically. Ever since then, workouts have started to come around, and I'm feeling like myself again."
After Sunday's race, Braun will likely turn his focus to preparing for the track season. His ultimate goal is a top-3 finish at the USA Outdoor Championships in Des Moines and a spot of the national team for the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Moscow. Braun has never competed at a global championships, and he said he "learned a lot" from his fifth place finish at the Olympic Trials last year which would help him get there.
"It depends on how fast I run tomorrow and how much success I have, but I think more than likely I want to get ready for a track season," he concluded. "I think there is still a lot of improvement in the 10-K, mainly, and maybe a 5-K here and there. But I think my big goal will be to try to make the team for the 10-K." He added: "The more success I have the more confidence I'll have."
The weekend has already started well for the Braun family. Wife Annika won the ABB 5-K here this morning in 17:57 in soaking humidity (the weather is supposed to improve for tomorrow).
"Up half the night with a sick baby, but still managed a sub 18 and first female win at Houston 5k!" Annika Braun tweeted this morning.
PHOTO: Aaron Braun in advance of the 2013 Aramco Houston Half-Marathon (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly).