Elite Milers Trade the Track for the Trails

Apr. 13, 2018

Last year, former elite miler Darren Brown overturned the popular belief in the running world that speed on the track doesn’t translate to the trails. In 2008, when Brown was running for the University of Texas, he ran 3:59 for the mile, breaking the gold, four-minute standard in that distance. Brown raced professionally until 2012, when he stopped competing to coach his wife, Sarah Brown, who is also an elite miler.

Although supposedly retired, Brown crushed XTERRA Trail Runs last year, showing that his talent isn’t just limited to running in circles and that he’s got endurance as well as raw speed. At XTERRA Oak Mountain, Brown was runner up to Kenyan distance runner, Richard Kimani. Brown then went on to win the XTERRA Beaver Creek 20K and was sixth at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in Utah.

This year, his wife Sarah Brown will be taking on the trails as well.

While racing for University of Tennessee, Sarah Brown was a nine-time NCAA All American and 4-time NCAA champion in middle distance events. She has run a 4:03 1500 and a blazing 4:26 in the mile.

In 2015, during one of her most successful seasons ever, she became pregnant, which both she and Darren admit was a bit of a surprise. Because it was an Olympic qualifying year – and maybe because the Browns are a little bit stubborn – she trained through her pregnancy under a doctor’s supervision. Just four months after giving birth to her daughter, she was lacing up her spikes for the 1500 at the US Olympic Trails in an effort to earn a spot to Rio.

Unfortunately, Sarah didn’t make the team, despite the fact that her 4:03 qualifying time was faster than the US Olympic runners ran in the 1500 in Rio. However, what Sarah Brown learned was that it’s possible to pursue more than one dream – she didn’t have to stop running to start a family, and she didn’t have to put her family on hold for her running career. This year, she is also likely to prove that just because she trains on the track, doesn’t mean she can’t also excel on the trails.

“I’m hoping to get Sarah out to XTERRA Beaver Creek and the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in Snowbasin,” said Darren, who still coaches his wife. “And then of course we’ll be at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in Hawaii.”

Darren will once again be taking on the trails at the XTERRA Oak Mountain 20K on May 21st in Pelham, Alabama in an attempt to climb one step higher on the podium. Last year’s champ, Richard Kimani hasn’t committed to racing yet, so this year’s XTERRA Oak Mountain 20K might be Brown’s race to lose.

“The plan was to do the XTERRA Championship off-road triathlon the day before too, but winter has been tough for mountain biking around here,” said Brown, who now lives in Massachusetts. He began training for XTERRA off-road triathlons after cross-training with his wife during her pregnancy.

The decision to focus on the trail run at XTERRA Oak Mountain rather than the tri follows the philosophy of Brown’s 2018 New Year’s Resolution, which is to be more present and focus on the task at hand. “My goal to be more present will allow me to be the best version of myself in every scenario instead of a good version in any scenario. At least that's the hope!”

Like Kimani, the 2017 Oak Mountain 20K women’s champ Jennifer McGranahan hasn’t yet decided for sure whether she will be defending her title next month. Last year, McGranahan, of Florida, ran 1:33 on the technical course, which translates to a speedy 7:26 pace. She came in almost six minutes ahead of runner up Tiffany Dudley.

McGranahan’s dream is to compete in the US Olympic Marathon Trials. “I feel like if I had a very smart, consistent training plan with a group to train with, I could accomplish this dream,” said McGranahan.

On the course, McGranahan recommends giving into the downhills in order to steal time on the course.

“Last year I used the gravity of the downhills to provide natural momentum,” said McGranahan. “That is the beauty of trail running. The constant challenge of navigating the roots and terrain entertains and invigorates your mind and body.”

At almost 10,000 acres with over 50 miles of trails, Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Alabama is one of the largest and most beautiful state parks in the country. From its humble beginning as a 940-acre park atop Double Oak Mountain established by the Alabama State Lands Act of 1927, Oak Mountain State Park has grown to 9,940 acres making it Alabama’s largest state park.

Learn more and register for XTERRA Oak Mountain.

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