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Interview: Ann Marie Brooks

Ann Marie Brooks anchors Missouri's winning Distance Medley Relay (1,200m, 400m, 800m, 1,600m) at the 2001 NCAA Indoor Championships. The other members of Missouri's winning team were Kerry Hils, Sunny Gilbert and Ashley Wysong.
( Photo)

We watched Ann Marie Brooks destroy the competition as she anchored Missouri's winning Distance Medley Relay at Indoor NCAAs (with a 4:36 1,600m split) and wondered who's that? She was back the next day, finishing second to Shannon Smith in the 3,000m in a personal best of 9:12.43, completing one of the most successful distance doubles of the weekend, and letting everyone know to watch out for her in the future. (03-26-01)

FW: First of all, congratulations on your excellent performances at NCAAs. Were you surprised by your success or did you feel pretty confident going in?

AMB: I was surprised, but I wasn't surprised. It's hard to explain. I've been on such a roll this season. I knew I was fit and I was confident -- not only in myself but also in the other three girls on the [distance medley] relay. I knew we were all in the best shape that we've been in all year.

Some people were asking us before the meet -- because we had the top seed time -- if we felt the pressure to win. We didn't really feel pressured but we knew that we could do it, so we were really excited. When I crossed the finish line it was just crazy to know that I crossed the line before anyone else and that we were the best in the nation on that one day. But at the same time, I know we couldn't have done it without the other three girls on the team too.

FW: What place was your team in when you got the baton (for the anchor, 1,600m leg)?

AMB: We were in fourth but it was pretty bunched up. One and two were close together and then there was one or two seconds and then three and four. Third place was North Carolina and I can't remember who was first and second.

FW: So you got the baton a few seconds behind and ended up winning by more than five seconds. Did you get your 1,600m split?

AMB: 4:36.

FW: Wow. The open mile (the next day) was won in 4:39. What made you choose to run the 3,000m over the open mile? Did you qualify in the mile?

AMB: I did (qualify), I ran 4:45, but I ran the 3 so many times that there weren't really many chances for me to run an open mile. I ran the mile a lot at the beginning of the season and last year I really concentrated on the mile because I didn't have the mileage to run a 3k. So then this year, as soon as I ran the 3 and saw what I was capable of with the higher mileage, I started running that a little more. It makes it hard with the mile that there's a prelim. in all the meets and with me being on the DMR also, it just made more sense to run the 3k.

FW: Do you think you'll focus more on the mile in the future?

AMB: It all depends on what kind of DMR we have. If we don't have a DMR then I'm pretty sure I'd be able to run the prelim. on the first day and the mile and the 3 on the second day. The mile was my favorite thing until this year but now I like the 3 also.

FW: Do you think you'll try any longer distance?

AMB: In outdoor they're getting rid of the flat 3,000 and putting in a steeplechase now. I don't think I could do the steeplechase because I'm not tall enough and I'm not really flexible and I don't think I could get over the hurdles.

I'm going to do the 1,500 and I'm going to try the 5. It's been two years since I ran a 5 on the track. I'm going to do that at Stanford -- it'll be my first outdoor race, just to see where I stand and how it feels. If I don't want to do the 1,500 or the 5, I'll probably have to start looking at the 800, just so I don't have to do the 1,500 all the time.

FW: At the beginning of the 2001 indoor track season, what were your best times?

AMB: My fastest 3k was 9:43 and that was outdoors, my fastest 3k indoors wasn't even under 10 minutes. My fastest mile was a 4:47 and that was last year in indoor.

FW: What about the 1,500?

AMB: I don't even know. I ran it a lot during outdoor -- it was either high 4:20s or low 4:30s.

FW: To what do you attribute this huge breakthrough? Did you do anything differently?

AMB: Umm… (thinking) Yeah, a lot of things were different. The first year I was in college I didn't compete. I didn't want to be on the team at all. So I was not running at all for a year. A distance runner's body starts to change -- you just get to not have a runner's body. The first two years back running were tough for me because I was hurt all the time. Once I'd feel healthy and get my mileage up, I'd have some kind of injury so it wasn't like I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing, it was that I couldn't do it because my body wasn't holding up.

Over [the summer of 2000] my mileage was high, I wasn't hurt, and cross country was pretty good. Coming off of cross country, I was a little disappointed after NCAAs and I just knew that there were a couple more things that I could fine tune a little bit better. My mileage went up just a little bit more, and then the intensity of all my distance runs was a little bit better, like 7-minute pace or under for all of them. And then I've just started looking at my diet a little bit more, just to fine tune some things that could be improved. If I'm right on the verge of this level and the next, I want to be sure that while I'm [at Missouri], I go as far as I can and get as fast as I can, so I might as well make every effort I can to get faster. I've cut a lot of fat and sugar out of my diet.

FW: What kinds of things do you eat now?

AMB: I'm not psycho about it or anything… I don't do any of that fad stuff. I try not to eat anything from a box that's already mixed up that's packaged. But once in a while I do. And I used to be a super chocolate and sweets junkie but I just kind of weaned myself off that slowly. I've been eating a lot more vegetables and drinking a lot more milk (laughs). I don't know if that has anything to do with it but all of the sudden I just go through like a gallon in three days, it's crazy.

FW: And what kind of mileage are you doing now?

AMB: Over Christmas break there was one week where I was at 69. That's really high for me and that's high [among runners at] my school. I know that among professional runners it's not very high but it's definitely a step up for me. So I did that and then I went down to the 60s for a couple of weeks and then I stayed at 59 all the way up until the week after Big 12's. So even the week before nationals I did a long run. And then last week (leading up to nationals) I just sort of ran whatever I felt like and this week I'm just like running if I want, and taking days off if I want.

FW: You mentioned Stanford as your outdoor opener. What other meets will you be focusing on this spring?

AMB: I know what's on our schedule, but I don't know what I'll be running at all of them. I know for sure we're looking at Mt. Sac in Walnut, California. I've never been to that meet before but maybe I'll do a 1,500 or a 5k there and then we have a couple of home meets where I'll just take off or I'll just be relaxed.

[We may have] a 4x800 at Drake Relays. I've never been on that either but they won that two years in a row. I guess now they're thinking about putting me on there too, which is kind of scary (laughs).

Overall, I'm kind of focusing towards June. I don't care how I run at Stanford, I don't even really care how I run at the home meets, as long as I'm healthy in June. I've never been to NCAAs in outdoor before so it would be really cool to get to go.

FW: Would you run USATF nationals if you qualified?

AMB: Yeah, for sure. If I made it, I would. That would be awesome… I was in Eugene over Christmas break and I just keep thinking how much I want to go back there in June (where the NCAA Championships will take place)… I went to Pre's rock while I was there and that was pretty cool.

FW: What year are you in school and how much eligibility do you have left?

AMB: This is my fourth year of college… I have one of each season left.

FW: Could you tell us a little about your decision to quit running after high school and how you then got back into it?

AMB: All through high school, I built up the activities I was doing, each year I'd add a couple more things. I only started running so I could meet some people at my school and just get involved in something, so that was kind of the first activity I took up when I was a freshman. It wasn't even to be competitive or anything because I had no idea what was going to happen competitively -- that I was going to kind of go to the top of it.

By my senior year, I was really burnt out with the honors program at my school, and I was the yearbook and the newspaper editor, and just the running and everything… I had a really stressful and long senior year. I was kind of looking forward to being normal (in College) -- just go to school and get to watch TV or stay up late if I wanted… Just be a student and see if there were other things that I was interested in. I didn't want to be missing out on other interests or stuff that I could be good at just because I was too stressed to look at anything else.

My senior year (of high school) I got recruited a lot and I wouldn't even talk to the coaches or anything. For one I was just really busy and I was like I don't want to talk to these people, it's not going to do any good, I'm just going to tell them no… So my dad mostly handled all those calls and all the mail and stuff, but he told them if I changed my mind, we'd call them.

Coach Pigg, who was the coach here then, was really persistent, but he kind of did what my dad said. There was a point that Coach Pigg wanted to meet me -- and I hadn't taken any recruiting visits at all because I wasn't interested -- so he came to St. Joseph to meet me… We didn't even really talk about running. At that time I was interested in teaching and we just sort of talked about teaching and working with kids… Then he left and I thought he was really nice but I didn't really want to run. He was like, "Well I guess we'll just have a really fast jogger on campus if you're not going to be on the team." And I was like, "Yeah, I guess so."

And even then I didn't jog very much, I was hardly running at all. I ran like twice first semester and that was really nice because I just needed to get away from it because I had kind of lost the desire. In distance running, a huge part of it is desire, probably 99% of it -- you've just gotta want it. And if you don't have the desire to be competitive, not against other people but against your own self, then distance running is kind of pointless. So I had to let it rest for a while.

When I graduated, I thought there was no way I'd ever go back to competitive running again because I was just so burnt out on it. But by the time the spring came and the weather started warming up, I was kind of itching for something physical to do. I had been volunteering at this stable for kids -- helping them to learn to ride horses -- and that just wasn't physical enough so I started running a little bit. One day, all of the sudden, I was like maybe I should run. So I called Coach Pigg and asked him and then I called my dad, and the next day I was out there picking up a training schedule.

FW: Was it hard to get back into running?

AMB: Physically, it was pretty hard. I had actually lost weight my first semester so it wasn't like I was heavy or anything but all the runners' muscles and stuff were just not there anymore. So my body would be really sore and I'd get tendonitis everywhere -- that part of it was hard.

The mental part got tough too then when I was hurt so much because they were frustrating, nagging injuries. I got MRIs and bone scans a couple times and they'd say there was nothing wrong with me, but I knew there was because it hurt so bad. It was just, I think, the adjustment of trying to race at the college level after a year off after high school. So mentally it got tough too because I'd look at myself in the mirror and watch tapes of myself in races that my dad took and I'd say I look so fit, why am I not running faster? That got frustrating, but the important thing was that once I gained back the will to be competitive, I never lost it, no matter how many setbacks I had.

So now that I'm healthy and I've trained pretty well, everything is so easy. I'll get done racing and my roommate (who is on the team) will say "you just ran 4:45 in the mile, wasn't that so hard?" and I'm like "no, it was really easy." And she'll be like "how can it be so easy when it was so fast?" And I said "I don't know, I think it was just that I had so many hard races in the past two years that it just seems easy now."

FW: Could you tell us a little about the camaraderie on your team?

AMB: Our team is super close. There's one big group and if you ever had a problem or needed someone to talk to, you could go to any one of them, including the coaches, or even the trainers. Our whole team is just so closeknit, and the men's and the women's teams are closeknit. Even at practice you'll see us all mixed together. It's not like at a lot of schools where the men and the women have totally different coaches, different schedules and everything. Missouri's not like that and I really like that.

Another thing that helps our unity is that most of us are from Missouri and if not from Missouri, a good percentage are from the Midwest… That just makes it kind of fun when we win or do well. Our DMR (at indoor nationals) was all people from Missouri so that's really exciting…

Most of the people on the team live with other people on the team and that helps out. Just within the DMR it was really fun because I lived with Sunny (Gilbert) two years ago and my roommate this year was roommates last year with another girl on it. We all know each other so well and we just have a great time and stuff, not only at practice but we go out to eat together, study together… It's kind of like we're all one big family of sisters or something (laughs).

FW: You mentioned Jeff Pigg as the coach, he's no longer at Missouri, correct? Who is your main coach now?

AMB: Yeah, he's the head coach at Illinois State now. He was an assistant distance coach here and then he moved over to be the head coach at Illinois State. He made that decision last summer. So our coach now is Rebecca Wilmes. She ran here three years ago, she's married to Jared Wilmes who coaches the men and she takes care of the women. She ran at the Olympic Trials last summer… She's a miler and I'm a miler so I'm just sort of under her wing.

FW: You mentioned running the 5,000m this spring, would you ever go longer, like 10,000m or would you ever dream of running a marathon?

AMB: I don't know (laughs). People ask me that all the time -- they're like you run so much, you could run a marathon… I look at what kind of mileage professional runners do and I'm definitely not training for that now. At some point I might be able to but the longer I've been in college, I've started to develop some speed. So if I ever did that, it would be a long ways down the road before I ever gave up the speed-type running. But if somewhere down the road I wasn't racing in competitive track meets anymore and I still liked to run, I might some marathons just for fun. I don't see that being a major competitive area for me.

FW: Where do you see yourself going after college. Do you think you'll try to pursue a running career?

AMB: It's so hard to say because it all depends on what kinds of times I'm running and it also depends on if I'm enjoying it. The number one thing is that I'm enjoying it, and if I'm not, then I'm done. I've already kind of shown before that I can step away from it if I don't like it. So that's the main thing.

And the second thing is that you have to be fast -- you have to be fast enough that somebody wants you to keep running. I have good enough grades and interest in my major, that I could go and do great things in that too. Ideally, I'd be done with school a year from now and looking to be training somewhere but it all depends on how fast I get. I guess if I get faster than I am now, maybe that's possible, just a little.

FW: What is your major and what kind of career do you think it would lead to?

AMB: Plant science. You can either choose horticulture or agronomy and I'm doing the horticulture, so it's like ornamental plants. Last summer I did a biology internship with it and that was more basic research. This summer I'm doing a 12-week internship at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and they're the second-best Botanical Garden in the U.S. That'll be pretty good, it's 40 hours a week so I'll learn a lot. Hopefully, when I get done, I'd work in a Botanical Garden but a lot of people are interested in plants so it's a pretty competitive job… and then maybe graduate school too.

FW: Do you have any role models?

AMB: I'd have to say my parents are my biggest role models. And that's kind of a cliché answer but I look at pretty much everything in my life and I do it exactly like either my mom or my dad... The values that I have and things I'm interested in... We grew up interested in nature, always doing stuff outside, going camping. My mom she loved to read to me when I was little and I still like to read. My mom had a garden and now I'm a plant science major… I just think that a lot of things they did, they did right. I'm just kind of turning into them I guess (laughs).

FW: Do you find time to pursue other interests outside of your schoolwork and your running?

AMB: A lot of people ask me that and I probably sound really boring when I say no, but the things I do, I like to do really well. So if I'm going to cook dinner, I'm going to make something really nice, something I'll enjoy eating. If I'm going to do my homework, I'll try not to just sit down and do what I have to do to get by…

Other than the things that I "have" to do like school and running, I really like to write and I'll just do that in my free time. I haven't as much lately because I've been sleeping a lot. What else… Well my best friend got engaged and I'm the maid of honor so that's going to start taking up some time (laughs).

I really like to cook and find new recipes and stuff - try to take something that I used to eat that had a ton of fat and modify it to make it a little healthier and still be good. I'm pretty happy with it when it turns out.

FW: You said you only like to do things well -- do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?

AMB: Yeah, probably. I hate to be "labeled" like that but if you asked anyone else, they would probably say that I am. If it's not right, I keep doing it until it is right. And if I don't understand it, I won't give up until I do understand it. I know that's not the perfect way to be, I put myself under a little too much stress, but I pushed myself to the limit in high school of how stressed I could be, so I'm a lot better at it now. It's about trying to let things go that don't matter, trying to be a little more attentive to the things that really do matter -- like being happy. So if I find out that something's making me unhappy, I try to let it slide if I can.

FW: Well good luck with your outdoor season and everything else, we hope to see you at Nationals!

AMB: Thanks.


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