Interview with Loyola senior distance runner, Robert Brandt

1.) How did you get your start in running? What other sports have you played aside from XC and
As a kid I always knew I had some talent in running but never really focused on it partly because it made me so nervous. My dad is an avid runner, so I would occasionally join him for runs, but when it came to racing, I never really enjoyed it because I was so scared to lose. I've always loved to compete and have played almost every sport there is, even a little lacrosse. My favorite sport before running had always been soccer, and I played club soccer for about 5 years. My soccer coach would always play me at midfield because I could run up and down the field forever. The first time I realized that running was my forte was in 8th grade when I ran a 4:52 1600, and when I came to Loyola the next year, Coach Diaz took me under his wing; and I never looked back.

2) Loyola has a great history of distance running success. What was your experience as a freshman and sophomore? Who were the older runners that served as mentors for you? Highlights for you from your freshman/sophomore XC and TF seasons?
Coming into Loyola, I wasn't really sure what to expect. In 8th grade I ran maybe once a week, so when I started doing two a day practices at Loyola, it was extremely hard for me. Coach Diaz saw potential in me; immediately, he put me with the varsity group even though they were much faster than I was. I was extremely small freshman and sophomore year, I was only 5ft tall and about 90 pounds, so when it came to speed workouts I finished last almost every time against the varsity guys. On Mondays we did 400 repeats, and Coach Diaz would call out our splits, "sixty-four...sixty-five...sixty-six," but when I came through he would shout, "Monday!.....Tuesday!....Wednesday!" Eventually, all the tough workouts paid off, and I was able to gain an alternate spot on the varsity squad that went on to become the Runner-Up at the State Meet in Division 2 my freshman year. That track season I was able to achieve PR's of 9:48 at Arcadia in the 3200 and 4:39 in the 1600. My sophomore cross-country season was my toughest season of all. I felt tired, burned out and I saw very little improvement. After a long break and a lot of base training I came back stronger during my sophomore track season and had a break out 3200 race running 9:25 at the Mt. Sac Relays. Being a young runner at Loyola I had so many guys to look up to including Josh Lewis, Ned Trim, and Charlie Marquardt who all embodied what it means to be humble, disciplined, and hard working. I also frequently keep in touch with JP Slater, Mark Matusak, and David Torrence who all ran at Loyola under Coach Diaz and have been huge influences in my life.

3) When do you feel like you made your biggest jump in terms of your times and confidence in the past four years?
My biggest jump in my times and confidence was definitely from my sophomore to junior year. I first began to notice a breakthrough in my running up at our annual mammoth training camp. I was stronger, bigger, and my training runs were much faster than before. CIF finals at Mt. Sac my junior year was when I truly realized my potential. My goal was to place in the top 10, but when I came off of reservoir hill I was in the lead. I ended up getting second in the race to Dana Hill's Jake Ogden, but my performance was far beyond my expectations and from then on I knew that I was capable of running with the best in the state.

4) Heading into your senior XC season, did you do anything differently over the summer than previous seasons? How much mileage per week? Any workouts? Camps?
Heading into my senior year training stayed relatively the same, but I added a little more mileage on my own. One of the biggest reasons for Loyola's success is because of our assistant coach Dr. Frank Meza, known to us as "Doc." Every morning during the summer we meet him at various parks in the Los Angeles area and we run hills....lot's of them. We are never really sure what the workout will be when we meet Doc but it's always hard and usually ends with everyone hunched over gasping for air. Doc always tells us "You have to be comfortable feeling uncomfortable" and whether it be a hard workout or the final lap of a 3200 I always remember this. During the summer we also go to a training camp in Mammoth for ten days. One workout in particular that I will always remember is what we call "long hill repeats." We do 3 sets of 3 on an insanely steep hill about 600 meters long. But there is a catch...instead of jogging to the bottom of the hill to start the next set we pile into the van and are driven back to the bottom where we hop out and start again, so there is basically no recovery. Overall Loyola is a pretty low mileage program, only doing about 50 miles a week, but the intensity of our workouts is always very high.

5) Looking back at your senior season, do you feel like you achieved your goals? What were your best
races and proudest accomplishments?
Overall I am very happy with my senior cross-country season. Before the season I sat down with Coach Diaz and we both agreed that a big goal for the season was to qualify for NXN. When I crossed the finish line in Fresno it was bitter sweet because I wanted to go for the win but placed second behind Phillip Rocha of Arcadia, however by placing second I qualified for NXN. It was such a good feeling because not only did I achieve my seasonal goal, but also I was going do it with my coach right beside me, for coach Diaz was selected to be the coach of the California individuals at NXN. My NXN experience was something I will never forget. NXN was the first time I had ever taken a race out conservatively coming by the mile at 4:50-4:55. I was in about 60th place at the mile mark but the whole race I continued to ease my way up in the pack eventually crossing the line in 13th. After the race I walked over to Coach Diaz exhausted, covered in mud and gave him a big hug knowing that all the hard work from freshman year went into that very moment. That was something I will never forget.

6) Did you take time off after XC? What did you focus on during the winter as far as training?
Yes, I took two weeks off of running after my XC season to recuperate from a tough 3 months of racing and instead focused on some strength work during that time. During the winter, especially in December and January I focused on mileage and did very little intensity. A lot of the runs I did during the winter were with Loyola alum JP Slater who went on to run at Cal Berkeley and currently runs professionally. He has been a huge inspiration for me and was able to teach me a lot going into my final track season at Loyola. After many long tedious miles of base training I didn't start any serious training until mid February.

7) Tell us a little about your coach at Loyola and how he has helped you develop into the runner you are today?
Running is only a very small aspect of what Coach Diaz has done for me and I cannot thank him enough for all the time and effort he has put into not only me, but our entire team. It has been a privilege to have been coached by such a dedicated man with an outstanding passion for what he does. He has helped me with everything from academics, personal issues, as well as running. He works on developing the whole person and not just the athlete.

8) You have committed to running at Cal. How many other schools were under consideration? What led to your decision in choosing Cal?
Before committing to Cal my top three were UCLA, Notre Dame, and of course Cal. The thing that sealed the deal for me at Cal was when I took an unofficial visit last January after my junior cross-country season. I thought that I would be able to mesh well with the team and I could really see myself at Cal more than any other school. Everyone on the team was focused both athletically and academically and those are the types of people I want to surround myself with. Also, I thought Cal had a great balance of coaching with Coach Houlihan and Coach Davis as assistants and Coach Sandoval as head Coach. They made me feel very comfortable and made it clear that they wanted me to succeed. Loyola runners also have a great legacy at Cal and having guys that I ran with as a freshman/sophomore at Loyola on the Cal team is pretty cool too.

9) This past weekend, you ran 8:56.69 in the 3200 on Friday and followed that up with a 4:14.07 1600 on Saturday. Did you have times you been shooting for before each race? Describe the 3200 first. What about the 1600 the next day? Which felt more difficult?
Before the 3200 my hope was to just get close to 9 flat, I wasn't expecting to go sub 9 this early in the season. When the gun went off the race went out relatively slow. At first I tried sitting in with the pack but I felt really good and decide to go for it. I came by the 1600 in 4:28 feeling very smooth so I continued to press finishing in 8:56. It was definitely a surprise to me because I didn't think I was in that kind of shape at this point, but I am definitely going to take a few weeks off of intense racing in order to gear up for the Arcadia Invitational 3200. The 1600 the next day I didn't feel as strong as I did in the 3200. It was pretty hot and my legs definitely didn't feel as sharp, but coming back with a 4:14 after a strong effort the night before was still pretty satisfying.

10) What races are you most looking forward to the rest of the season? Will you be racing past the CA regular season?
I am really looking forward to Arcadia and the Mt SAC Relays. At Mt. Sac I might try another 5k, but I am very excited to see what we can do as a team in the DMR. There is nothing more rewarding than doing well as a team. Yes, I am hoping to do either the 5k or 2mile at NB nationals.

11) Looking back at your high school running experience, what do you feel you did well and what would you say were learning experiences for you?
If I could change one thing about my high school running experience it would be to have more patience. My sophomore year I learned the hard way and trained way too hard too early. In the off-season I tried doing close to 90 mile weeks and by the end of my sophomore XC season I was barely holding onto a varsity spot. Still, I sometimes get carried away in my early season training and that can be very dangerous when trying to run late into the season. Patience and discipline are very important in running and one needs to know the right time to train hard and when to take it easy.

12) Favorite XC invite? Favorite XC course? Favorite XC workout? Favorite long run? Favorite track invite? Favorite track race? Favorite track workout? Favorite event non-distance event? Favorite opponents?
My favorite XC invite and course would definitely be Mt. Sac. The course is brutal and is a true test to every runner. The last mile of Mt. Sac this year was probably the most painful last mile I have ever run. Austin Tamagno absolutely worked me in that last mile, but that's what I love about the sport. It will beat you down and bring out the best, and sometimes the worst in all of us. My favorite XC workout is 18x400 at 65. My favorite long run is a run we do from Loyola to Los Feliz Blvd. and back; it's around 12 miles. Favorite track invite would definitely be Arcadia just because of how competitive the atmosphere is. Favorite track race is the 3200. Favorite track workout is 800, 1600, 1600, 800 (2 sets). My favorite non-distance event would definitely be the 4x4. My favorite competitors are Jake Ogden, Carlos Suarez and Phillip Rocha. They are all super nice guys and I have had a great time competing with them these past few years.

13) If you had to choose the top three keys to being an outstanding distance runner, what would be those keys?
1.) Key #1: Stay Dedicated
It sounds cliché, but in order to become a successful distance runner you have to fully dedicate yourself to the sport. You can't skip workouts or make excuses, you have to follow a plan and execute it with precision.

2.) Key #2: Be Patient
Patience is extremely important in becoming successful. For me I didn't see improvement right away, but I stayed dedicated to a plan and new that someday I would eventually see results. When setting goals it is easy to get carried away, however it is much more rewarding when you set a lot of short term goals in pursuit of the final larger goal. This helps to keep you motivated and on track.

3.) Key #3: Surround Your-self with those who are better than you
I attribute a lot of my success to this last point. If you surround yourself with others who work hard and are maybe slightly better than you are it will push you to reach your full potential. This also helps keep you humble and focused. As a freshman/sophomore I always looked up to the upper classmen and was able to gain a lot of knowledge from them that I now apply to my running and is a big reason for my improvement.

14) Anything else you would like to add.
Thank you so much for this opportunity! Special thanks to my Mom and Dad for all the opportunities they have given me and for supporting me in everything that I pursue.