The Journey Toward Improvement Never Stops – MileSplit

The Journey Toward Improvement Never Stops  MileSplit

“Whether you progress more quickly than expected or are struggling to achieve a certain goal, each of these elite athletes, along with myself, would agree that the most important thing you can do is trust yourself and trust the coaches that got you to where you are today.”

By Saxon Brown – Brashier Middle College Charter ’22

Libscomb signee ’26

My biggest fear has always been ceasing to improve. Ever since I started my track career, and even before, I’ve looked to improve every day. It’s this drive to improve that has fueled my performances in my career and continuously affirmed my love for the sport.  

A major catalyst for this improvement has been my goal-oriented approach to each season. Sitting with my coach at the beginning of the season and setting goals that I work tirelessly to achieve is the only way I know how to approach running. This has led me to become one of the top middle-distance runners in the state of South Carolina. 

But there are many different approaches to running at an elite level that can be effective. And so in order to understand the multiple paths that one may take to achieve those goals in track and field – and to understand the relationship between a runner’s success and how elite runners set goals for themselves – I talked to three of South Carolina’s best high school track and field athletes. 

First, I want to start with my story. Each year my coach and I lay out specific time-related goals for my main track events. I typically begin with time-based incentives as opposed to goals based on accolades or awards because I typically think that once I’ve reached my desired times, the accolades will come. 

My biggest fear has always been ceasing to improve. Ever since I started my track career, and even before, I’ve looked to improve every day. It’s this drive to improve that has fueled my performances in my career and continuously affirmed my love for the sport.

I pride myself on being ambitious but realistic with my goal-setting in order to constantly push myself towards improving. Once I’ve laid out my desired goals, I can collaborate with my coaches on the ideal plan to achieve them. The overall objective is to reach my peak at just the right time of the season, which is often done by balancing high-intensity interval workouts with aerobic building and recovery.  

When I asked Sam Rich, one of South Carolina’s top distance runners and the reigning SCHL AAAA champion in the 1,600m and the 3,200m – as well as the state’s defending state champion in cross country – how he establishes his goals,  this is what he had to say: “Before the season, I normally sit down with my coaches to talk about my goals. We talk about the certain races and various times I want to hit. The important thing for me is to set big goals that my coaches and I believe I can hit by the end of the season, but also setting smaller goals to use as a checklist to help me get to the bigger goals. 

About the author: 

Saxon Brown is a graduating senior at Brashier Middle College Charter in Greenville, South Carolina. He signed with Lipscomb University over the National Letter of Intent period and will finish off his final few weeks of high school track and field over the next few weeks, beginning with a date at the RunningLane Track Championships from May 27-28. He owns PRs of 48.65 in the 400m and 1:53.01 in the 800m. Here, he writes about the journey toward improvement. For most, it’s a road that continues on, wherever you go and how far you reach in this sport. 

“[There are] various goals such as [running] a certain time and [winning] a certain race, but it’s really helpful to lay out all that I want to accomplish and set my goals so that I can make a plan with my coaches that will help me achieve them.” 

Sam’s approach of using small goals to build towards larger ones has served him well, as he was the most dominant distance runner in the state during his 2021 campaign. That led to his scholarship to Notre Dame University, where he will join their elite men’s program.

When taking this approach, there is always the possibility of achieving goals faster than you expect. When this occurs in a season, it may lead you to adjust your objectives to match this rapid progression within the season. 

Personally, when thinking about rapid progression, I can think back to my third year running at the age of 13. I had come off of my first season fully committed to running track. I’d made great improvement, going from 2:24 to 2:17 in the 800m. But my season was cut short by my first ever major injury (to my hip). I began the very next season after a long recovery period by setting 2:07 as my goal for the entire season. But it was early on in that season that I determined that the goal would need to be adjusted. I progressed quickly towards 2:07, reaching that time by the AAU region championships. But I had a feeling all year that I could perform even better than I had shown. 

As a runner who works primarily with high-intensity intervals, when I progress quickly toward a goal, I tend to elevate the intensity of those intervals and aim for faster times in my workouts. That’s when I feel I can handle a higher intensity. 

I finally got my opportunity at the AAU Junior Olympics in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I ran a personal record time of 2:04 and surpassed my intended goal by over two seconds. Despite only finishing third in this race, I was more encouraged than I’d ever been about my ability to reach higher goals. 

This is the positive effect that comes from progressing quickly toward a goal: A reinvigoration of confidence in your own abilities. Looking for other examples of rapid improvement among runners in the state and how they responded to this improvement, I asked Ian Myers, an elite sprinter and Auburn commit – and the owner of PRs of 20.96 in the 200m and 10.18w in the 100m – to recall a time where he progressed toward a goal more quickly than he expected. 

He recounted: “A time I was surprised about how quickly I achieved a goal was when I broke my outdoor PR in the indoor season,” he said in reference to his recent explosion over the indoor campaign, in which he ran 21.13. “That’s when I knew that the outdoor season was going to be good.” 

Elite runners often use early success to propel themselves forward beyond what they ever expected, rather than becoming complacent; Ian is one of those special runners who never rested on his laurels. 

When success comes earlier than expected, there are many different approaches that can be taken in order to continue that progression. Many make little to no changes to their training because they think it’s the reason it’s gotten them to that point. But some will continue to ramp up their intensity, as they feel that they can handle more than they previously believed. 

As a runner who works primarily with high-intensity intervals, when I progress quickly toward a goal, I tend to elevate the intensity of those intervals and aim for faster times in my workouts. That’s when I feel I can handle a higher intensity. However, despite the change in intensity, the overall structure and goal of those workouts is to remain constant throughout the season. This approach has guided me to constant improvement throughout my career. 

To compare approaches, I spoke to the premier sophomore middle-distance runner in the state of South Carolina, Knox Young, and asked him how his approach changes when he achieves a goal faster than he expected. 

He told me: “You just make the goals sometimes even more than what you think you can get so that you don’t just have to restate your goals.” 

When asked about making any changes to his training, he added, “You just have to trust your coaches and keep going.” 

It can be said fairly consistently that one big key for success with runners is trusting their training. It’s an approach that has led Knox to quickly rise on a national level.

With times of great success and progress, there are also times of stagnation and frustration. Many factors can contribute to this frustration, but it is important to understand how to deal with that frustration and stay on the course to achieve a goal. 

When I think back to a time when I was frustrated by my difficulty of reaching a goal, it was during my fourth season in track at the age of 14. My mind was set on breaking two minutes the entire season, and as I approached the end of the campaign I became more and more frustrated that I hadn’t reached the time. Despite my concern, my coach instilled confidence that I had done everything in my power to reach my goal. 

I simply needed to trust myself. 

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After heeding this advice, I was able to run my desired time of 1:59 in my last race of the season. The lesson I took from this experience is that even in times of struggle, I should continue to trust my training and not stray from it. Dealing with adversity is the mark of a great athlete. 

With that in mind, I wanted to ask Rich, Myers and Young how they overcame any struggles they had in achieving a goal. I began with Rich. 

“All of  high school I had the goal of making the Foot Locker [Nationals] in San Diego for cross country … that was my big goal coming into cross country this past year. I was in really good shape, but in the qualifying race I tore my hamstring and wasn’t able to qualify for it. 

“This was a really big disappointment for me, and it really made me think about things differently. It’s been a really motivating experience and has led me to make even bigger goals for the track and try to be even better. I just had to focus on myself and getting better and being confident in me which has helped me overcome some of the frustration from that race.” 

Myers followed by telling me: “Last year, when I wasn’t doing as good as I thought I should; I just kept training and kept confident and then I surpassed where I wanted to be at the end of the season.” 

Finally, Young told me how he dealt with his struggles: “This season I got injured for the first time and it [was] tough not to be out there training, and I tried my hardest to get back to training [and was able to recover]. 

Whether it be internal or external factors contributing to frustration or inhibiting a runner from reaching their goals, it is clear that the key to overcoming this frustration is maintaining self-confidence. 

Another consistent theme when speaking to these runners and reflecting on my own personal experiences is the importance of setting goals that are ambitious and force you to push yourself. 

Once you approach those goals, it’s important to adjust your training to continue progressing and to aim for more ambitious goals. Whether you progress more quickly than expected or are struggling to achieve a certain goal, each of these elite athletes, along with myself, would agree that the most important thing you can do is trust yourself and trust the coaches that got you to where you are today.

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