Brenda is USA’s first ever female 800m runner to receive a medal at the World Outdoor Championships. She graduated UC Riverside as a nationally credentialed student-athlete and now runs professionally for Team New Balance and is the President of Big Bear Track Club. Belle Lap shares her personal journey to success.
I have known Brenda since our college days, we both signed with New Balance and started our pro careers at a similar time. Brenda was a sweetheart back then and her success and medal count have only made her an even more giving, selfless person. Brenda and her husband are always supporting others. They have developed a track club in their hometown to help other athletes achieve their goals, they hold an annual training camp for young female athletes, they help and support athletes looking for an altitude base…the list goes on. What Brenda does on and off the track is incredible and I have huge admiration for her as a person and as an athlete. Today on the blog she gives an incredibly important interview sharing her experience about hard work, happiness and health. I believe people from all walks of life can learn so much from Brenda, her positive, inspiring nature is contagious and powerful. Brenda works hard, she rests hard… she races harder…and she gives so much back.
Belle Lap: How was your transition from high school to UC Riverside?
BM: My transition from High school to College was very challenging. There were many ups and downs and many lessons learned. I went from being taking care of, to learning to care for myself.
I had a hard time cooking for myself and eating healthy was very hard. These challenges also affected my running as I was getting injured and sick frequently. It was a learning experience and I wish I had known how to cook and be responsible, but in the end you learn and adapt.
Belle Lap: What was one of the key aspects of training that you learned during college?
BM: A key aspects I learned during college was to enjoy the process. I often used to rush things because I felt too busy with running and school. Sometimes you just have to take your time, take a big deep breath and a step back. I was tested emotionally, I learned that I had to be happy, when I realized I was in a good place in my life, things started to click. I carried this mentality to the track with me and racing went well. Listening to my body was another one. I learned to recover on certain days and push my body to it’s limits on the harder days. It’s been almost 6 years since I graduated and I continue to learn so much about myself and life.
Belle Lap: What did you learn outside of training?
BM: What I learned outside of training was that I had to be better in all areas of my life.
As I progressed through college I noticed my relationships with others were closer, like with family, friends and teammates. I know this might sound silly but I literally would tell myself that I want to be like Princess Diana, because her heart was so pure and she always put others before herself. I admire people like her and I learned that I have to be of good use in this life and help others.
Belle Lap:How did you manage the college workload and running?
BM: I majored in Sociology: Law and Society. I think I managed well but I still think I could have given more to my studies. Running was taking so much of my time and trying to recover, take naps and going into the training room was like a full-time job as well.
You just have to find a balance and continue to stick to that routine. It might be boring at times but when you think about what you want to do on and off the track, it’s all worth it. I would always picture myself making NCAA nationals and being competitive, so I was trying to do whatever I could to be better on and off the track.
Belle Lap:Which aspect of being a student- athlete do you miss the most?
BM: I miss my teammates, meeting up for workouts and traveling to races. Most of my teammates went on with their careers and stopped running. It was just fun because everyone held each other accountable and you just wanted to give it your best when you trained and competed.
Belle Lap:When did you know you wanted to run professionally?
BM: I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college, so my junior year I had decided to extend my season in the summer and go to Europe on my own. I managed to run 4:09 in the 1500m and 2:00 in the 800m in and around Belgium. Once I came back, I convinced my myself that this is what I wanted to pursue post-collegiately . I remember watching a Golden League meet on TV and being so pumped up by the performances and I had only wished to be a part of it one day.
Belle Lap:If you weren’t a pro runner then what would you love to be doing?
BM: My major would definitely be of no use since I want to go to nursing school. That goal will have to wait since running is full-time right now. I also don’t know how many more years I have in the sport…We will see.
Belle Lap:So tell us how you ended up living at Big Bear mountain and a little about how the Big Bear track club has developed.
BM: My Husband, Carlos Handler and I reached out to Coach Joe Vigil and he decided to help us with training. One of his requirements was that we live at altitude. We decided on Big Bear Lake, it sits at an elevation of 6,755ft and about an hour away from my hometown. The nice thing about Big Bear Lake is that you can drop down to sea level in about 50 minutes by car. We believe in living high and training low for harder sessions. I started Big Bear Track Club because I had such a hard time finding a group that would take me in after college. So over the years my husband has gained so much knowledge under the guidance of Coach Vigil, he decided to take on a couple of athletes and now our roster is at 8 people. Our current roster are athletes that maybe never made NCAA nationals but were knocking on the door. They have the potential and my husband is confident he can develop them into better athletes.
Belle Lap:If Your coach doesn’t live in Big Bear, how is your training communicated?
BM: Coach Vigil lives outside of Tucson, Arizona so over the years we have made it work. Coach Vigil will send a monthly schedule and our job is to execute the workouts. Carlos is his eyes so he reports to Coach by phone or email. Carlos will also write up a detailed log every two weeks about how the workout went, how I looked, how the weather was, etc… This helps Coach Vigil visualize my running even though he isn’t there.
Belle Lap: Describe the energy you and your group bring to workouts.
BM: It’s fun going to workouts or meeting up for runs. Everyone in the group has different personalities, but they mesh well with each other. The chemistry is good. I’m older than everyone in the group since most of them just graduated from college, so I try to lead the group by my attitude and actions.
Belle Lap:What are the key factors that brought your training and racing to the ‘next level’
BM: Reaching that next level is always hard. Always trying to be better than the last season is tough, but you learn along the way. Key factors that have helped me are: knowing that adaptation will occur in training if you push hard, learning to be uncomfortable most of the time, recovering on the easy days, making healthier food choices, and being happy. I try to find ways to be happy and to be in the best mood possible everyday. I like to have a clear mind when it comes to training.
Belle Lap: Tell us a little about the annual training camp you started up at Big Bear Lake.
BM: I always find ways to give back to the community, so I started a girls camp in 2013. I have a writing contest that is open prompt and the girls submit a letter to me. From there I pick 10 girls to come up for about 4 days. Most of these girls are underprivileged and it doesn’t cost them anything to write a letter. Camp doesn’t cost them anything because I’m not looking to make a profit. I just want to help. The girls come from all over Southern California and we do many activities like running, we have Clinics and Seminars, I give them the tools to help them be positive and confident. Last year athletes Laura Roesler and Megan Malasarte helped with the camp. New Balance has been very generous on donating 30 pairs of shoes (3 per student-athlete) and gear. I hope for my camp to grow over the years and possible have 20 or 30 girls every year.
Photo: Getty images
Belle Lap:You are the first female American 800m runner to win a medal at any Outdoor World Championships, charging the home stretch to a bronze medal in 2013. What does this accomplishment mean to you?
BM: The Championship in Moscow meant the world to me. That whole year I had my best training build up and every race I was getting more and more confident. I learned so much about myself that year, I was so happy before the Final. I just knew that if I gave it my best then I would be pleased with the outcome. Anyone in a final can be a medalist. It was very special when I crossed that line. When I came back home with the medal, my husband and I decided to help other athletes since we knew what we were doing was working (that’s how the track club developed) and we had a huge party at our house.
Belle Lap: What advice can you give to other female distance runners?
BM: My advice to other female athletes is you have to be happy. Don’t waste your time on negative things or situations because your life is too precious . Be happy and see what difference it can make in one day and in a year. Invest in yourself!
Belle Lap: We think it’s really exciting that the women’s 800m is an extremely competitive event in the USA, how does this motivate you?
It’s a tough event for sure. I just have to train harder and smarter and trust in my coaches. I have to execute training and racing to for everyone that has helped me and I have to do it for my supporters as well. There is a girl that looks up to me, so it’s my duty to be tougher in training and get better.
Belle Lap:Do you drink coffee? How do you take it?
BM: Yes. I have a coffee bar in the house that I built. I’ll either have a Nespresso with froth milk and a little bit of sugar or make a pot of Peet’s with creamer.
Belle Lap: What is your personal manta and how do you approach daily life?
BM: My personal mantra is “Attitude of Gratitude“. I always try to find ways to be better at everything and helping others along the way because that is what makes me happy and to me that is success. I have a good life and whatever is it that I receive I must give back.
Video courtesy of New Balance