By David VergunFebruary 15, 2016
LOS ANGELES (Army News Service, Feb. 14, 2016) -- "A marathon is like a war," said Maj. Dan Browne, a 2004 U.S. Olympic runner and member of the Oregon Army National Guard.
There is a lot of planning, preparation and training, as well as qualifying races to compete in before the marathon. The amount of training is comparable to readying Soldiers for combat, Browne said.
Browne, head coach of the Army's World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, spoke just minutes before three of his runners, all Soldiers like himself -- Spc. Elkanah Kibet, Spc. Paul Katam, and Sgt. Augustus Maiyo -- competed in the Olympic Marathon Trials, Feb. 13, on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Maj. Kelly Calway, who was not coached by Browne, also competed.
The obvious comparison of a Soldier to an elite athlete, he said, is the high level of physical fitness required to win. But that alone is not enough.
Adequate sleep and good nutrition are also important to an athlete, as well as a Soldier. The Army's Performance Triad demonstrates the importance and interconnectedness of all three: sleep, activity and nutrition, he said.
"Performance Triad is truly right on the mark," Browne said. "In order to perform, you have to have those three things completely dialed in."
His Soldiers are, in fact, "dialed in," he added, and all "understand their bodies really well."
Having all three Performance Triad dialed in will -- besides "getting the most out of yourself physically -- also undoubtedly help the mental aspect" of training and racing, he said.
This mental or psychological aspect is key to success, he said. There will be disappointments such as losing a race or getting injured. It comes with the territory. The important thing is "understanding that disappointments are just an opportunity to readjust and refocus your efforts. If you look at it in that sense, it takes away the negative stigma from it. Looking for the silver lining is key to developing that mindset."
Army resiliency training is very similar to methods coaches use to get the best out of their athletes and help them "bounce back from setbacks," he said.
As a former Olympic athlete, "I know myself very well," Browne said. "But, to really help develop that peak performance mindset in each individual Soldier, I've got to know them and work with them and understand what makes them tick."
When coaching his distance runners, Browne said: "I'm very attuned each and every day to how they're feeling. This is kind of the art of coaching, so to speak.
"I notice things about their facial expressions and how their stride looks," he continued. "Because of my experiences in running, I kind of understand this means they're tired, (or) this means they need to be worked a little bit harder."
Regarding the physical component, Browne said his runners have had high-altitude training as part of their regimen to better increase lung capacity for endurance.
After high-altitude training, athletes "have more red blood cells so there's more oxygen-carrying capacity and also the perceived effort is much less. "That's why athletes often undergo high-altitude training before big events.
Browne's Soldiers have good training venues. They train amongst Jerry Schumacher's Bowerman Track Club in Portland and Alberto Salazar's Nike Oregon Project in Beaverton, Oregon. "These are powerhouse programs," Browne said.
Great coaches are said to beget great coaches. Browne said his coaches and mentors were Salazar, who won the 1982 Boston Marathon, and Bob Larsen, a Hall of Fame track and field coach.
Under Salazar's tutelage, Browne made the Olympic team in 2004 and competed in Athens, placing 12th in the 10,000-meter race as the top American finisher and 65th in the marathon.
"One of the key ingredients, I believe, is that when you surround yourself with excellence, it spurs you on. These Soldiers get to see some of the world's best athletes.... It breeds that mentality of 'hey, I see what these guys are doing. I can do that too.'"
Browne added that a lot of what coaches like he and others do is provide insights and help the athletes with the small details he's picked up over the years. "They've already developed to a very high level already."
OLYMPIC TRIAL RESULTS
Resiliency would be important for the Soldiers at the Olympic Trials. Out of hundreds of competitors, only three men and three women would be selected for the U.S. Olympic marathon team heading to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, later this year. Although all of the Soldiers gave it their best, none qualified.
Nonetheless, their times were respectable:
-- Maiyo, 02:18:33 (16th place)
-- Kibet, 02:20:10 (19th place)
Katam ran for 01:56:19 but did not finish and Calway also did not finish.
The men's winners were:
-- Galen Rupp, 02:11:12
-- Meb Keflezighi, 02:12:20
-- Jared Ward, 02:13:00
The women's winners were:
-- Amy Cragg, 02:28:20
-- Desiree Linden, 02:28:54
-- Shalane Flanagan, 02:29:19
Kibet said he made some tactical errors during the race. A strong competitor "made a move I wasn't expecting. I tried to catch up but didn't," he said. Also, the temperatures on race day were in the upper 80 degrees and he said that affected him because he hadn't trained in those conditions.
In 2015, Kibet finished seventh in the Chicago Marathon, with a time of 2:11:31.
There are a lot of other competitions coming up that Kibet said he's looking forward to participating in.
Katam, despite not finishing the race due to a foot pain, is already focused on the 10,000-meter Olympic Trials coming up in July in Eugene, Oregon. If he succeeds there, he'll go on to the Olympics.
Katam said his other love besides running is the Army. He intends to stay in and make a career of it.
Maiyo too thinks he might make the Army a career. Like Katam, he plans to compete in the 10,000-meter Olympic Trials and hopes to go on to Rio.
Calway said her hip had been bothering her prior to the race and her coach pulled her out early.
The strategy for doing that, besides preventing a serious injury, she said, is to rest and recover for the July Olympic Trials that Katam and Maiyo are also aiming for.
While she'll need to lay off from running, she said she does pool running, which is similar to treading water in the deep end, and using a zero-gravity bike designed for astronaut training.
In 2013, Calway won the Marine Corps Marathon.
When Calway isn't training, she's a combatives instructor at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.
Her dad, Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, was on-site in Los Angeles to cheer her on, as was her mother and sister. "He's my biggest fan," she said of her father.
MORE ABOUT COACH BROWNE
Besides competing in the Olympics in Athens in 2004, Dan Browne competed in the 1996 Olympic Trials in Atlanta. The following year, he graduated from West Point.
In 2013, he deployed to Afghanistan and was assigned to a special operations unit.
Though no longer a professional athlete, Browne still looks fit and trim. He said he runs a little and bikes.
He explained how coaching and running as a competitor are different.
As a runner, "you have a selfish mindset," he said. "Now, I'm in a natural transition to giving back and supporting others. I'm so thankful for this opportunity. I really enjoy the season of life I'm now in."
(Editor's note: Gary Sheftick contributed to this article)