By Hayley Tafuro
What didn’t Spencer Brown do this past weekend?
After waking up in Seattle on the eve of the Brooks PR Invitational, he received a text from his coach, Jim Gerweck, alerting him of his most recent title: 2014-15 Gatorade Track and Field Boys Athlete of the Year. He competed with some of the top runners in the country in the Invitational on Saturday in the 800-meter run and finished in eighth. Not to mention, he graduated high school.
All of this happened just weeks after he shattered the 800-meter record in the Class L state championship meet, running it in 1:50:88, which culminated his senior season and running career at Wilton High School.
The Georgetown-bound Brown has stacked his resume with handfuls of records, invitationals and top-place finishes, but all of his success can be traced back to the fourth grade, when he conquered his very first competition, a first-place finish in the Turkey Trot Race at Cider Mill Elementary School.
“I got started because I won this race in our school,” he said. “Then my dad sort of got me on board with Wilton Running Club from fourth through eighth grade, and I’ve been running ever since then.”
Brown’s father ran at the University of Michigan and went on to continue running in various marathons. The talent certainly runs in the family, and according to Brown, “We kind of knew that I had it in my blood.”
From there, Brown has gone on to run all through high school in the cross country, indoor and outdoor track seasons.
“I only really take one or two weeks off from the entire 52 weeks,” he said. “During the summer I’ll bump up my mileage to 40 miles a week. Yes, you have to run all year round, which is kind of tough mentally, but once you’re doing it for as many years as I have, it’s not that bad. I feel bad if I don’t run for more than a couple of days. I think my body needs it.”
Gerweck, who coaches the boys at Wilton, has seen Brown progress from his early years to the “24-hour athlete” that he is now.
“Even as a freshman coming in we sort of heard a lot about him,” Gerweck said. “He’d been active in the youth running organization in Wilton prior to that, and had done some pretty good things, so I knew he was a special talent coming in.”
After a solid freshman year, Brown won the cross country state class meet in the fall of his sophomore year and never looked back. He has established himself as one of the elite 800 and 1600 runners and set records for the mile in his indoor and outdoor seasons. Since then, he has gone on to help the Warriors in FCIAC and state meets and has participated in races all across the region.
“My favorite race of all-time was the Danbury Dream Invitational of 2014,” he said. “I won that by like one-hundredth of a second, so that was a really big breakthrough race for me. Also, this winter I won a race at the Armory, the New Balance Games, and it was cool to run there. Also a couple weeks ago at my class meet, that was a pretty special meet for me.”
Success has found Brown more often than not, but even with such great results, he has had some wrinkles to iron out over his four years of high school running.
“I think the biggest challenge with somebody like him is in a lot of ways to hold him back as paradoxical as that seems,” Gerweck said. “You want him to run his best race every time out, but the biggest challenge has been getting him to run his best race every time on the biggest stage. He’s had a tendency to run good races early or in the middle of the season, and then kind of run out of gas at the end.”
However, Brown matured over his seasons as a competitive runner, and has found out how to strike a balance between work and rest, so as to not overwork his body before future races.
“Definitely taking care of your body and acting like a 24-hour athlete and not doing stupid things, and rest, is so important,” he said. “I don’t try to do too much mileage during racing season, and my coaches have said that rest is almost more important. Since we’re racing almost every week, those races can be used as workouts.”
Brown finished off his senior year with a lot to be proud of, including meet and state records in the 800 and 1600 as well as an 800 time that ranks No. 16 in the nation.
“Overall some of the races he ran this year were really, not beyond what I expected, but where he finally realized most of his potential, especially in the championship meets,” Gerweck said.
“I hope that since I’ve set the bar even higher for the 800 and mile, I hope that the younger guys can break my records now,” Brown said on leaving his mark on the program. “It’s been really fun, and there’s been a lot of great athletes in the past and another current one, Alex Ostberg (Darien), who have set the bar high for me as well. Having a lot of good guys around you really helps.”
Now as Brown is set to depart from Seattle after what Gerweck called “a final exam type race,” where he has put together all he has learned from his time at Wilton, he comes back home as a high school alumnus, and is just looking forward to a fun summer lifeguarding at the pond with his friends and a smooth transition down the road from high school to college.
“I’m just going to try to have fun freshman year and transition well from high school to college academically and take as many courses that sound interesting to me as I can and just not grow up too fast,” Brown said.
He will continue running at Georgetown, and while he may not want to grow up too fast, he is certainly leaving Wilton much wiser as he takes the next step in his athletic career.
“People always think that running is a simple sport,” Gerweck said. “For most people it is. You try to go as hard as you can. But when you’re up at his level, there’s a whole strategic and tactical aspect as well: You’re not just trying to run fast, you’re trying to win. I think he figured out how to run fast before he figured out how to win, but now he’s been able to put both together.”