Brian McKenna has a simple philosophy when it comes to determining how well he is running. It’s not where he is in the race that matters, but rather the look on his face and the firm, yet determined reminder of his coaches and teammates that let him know that he has the ability to go the extra mile. It’s a simple — but effective — philosophy for the sophomore, who travels to Terre Haute, Ind. on November 23rd to compete in the NCAA Division I Cross Country National Championship. “It was a big surprise to be chosen,” says McKenna, who secured the honor after finishing 19th at the NCAA Mountain Regional in Albuquerque on Nov. 14. “We had the goal to make it to nationals as a team; so it’s kind of bittersweet just because I can’t go with my teammates.” “Brian had such a great season and this is kind of like the icing on the cake for him,” veteran USU head coach Gregg Gensel. “It is the reward he gets after having such a great season.” McKenna’s team-first mentality may seem odd for those unacquainted with the sport, which sees runners like McKenna compete as both individuals and as team members. While he clearly stands out as one of the best runners in recent Utah State history, the sophomore is humble when considering his success, maintaining that it has come largely on the heels of a competitive but supportive cast of teammates. “This year we really have tried to run well together; to try to push each other and motivate each other,” says McKenna, who also credits his teammates with helping him to fight through injury last season. The on-course support he receives from his fellow runners during the races has further helped McKenna quickly establish himself among the top runners in the WAC. “It’s easy to get down after the first mile, because that’s when you’ve got four more miles to go. But this year we’ve really made a point to remind each other during races that, ‘this isn’t that hard, and you can do this.’ This year we’ve done that extremely well and shared that burden of leadership among all the runners.” Getting to the National Championship has been no small task for McKenna, who led the Aggies to a fifth straight Western Athletic Championship in Reno, Nev. on Oct. 31st. Balancing a demanding schedule which includes practice sessions, classes, cross country and track & field, the academic all-WAC selection says that the support and friendships of his teammates make the often grueling routine worth it. “There is a lot of hard work involved, but what keeps me going is the good times I share with my teammates,” he says. ” I really don’t see myself going pro because you really don’t have team support at that point, and the teams that I’ve been a part of at Utah State have really been motivational and fun.” A testament to McKenna’s team-first mentality is his outlook toward the National Championship, which he hopes to “scout-out” for his fellow Aggie runners. Intent on “turning some heads” at the race, the Utah native is already looking toward future National Championships, intent on sharing the honor of running in subsequent events with the rest of his team. “For me, it’s about getting a good feel for the course and how the race is run so that for next year, when our whole team goes, I’ll have a good idea of what we’re going to be facing and how to get everyone ready,” he says. That’s not to say McKenna is content at just getting to the championship. Recently named to the NCAA all-Region Cross Country team, McKenna remains focused on building off of his success this year, and asserting the Utah State cross country program on a national level. Ready and able to show that the Aggie program isn’t just a regional power, McKenna admits that the prospect of “going solo” in the race has been a concern for him. Knowing that he won’t have his friends and teammates on the course to offer him their support, McKenna is instead gearing for the prospect of having to push himself the extra mile. “It’s definitely going to be different,” he says. “I’ve never envisioned myself going solo. There will be people I know from other schools, but nobody is going to be encouraging me and there to pick me up on the hard miles. I’ve run alone before in high school, and I know it can be hard because you kind of zone out. It can be a good thing if you’re really focused, but if you lose that focus it could be the end of your race – just that one minute in which you weren’t in it mentally.” Fortunately for Brian, he won’t have to look far for motivation when competing next Monday. Armed with a team-first mentality and a drive to show just how far the Aggie cross country program has come, he has no plans at stopping in his race for the Utah State record books. -USU-
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