At the end of the 2015 season Diamond Valley sprinter Monica Brennan found herself at an athletics crossroads. For an athlete that has won a national 200m title and represented Australia at world junior and youth level, the dream of competing on the world’s biggest stage, the Olympics, continues to burn deep and is the driving force behind her stepping up to 400m in 2016.
“My decision to move out to the 400m was after a few disappointing years in athletics. I had been struggling with illness and fitness issues for a while and decided at the end of last season that I needed to change things otherwise I couldn’t see myself continuing in the sport,” Brennan said.
The idea of adding the 400m to her competition program in 2016 was proposed by 2008 Olympic pole vault champion Steve Hooker, who has been working with Brennan for over a year on speed and technique.
After further consultation with father and coach Chris Brennan, Brennan agreed the 400m move would be the crucial step to make her childhood dream a reality.
“After a long end of season debrief with my coaches about what I would have to do in the coming year to achieve my childhood dream of making the Olympics we decided that moving up to the 400 was a smart move to help both my 200 and my prospects of being selected for a relay team.
I found this new challenge exciting and it gave me a much needed change from constant sprinters work. My main focus is still on being a 200 runner as I feel that speed is one of my strengths and I still love the event but I do feel that the longer distance of 400 suits me and I am very interested to see where this will take me,” Brennan said.
Hesitant at first to make the change, the step up to the 400m has been a steep learning curve, but, one Brennan has surprisingly enjoyed.
“I never would have thought I would say it but 400’s can be fun (when you run them right!) I enjoy the fact that there is so much more time to think about your race and you can constantly adjust you race plan to get big improvements in your times,” Brennan said.
“Stepping up my training to the 400 has been a working progress. My dad (who is my coach) has been very patient with me and started me off very slow over the winter break. As I have become more mentally and physically stronger I have begun to step up the quantity and intensity of the sessions. I still struggle with the longer distance work, especially the aerobic training but I’m seeing huge improvements in this area of my training which has been really encouraging and motivating,” Brennan said.
The early season lessons continued for the 21-year-old last Saturday 16 January at AV Shield Round 9. In her third competitive 400m Brennan stopped the clock at 53.94 seconds, behind Western Athletics and IAAF World Relays representative Morgan Mitchell, who ran 52.29 seconds, only .09 outside the Olympic qualification standard.
“Running 400s in competition is the biggest challenge for me at the moment. The one on the weekend was only my third ever 400 and it’s safe to say for anyone who was watching it I have a lot of learning to do when running a 400.
I am still trying to find the right pace for me to run my first 200 in and that run on the weekend was a bit too fast as I really blew up in the final 100.
After the race I had lactic coming out of my eyeballs, it hurt so much! Races like that take me a while to recover from both mentally and physically but running that race on the weekend was very educational and has given me a lot of confidence for the upcoming season,” Brennan said.
Assisting with the transition, Olympic champion Steve Hooker is playing a key role to face the challenges competition brings.
“Steve has a brilliant eye for picking up flaws in your technique and the knowledge he has on competing and executing a race plan has been critical in my improvements over the past couple of months,” Brennan said.
Not short of talent in the women’s 400m ranks, 52.20 is the golden time for Rio 2016 and with the 4x400m women’s relay team the only currently qualified Australian relay team there is set to be a strong battle for places.
“This was one of the key reasons I moved up to the 400 this year, qualifying for the individual 400 is a tough ask but getting a place on the 4×400 relay team is a small possibility. I am trying not to put too much pressure or expectations on my 400s though and I just want to see how things pan out for now. First I need to see if I will even be competitive enough over the 400 to be challenging for a place on the team”, Brennan said.
The next few months will be a telling period in the hope for a spot on the plane to Rio for Brennan. State and national meets will be a critical pathway to the Australian Athletics Championships and Nomination Trials in Sydney from Thursday 31 March – Sunday 3 April.
“All events this year are going to be super competitive and exciting for both the athletes and the spectators. I love racing and competing against all the other girls vying for a spot at the Olympics, it already has me feeling nervous, excited and most of all determined”, Brennan said.