Jackson Herald sports reporter Ben Munro catches up with Jackson County Comprehensive High School cross country coach Joseph Brubaker in this segment that profiles coaches and players around Jackson County. Brubaker, in his seventh season guiding the JCCHS cross country programs, talks about the benefits of cross country, running the Boston Marathon and even his predication for Friday’s Jackson County-Madison County football game.
Munro: You’re in your mid-30s but can still run a sub-5:00 mile, correct? What was your most recent mile time?
Brubaker: Actually, I have run the Athens Track Club All-Comers meet — summer track meets that are welcome to all ages — the past two years and have run sub 5:00. I ran a 4:50 this past year. I hope to hang on for a few more years. The All-Comers meets are a great way to have some fun and hopefully not get hurt.
Munro: You were a standout runner for the Madison County High School cross country program in the mid-to-late 1990s and then went on to run at Berry College. What was life like as a collegiate runner?
Brubaker: It was pretty consuming. I believe the campus is one of the most beautiful places to train. I still look back and wish I was more diligent with my time, especially getting more sleep. It was great to have a planned out road trip pretty much each weekend. I loved my time at Berry as a runner and student. Those were transforming years for me.
Munro: Was coaching cross country at JCCHS a natural transition for you?
Brubaker: Well, I started as an assistant for Bob Roller and enjoyed it, but became overwhelmed with coaching fall and spring while in my first years of teaching. I took two falls off and became the head coach in 2008. I think it was natural at that point in my career. I enjoyed that team as much as any, as the girls went to state for the first time and had some great personalities. I still really enjoy training athletes and love seeing them set and accomplish goals.
Munro: Who’s the hardest-working runner you’ve ever coached at JCCHS?
Brubaker: I’ll just discuss those runners I coached for four years. Brittany Aikens was one I had to persuade to take a day off, Rachel Pasko was extremely dedicated to her goals, Lexie Miller and Kourtney Axelberg trained hard everyday and in the off season. We have some hard working guys out right now that will be on the list when they finish their career.
Munro: You ran the Boston Marathon in 2012 and finished in 3:00:55 (562nd place) on one of the hottest days in the history of that event. What do you remember about that experience?
Brubaker: It was awesome. My wife and I went up early and got to see a lot of the city. I have family that lives there and helped us with lodging and good restaurants. The amount of people that are there to support you, in each town, as you approach Boston is impressive and inspiring. I hated not breaking three hours, but it was hot. It was my third marathon and it was just hard to stay hydrated. I started stopping at each table and trying to get a full cup of water/Gatorade, but my hamstring kept wanting to cramp. My parents were also there for a vacation and stayed to cheer me on. I actually had to stop once and ask a spectator to hold my foot as I stretched my hamstring. I hope to do it again one day.
Munro: Of course, the bombing at the Boston Marathon occurred the very next year. How did that news affect you, especially having run the event the year before?
Brubaker: The evil of that incident made me feel confused, mad and sad. I first heard about it while at soccer practice when I got a text asking if I was running. Sadly, I found out the details and thought how it would have impacted me and my family. I would have been finished but probably would have been searching for my wife and family when the bombing occurred. It did make me reflect on my situation and probably more empathetic to those that were there.
Munro: Back to high school cross country. What’s your recruiting pitch to potential runners you see around the JCCHS campus?
Brubaker: I believe that running cross country has physical and mental benefits that carry over to other sports and to life. It is a tough sport, so I will ask and suggest for someone to come out and try to explain how I will train them, but ultimately try not to push too hard. It is hard to coach someone who just didn’t make the decision for themselves. If they decide to run I push them to have a goal for themselves and the team. I love how objective the sport is; compete against others, yourself and the clock.
Munro: What would you consider a successful season for both your JCCHS squads?
Brubaker: This year I want to get both teams to state. Until I see more from us I can’t say much more than that. I think we have enough talent, but we need to work on battling through pain and doubt on a daily basis to accomplish those goals and set new ones.
Munro: OK, one more thing and it’s non-running related. As a Madison County High School alum — class of 1998 — do you have a prediction for Friday’s Jackson County-Madison County football game?
Brubaker: Well, the Red Raiders will be in the house, but the Panthers will win this one in a shoot out. I’m thinking Panthers by seven, 38-31. The defense will make a crucial stop to end the game. I will always be proud of the Raiders, but I’m a Panther right now.
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