Brennan Munley stepped into the blocks his last race of the season with only two laps around the track ahead of him. He had a grudge against the clock and soreness in his legs. The freshman middle-distance runner passed opponent after opponent in the 800-meter race, unaware of how fast he was pacing himself. But he kept striding ahead. 

“I was just picking off guys,” Munley said. “I ended up picking off one more guy, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, I’m in fourth. I just have to hold this.’ ”

The rising sophomore stayed firm in his position, placing fourth in the 800-meter final at the USA Junior Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon. He finished out the race with not only his best performance of the season, but with the best time of his career.

The one-minute-fifty-second threshold had been a difficult mark for Munley to beat this season, but he accomplished the goal that eluded him in his final race, crossing the finish line at 1:49.33.

“Running 1:49 (in the 800-meter) for the first time was just a huge deal,” Munley said. “It was the best thing that could’ve happened at the time. All throughout my running career here, I’ve made the time 1:50 seven times, and then I’ve been under 1:51.8 13 times before. So I really wanted to break that legendary barrier, because it’s a really big deal in the 800s.”

Munley progressed quickly after the Big Ten season concluded, shaving an impressive two seconds off of his time after the Big Ten Championships, where he finished seventh with a time of 1:51.04. He started the season with a 1:53.47 time, leaving a gap of about four seconds between his first and last races of the track season. 

How did Munley improve so much in his freshman campaign? It may be due to his mental toughness and what he learned from playing multiple sports growing up. He was an avid skateboarder, snowboarder, hockey player and wrestler before he came to Michigan. 

Besides track, Munley was most decorated in wrestling during his high school days. He held a two-year 64-23 record as a varsity wrestler, was named team MVP and holds the Waterford Mott High School record for fastest pin at 6.1 seconds. 

“For wrestling, you go out there and you have to pin this guy,” Munley said. “You know that you can’t chicken out, you can’t be scared, you have to go for it, you have to be aggressive. It’s a lot like racing, where if you want to make a move on a guy in the last 100, it’s really going to make a big difference, whether it’s your place or time, you just have to do it.”

Playing multiple sports didn’t only affect Munley’s competitiveness and athleticism, but prepared him to perform on a high level, supplying him with endurance and durability.

“All the little things add up mentally, or physically, or even preventing injury,” Munley said. “Skateboarding and snowboarding makes your ankle stronger, so you’re a lot less likely to get injured. You can train for longer periods. So while other guys get injured, you’re accelerating during that time, so you always have that advantage over them.”

Along with playing other sports to give him an edge on the track, Munley also made the most of another advantage he had over his opponents — having an older sister who ran as well. His sister, Courtney, set a good example and foundation for her brother’s track career. The elder Munley, an incoming redshirt sophomore at Michigan, was injured for most of last year’s cross country season, but her dedication to running continues to shape her brother.

“My older sister was big into running before I was,” Munley said. “She’s always been telling me to eat this way or to do this before a meet. So she reinforced me into sports, and we’ve been really close ever since. She’s always there to support me when I need it, and I’m always there to support her.”

Multiple lessons and opportunities have molded Munley into the runner he aspires to be. He has the determination, experience and hope to become a top-caliber middle-distance runner by the time his career at Michigan is over. His goal is to shave a second off of his personal best every year, and if his improvement from his freshman year alone is any indication of how the rest of his years will go, he’s well on his way to accomplishing that goal. 

Munley’s end goal is to run the 800-meter in 1:46 by the end of his senior year. He’ll face the same situation then as he faced his last freshman race: two laps ahead of him, sore legs and a desire to be faster than he was the day before.

And he’ll still have a grudge against the clock. 

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