Women’s cross country opened its 2015 season racing in the Mount St. Mary’s Duals. Then-freshman Halley Brown finished her first career collegiate race that day with a time of 20:18.8 in the 5K – good for the eighth-best Colonials time and 30th place overall.
The following year, Brown improved by exactly 50 seconds and moved up nine spots to 21st overall in the race.
Now, as a junior, Brown ran in the Duals for a third time Sept. 1. She finished more than a minute faster than the previous year, with a personal record of 18:12.19. Her team-leading performance secured second overall and helped GW to its 4-1-1 start to the season.
“I was pretty calm going into it, which was surprising for me because I get pretty anxious before the start of a race,” Brown said. “I was just hanging in there and when I hit the third mile and I was just like ‘Well, I’m going to see if I can do this.’”
Over the past year, Brown has pushed herself to be one of the top athletes in the program. After winning the gold medal at the Atlantic 10 Championship in February, with a time of 4:53.02 in the indoor mile, she earned three outdoor track program records in the 800m, 1500m and 3000m in the spring.
Brown said her most recent, and now fastest, 5K time is a benchmark from which she can improve as the season continues. She is currently in the best shape of her life, she added.
“Since my freshman year to now, [my times] slowly just kept dropping in a way that no one really expected, starting last spring when I won the indoor A-10 mile,” Brown said. “I think that was a big confidence boost, and my running has gotten a lot better since then.”
Brown’s recent success may surprise recruiters and people who saw her run before coming to Foggy Bottom. Brown said she didn’t enjoy running before she unexpectedly decided to join her high school track team during her freshman year.
By her senior year, Brown was looking to continue the sport in college, but her mile times were not fast enough to garner any scholarship spots. She ended up walking on to GW as a freshman after “begging” head coach Terry Weir for a spot, Brown said.
“As a 5:27 miler in high school, a lot of Division I schools wouldn’t even let that walk on,” Weir said. “Recruiting overall is just a crapshoot. All-Americans from high school can flop, or you could get a person like Halley and turn it into an A-10 champion in her second year.”
Due to the nature of her three-season sport, Brown will be almost continuously competing before she graduates in 2019. Weir credits her unusually impressive improvement to her dedication and non-stop effort.
“She hasn’t been hurt, she has been very consistent and a lot of that has to do with her work ethic,” Weir said. “She does all the small things with her flexibility and strengthening and recovery. She just quietly works hard, so I was really happy to see that pay off for her.”
The Colonials – who return to action Friday in the William and Mary Invitational – received their first-ever preseason regional ranking at No. 11 in the Cross Country Coaches Association Mid-Atlantic preseason poll, despite being without the team’s top runner.
Senior Miranda DiBiasio – one of GW’s fastest women’s runners since she arrived on campus – is out for the season with a foot injury. Without DiBiasio, the Colonials will rely on Brown to set the pace for them near the front of the pack all season, Weir said.
“Not having someone like Miranda is just going to make us better,” Weir said. “Halley and [junior] Madison [Yerke], and a few other of these girls who have been there done that for us the last couple years are stepping into that leadership role great.”
Although the current focus is on the cross country season, Brown said she has become more accustomed to and comfortable with running track – both indoor and outdoor.
“What season I’m in kind of determines which one I like,” Brown said. “I had such a good track season last spring that I am biased towards track right now, but I do love cross country, the more I get into the season.”
Brown said she is hoping that this season, along with the varied workouts she did while staying in D.C. this summer, will improve her times come track season.
“I have always shied away from the longer stuff for track season, so that is something I am dealing with now,” she said. “Just telling myself yes, you can run long workouts, you can run long races.”