Humbled by nationals, Brandon McBride bounces back with 800m gold at NACAC

TORONTO — Brandon McBride always reminds himself that anyone can lose on any given day. It keeps the Canadian middle-distance runner grounded and focused on the hard work needed to reach the sport's pinnacle.

The Windsor, Ont., native experienced that firsthand when he was upset by Edmonton's Marco Arop at last month's Canadian championships — breaking McBride's streak of three consecutive national titles in the men's 800 metres.

"He had a fantastic day and I just didn't quite have it … he was definitely the better man," McBride says. "If you look at the top athletes in the world, they've lost a couple of times — especially in the 800-metres event. It's so up and down

"Anyone can put together a string of good workouts or races. But at the end of the day, you're going to have a couple off days and you just gotta hope that the off days don't come at the championship level."

Watch McBride and Arop's 1-2 finish

Brandon McBride and Marco Arop finished 1st and 2nd in the men's 800m race at the NACAC Track and Field Championships 3:37

That wasn't the case this afternoon at Varsity Stadium as McBride edged out Arop in a time of one minute 46.14 seconds to claim gold in the men's 800 at the NACAC (North America, Central America and the Caribbean) track and field championships in Toronto. Arop took silver at 1:46.82.

After sitting comfortably in second place for most of the race, McBride made his move past Puerto Rico's Wesley Vazquez with about 200 metres remaining and took the lead for good. Arop followed suit on the final straightaway giving Canada a one-two finish on home soil.

"I thought I was going to take the lead and take us out at a medium pace but I saw Vazquez out there and I said, 'Hey, he looks like he wants it so I'm going to go ahead and let him have it. If he wants to take the wind, let him take the wind,' McBride said after the race.

Still, McBride knows there will be days like nationals where he won't be at his best. And as his old college coach, Steve Dudley, once told him, 'When you're having a bad day, just focus on having the best bad day possible.'

"I'm going to have that mentality moving forward because in the Olympic or world championship final or semifinals, who knows? I might not be feeling good then," McBride says. "I just have to be ready for anything, to dig deeper than I've ever dug before these next two years."

It's been a quick turnaround for McBride. After the humbling experience at nationals, he and his coach Kurt Downes went back to the drawing board ahead of McBride's next scheduled Diamond League meet in Monaco.

The result was a new Canadian record as McBride raced to a silver medal with a time of 1:43:20 to break Gary Reed's decade-long mark.

Aside from some minor tweaks, McBride says he and Downes didn't do things much differently nor find a secret new formula to success. The 24-year-old attributed his new personal-best time to just being ready to run on that day and his loss to Arop helped him mature in the two weeks between.

"I was very thankful that I had that experience because I think that give me a little bit of fire. If you take that experience away at nationals, maybe Monaco doesn't go so well," McBride says.

Edmonton's Marco Arop upended defending men's 800 champion Brandon McBride in 1:46.15 at the national championships in Ottawa. 5:34

While McBride was pleased with his performance, he felt he had more left in the tank compared to around the same point last year when McBride ended his season early citing emotional and mental fatigue.

Going into this season, McBride removed some things from his training routine that were slightly affecting his long-term performance and went back to the basics that helped produce his best seasons at Mississippi State.

The changes have made McBride's workouts higher in level and quality which has translated into consistent results as he has yet to finish outside the top five.

Monaco was validation that McBride's work in the gym and on the track is paying off.

"Monaco was really my first faster-pace race. If you look back at all my early season races, yes I ran fast but they were all off moderate or slow paces. It goes to show that we're moving in the right direction and there are still a lot of things that I need to work on," McBride says.

McBride and Arop embrace following their one-two finish in the men's 800-metre race at NACAC in Toronto on Saturday. (Chicco Nacion/CBC Sports)

In the past, McBride has felt more comfortable setting the pace and leading the pack. But this year, Downes had his pupil change things up with the purpose of getting McBride more comfortable in a variety of race situations and tactics.

Out of the six 800 events he's competed in 2018, McBride recalls only leading once.

"If I'm going to be in the mix for an Olympic or world championship medal, I have to be able to race from different styles — from the front, back, and in the middle," McBride says.

Just as the case was this afternoon, Arop may be fighting alongside McBride for a spot on the podium in future international meets.

McBride is looking forward to getting to know the younger Arop over the next two years and sharing advice with a fellow Mississippi State Bulldog as they move towards next year's world championships and Tokyo 2020.

"We can be a pretty good one-two punch for Canada. I'm really excited for his future and I think we can definitely help elevate each other," McBride says. "We can have two serious [mid-distance] competitors who can do great things."

The feeling is mutual with Arop.

"I'm just a little guy trying to follow him. He's had a very successful career and it looks like he's still starting out. I'm just trying to be right there with him," Arop says.

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