Brian Leung headed into the mountains to prepare for his final year of distance running at Princeton University.
“This summer went smoothly; a bunch of teammates and I went out to Park City Utah to train and work,” said Leung, noting that there was a core group of 15 Princeton runners engaged in the high altitude training.
“I arrived on campus, pretty fit and ready to go. I definitely bumped up my mileage out there, I was up to 110-120 miles a week.”
But after the high of his summer experience, Leung hit a valley in the latter stages of his cross country season, starting with an Ivy League Heptagonal championship meet that was hit by a freak October snowstorm.
“It was really cold out there in a singlet and shorts; I got pretty sick afterwards,” said Leung, a local running legend during his high school career at WW/P-S.
“It wiped me out for the rest of the cross country. Then I had a weird fatigue in my quads; I didn’t know what it was. I took a couple of weeks off and the doctors diagnosed it as a femoral stress reaction. It took me out for six weeks; I didn’t run indoors.”
With only a few months left in his Tiger career, Leung decided to aim for the summit of college running.
“Coming off the injury, coach [Steve Dolan] and I put together a race plan,” said Leung. “The one goal was to make the NCAAs and run well there.”
Overcoming a slow start to the spring season, Leung achieved the first step of his plan, placing eighth in the 10,000 at the NCAA East regional to make the national championship meet.
This week, Leung will look to accomplish part two of the plan as he competes in the NCAA Championships at Des Moines, Iowa.
At the outset of the outdoor season, though, Leung’s NCAA goal looked like a longshot at best.
“In the first meet during spring break training, everyone was going to run a mile,” recalled Leung.
“I was hoping to go under 4:10; halfway through I realized I wasn’t ready. I ran a 4:24 which is my race pace for 5k. It was frustrating; I was losing to runners I should be beating. The focus was on building base and then gaining speed. In distance running you can’t make up for lost time; being patient was the key.”
Exercising patience, Leung gradually regained his form as he set a personal record of 14:09.82 in the 5,000 at the Larry Ellis Invitational in late April and then placed fifth in the 10,000 at the Outdoor Heps with a time of 29:38.22.
“Every week I was getting stronger,” said Leung. “It helped that I was able to use my teammates as a benchmark. In any other year getting fifth in the Heps would have been disappointing but I was happy with the way I ran there.”
Building on his effort at the Heps, Leung came up big at the NCAA East Regional at the University of North Florida, placing eighth in the 10,000 to book his spot in Des Moines.
“We knew there was going to be a lot of attrition in Jacksonville,” said Leung, who clocked a time of 30:17.64 in making the national meet.
“Even though the race started at 8 at night, it was 85 and humid. I needed to be in the top 12 to make it through to the NCAAs. With two laps to go, I was in ninth and had a good gap so I knew I had wrapped up a spot. It was a fun last 800 meters. It was great to prolong the season and spend two more weeks with my teammates.”
For Leung, competing with star teammate and good friend Donn Cabral has helped him become a better runner.
“We have an interesting relationship; we are roommates but we are pretty competitive with each other,” said Leung, noting that he and Cabral were rivals in regional competition during their high school careers.
“As the years have gone by, he has taken a step up. It has been great to train with each other. We have learned from each other; we make each other better.”
As Leung struggled with injuries at various points of his Princeton career, he has drawn strength from his bond with his classmates. “If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be humbling,” said Leung, reflecting on his Princeton years.
“I haven’t reached all of my goals but being around guys like my room group of Donn, Peter Maag, and Joe Stilin has been great. I have been living vicariously through them at times. I like being part of something larger; you don’t get that in high school. I couldn’t be prouder of what they have done. It is good coming together as a class. We all had a goal of running in the NCAAs; Donn, Joe, Trevor Van Ackeren, and I have made it.”
Now, Leung is aiming for one last goal in his Princeton career. “I am getting sharper; I am getting my legs to feel good,” said Leung, who is heading to University of Wisconsin this fall to study for a masters in public policy and will be able to run for the Badgers as he retains eligibility due to injury layoffs over the last four years.
“I ran 100 miles in the week before regionals and then I went down to the mid-70s. I probably did around 80 this week. As always with NCAAs, the goal is to make All-America; you need to get top 8 for that. There are a couple of guys that are head and shoulders above everyone. But if I am on that day and some other guys are off, I could do it.”
If Leung can reach that height, it would mark one of the more memorable climbs in recent Princeton track history.