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U Sports athlete profile: Getting to know Branna MacDougall

The leader of a dominant Queen's University group heads to Victoria looking for a team and individual title

Western Cross-Country Invitational
Western Cross-Country Invitational
Photo: Tim Huebsch.

Branna MacDougall is no stranger to hype – and that’s a good thing.

Since transferring to Queen’s University after spending her rookie year in the NCAA at Iowa State University, The Kingston, Ont. native has burst onto the Canadian running scene and has assumed the role of U Sports cross-country cover athlete. When you are the fastest varsity runner over 5,000m in U Sports (formerly CIS) history, you don’t have much of a choice.

MacDougall has responded to this hype, posting win after win. Her most recent triumph came in the form of a commanding win at the OUA championship, as she broke away from seasoned runners Kristina Popadich and Sasha Gollish in the later stages of the race. With some varsity experience on Canadian soil under her belt, the chemical engineering student and sophomore runner will be headlining for the number one-ranked Gaels in Victoria.

The national university cross-country championships go off on Nov. 12.

How has your training been going over the last few weeks?

Training has been good – it’s been consistent. At this point of the season, consistency is all I’m after. Workouts feel steady, and I feel strong.

 You were a runner at Iowa State University last year. Like you’ve mentioned in previous interviews, the experience is much different here at Queen’s, running with the Gaels. Could you elaborate on this difference in terms of training methods?

Queen’s is a distance-based program. We do a lot of easy runs and high mileage. Iowa was also a high-mileage training program, but there was a bit more emphasis on intensity and speed within it… it was more mid-distance based. It was not working for me, as I was getting injured. I think this type of training (at Queen’s) is what I respond to. I’ve been consistent and healthy here, and that is the main reason I’ve been running well.

You started the season strong, and seemed to improve in every race. Was there a point in the season that made you believe that you had a shot at becoming U Sports champion in your first year in the circuit?

There probably was not one point, but having good workouts early on got me thinking positively about the season ahead. If I had to pinpoint one single moment, winning OUA’s was a big confidence booster. Really though, for me, it’s all about the consistency. If I can look back and be confident about my training as a whole, that’s what makes me most confident.

This year, you might have been the most sought-after and featured athlete in the medias covering the U Sports running circuit. Do you feel any added pressure coming with that role? If so, how do you handle it?

I do feel pressure, but not in a bad way. I am just so excited to be in a situation where I can feel this pressure. To be interviewed and to have people expecting me to win races means that I am running well. So, it’s a privilege to be mentioned – it’s exciting! But, even though I won at OUA’s, I don’t feel like I am the clear favourite. It’s a strong year. There is Sasha (Gollish), Claire Sumner, Regan Yee, Kristina Popadich… I know I can contend with them, but I am not putting extra pressure on myself.

Your team, the Queen’s Gaels are currently ranked first in the coaches’ poll. What is the atmosphere like around the team leading up to the championship?

It’s really good. It’s not competitive or stressful. Everyone is laid back. We know what we want to do and we think we are fit enough to do it. Everybody is like, “let’s just do it.” We’re focused on the task in hand.

Getting to know Branna

Personal best times – 3000m: 9:16, 5000m: 15:48

Social media – Twitter: @brannamacd/ Instagram: branna_mac
Men do facial hair, do you have any rituals – Paint our nails tricolour and put ribbons in our hair.
Cross-country Spikes of choice: Saucony spikes from Grade 10. I don’t even know what type they are.
Pre-race meal – Salmon and rice (night before). On the day of, I go with toast, banana and peanut butter.
Professional runner – Shalane Flanagan because she just won the New York city Marathon.
Pump up song“It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!”
Hard with hills, or fast and flat? – Fast and flat.
Who are you looking forward to see at the U Sport Championship – Lucia Stafford