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Boston Indoor games

Brown shocks with mile win

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / February 6, 2011

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With star power (Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis from New Zealand and American mile record-holder Alan Webb) and storylines (high school runner Lukas Verzbicas looking to break four minutes), the men’s mile was the most anticipated event at last night’s New Balance Boston Indoor Grand Prix.

That’s why Russell Brown was as surprised as anyone at the Reggie Lewis Center when he won the event in 3 minutes 54.81 seconds.

“Before I actually thought I had it wrapped up, I heard the announcer say, ‘And Russell Brown’s going to win,’ ’’ said Brown. “I was shocked. It was like I started celebrating before I got there. It was like I was watching myself.’’

Figuring the winner would come from the lead pack, Brown made a conscious effort to get in good position from the start. He opened the race aggressively, going through the quarter-mile mark with the leader in 57 seconds. Then, he waited to see how the race developed.

Runners he expected to make moves and fight for the lead started falling back. Then, with 200 meters left, Garrett Heath (Brown’s former Stanford teammate and longtime training partner) took the lead from Willis. Brown followed Heath, pushing past Willis, then moving into first place with 150 meters remaining. Heath finished second in 3:55.87 and Willis third in 3:56.29

“I was sort of transported into workouts we’ve done,’’ said Brown. “It didn’t feel like a race anymore. It just felt like a practice that we’ve been through. I’m really comfortable running on Garrett’s shoulder and following him just felt natural. I went by Nick Willis hard and then found myself just drifting by Garrett also. Then, I thought, ‘There’s no turning back now.’ But coming around the turn with 100 to go, I honestly thought I’d probably get caught. I just kept my legs moving, kept my feet moving.’’

Brown ran fast enough to set a personal best in the mile, an especially big accomplishment in a career long sidetracked by injury. After running at Stanford, Brown went the professional route in 2008. He ran poorly in the 2008 US Olympic track and field trials, then tore his left calf muscle twice. Upon recovering from those injuries, he tore his right calf. For the better part of two years, he kept tearing one calf or another. He could never put together much more than six weeks of training and a few races here and there. Until this year, he had never made it to February as a professional without being injured.

Additionally, the victory held special significance because it took place not far from Hanover, N.H. where he grew up. Brown ran at the Reggie Lewis Center in high school, though he never competed there as a professional. Last night, roughly 20 family members and friends were in the crowd. Brown called the whole experience “a dream.’’

It wasn’t quite the same for Verzbicas, who hoped to break four minutes and challenge Webb’s high school indoor mile record. Instead, Verzbicas found himself at the very back of the field early. He finished eighth in a personal-best 4:03.88, one spot and three-plus seconds behind Webb.

“I was nervous,’’ said Verzbicas. “It’s unusual for me to be nervous at a race. The first lap I didn’t do as I was supposed to. I was right in the back. I should have been right in the middle. As we went through the race, it started slowing down in the back of the back, so that’s when I started moving up.

“I had fast last 400 that was a good thing. Otherwise, I’m still disappointed not getting [under 4:00]. But I think getting 4:03, I’ll get into another mile race. I feel like if everything goes well next time, I can definitely do sub-4.’’

Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel won the men’s 3,000-meter race in 7:35:37. But his final time wasn’t the most impressive part. He lost his shoe after the first lap, continued to race, and narrowly beat Mo Farah of Great Britain.

“It was very hard,’’ said Gebremeskel of running with one sock and one shoe. “It burns you.

While disappointed to finish second to a man running with one shoe, Farah walked away impressed by what he saw from the Ethiopian.

“When you run with a bare foot, it’s really hard,’’ said Farah, who finished in 7:35.81 “So, I was thinking, he has only got one shoe, sooner or later he’s going to kind of just drop off because he’s wasting a lot more energy running with one shoe. But he didn’t drop.’’

Lauryn Williams smiled broadly upon crossing the finish first in the women’s 60-meter dash in 7.17, almost as if she’d won a championship race.

“Everybody knows me as a big race winner,’’ said Williams. “But these other ones, I’m pretty much always second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth sometimes. It’s a huge deal for me when I win one of these standard races.’’

With a time of 7.17 seconds, Williams narrowly edged Marshevet Myers (7.18). Lisa Barber took third in 7.23.

In the women’s mile, Serbian Marina Muncan narrowly edged the competition, winning in 4:34.46. It was a nice change of pace for a woman who has served as a rabbit at past indoor races in Boston.

“It felt great for the first time not to be pacing in Boston,’’ she said. “Basically, the last 150 meters I tried to sprint as fast as I can.’’

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.