By Gideon Rubin
Tal Braude came to Torrey Pines High School with a strong athletics background and the belief that he could he could be a competitive runner.
It didn’t take him long to validate those beliefs.
Braude, who juggled competitive soccer, water polo and swam all the way up through middle school, made an immediate impression when he went out for the cross country team his freshman year.
By the end of his sophomore year, he’d emerged from obscurity to become one of San Diego County’s most highly regarded runners.
Braude, who will be a junior later this year, was the only sophomore to compete in the San Diego Section Division I 1600 meter finals earlier this year, an event in which he placed a respectable seventh.
He served notice with an outstanding fourth place finish in the prestigious Mt. Carmel Invitational, running a four-minute, 16-second mile.
Braude’s success hasn’t come without sacrifice. He had to give up all the other sports he’d grown up competing in to focus on running. He said it was especially tough giving up soccer, a sport that runs deep in his family, and which both of his older brothers played competitively.
“It was tough giving up soccer because I really liked it but I’m really happy I did,” Braude said.
“I like the team, I like that we all run together and we can talk together. It’s just a really fun experience.”
Torrey Pines cross country coach Brent Thorne admits he didn’t know what to expect from Braude at first. He said Braude has made unheard of progress since his competitive running career began less than two years ago.
“It was very interesting that he was able to make this adjustment and totally dedicate himself to running and just drop everything else as far as other sports went,” Thorne said.
“He did show in that freshman year that he had some very good ability and tons of potential. It was just a matter of time for him to grow and mature as a young man to get a little bigger and a little stronger so he could move into that next level of elite runners.”
He’s getting very close to that level.
At the Mt. Carmel Invitational, the three runners who finished ahead of Braude were all seniors at an advanced level of their running careers.
Braude’s 4:16 mile time is within three seconds of former Torrey Pines standout Matt Carpowich’s best time as a junior, Thorne said. Carpowich went on to compete at Stanford.
“Seeing how close I can get to those times, that really means a lot to me, that tells me that I’m on the right path, that I’m getting closer to where I want to be,” Braude said.
Competing against elite runners seems to help Braude get there.
“That was one of my favorite races,” he said of the Mt. Carmel Invitational. “ I had a lot of big upper-end runners in there, people I actually look up to as runners, and getting to race with them and having them push me to my personal records, that meant a lot to me.
“When I finish the races and I see that they’re trying their hardest and I’m keeping up with them, that shows me that I can hopefully be like them in the future.”
That future is now for Braude.
He projects to be one of the county’s top runners this year, along with assuming a leadership role on the Falcons cross country and track teams.
Thorne described Braude as a likeable and popular kid who figures to easily be accepted in that role.
“He’s got a pretty good dry sense of humor too,” Thorne said.
Braude said that although the more experienced runners he regularly competes against enjoy some advantages, he believes his relative newcomer status has some benefits too.
“A lot of people tend to burn out at the end of the season,” he said. “It’s still fun for me.”
Braude cited his diverse athletic background and family support to be among the key contributing factors in making him the runner that he is.
He said his goals include breaking school records at Torrey Pines and he hopes to someday be in the mix for an Olympic berth.
He hopes to follow the footsteps of former Torrey Pines runners Carpowich and Alli Billmeyer by going to Stanford, where his team travels annually for cross country meets.
“I can’t see myself going anywhere else,” Braude said.
Braude said he has no regrets about giving up other sports to pursue competitive running.
“I feel like that was definitely a good decision,” he said.
One of the things he likes best about competitive running is the camaraderie with opponents and teammates alike that he didn’t have in other sports.
“I love the team, I love everything about it,” he said. “Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon are rivals, but at the end of the race you all feel the same way.”