Carmel Valley runner ‘flips hourglass’ to create stellar career

By Gideon Rubin

When Tal Braude first surfaced at Torrey Pines as a freshman, it was assumed he’d be following in the footsteps of his two older brothers, both excellent soccer players for whom competing in track was a secondary activity.

“So here’s the third brother, it’ll be the same old story,” figured Torrey Pines track and field/cross country coach Brent Thorne.

“It’ll be soccer-soccer-soccer, and he’ll fit running in where he can.”

To say Braude exceeded the expectations on the track and cross country circuits would be an understatement.

Early in his prep career, he decided to forgo soccer to focus on distance running. That decision paid big dividends.

Braude, who earlier this month concluded a distinguished prep career at Torrey Pines, will compete in track and cross country at Division I Columbia in the Ivy League later this year. His Falcons career was highlighted by him becoming the school’s first state cross country champion — in either the boys or girls circuits.

“He totally flipped the hourglass upside down,” Thorne said. “Totally.”

Braude went out for cross country at the prodding of former Falcons distance running sensation Ally Billmeyer, whom he met at a junior lifeguard camp the summer before his freshman year.

“When I went into the first race, I was like, ‘Coach, how do you think I’m going to do in this race?’” Braude said. “They were just like, ‘Go out and have fun and just do the best you can, and we’ll see from here.’”

In that race at the Bronco Invitational, his coaches saw the first chapter of one of the most distinguished distance running careers in school history.

Braude shocked a rising star from rival La Costa Canyon, Steven Fahy, who happened to be the younger brother of former Torrey Pines standout Matt Carpowich’s nemesis, Darren Fahy.

“I didn’t really know what I was getting into in that first race,” Braude said. “It developed into its own rivalry between us.”

That rivalry helped push Braude to become one of just a handful of San Diego Section runners to ever win a state title in cross country.

He jokingly credits his siblings for his development as a runner.

“My family says it’s ... because they used to chase me around with a cricket bat when I was younger,” said Braude, who was raised in South Africa, where cricket enjoys great popularity.

He decided to give up soccer early in his freshman year, when it became apparent the demands of competing on the cross country and track and field teams would be too much to accommodate a third sport.

It wasn’t an easy decision, though.

Braude had looked forward to following in the footsteps of brothers Liran, who graduated in 2007, and Liad (2009), both of whom played on Falcons teams that won Palomar League and San Diego Sections championships.

“I felt it was time for a change and time to focus on something I was good at,” Braude said. “I saw what I wanted to become when I started. I guess that just kind of pushed me to do the best that I can.”

Braude’s decision had his soccer family’s blessings.

“My family is really good about not putting on pressure on you,” he said. “As long as you’re happy, they’re fine with it, because that’s what counts.”

But Braude has put pressure on himself. He said his family instilled a whatever-it-takes mentality in him at a young age. His father, a karate instructor, taught Braude and his brothers martial arts.

Braude credits Billmeyer and Karpowich for being role models who helped him keep his focus when he was just starting his distance running career.

“I’ve had great teammates and coaches who’ve been pushing me and sticking by me,” he said.

In a sport that inherently emphasizes individual accomplishments, Braude has embraced the team concept.

He cites mentoring younger teammates among his most important contributions to the program, and helping lead the cross country team last year to its first San Diego Section title in recent memory ranks right up there with his individual state title among his most important accomplishments.

“It was a big deal, because we hadn’t gotten first in a really long time,” he said. “I was so pumped, and my coaches were so pumped.”

Thorne said Braude contributed to the development of up-and-comers Spencer Dodds (who has since moved to Temecula) and Ian Hutchinson, among others. He believes Braude’s blueprint offers lessons for other athletes.

“He’s one of those stories that you love to tell as a coach,” he said. “He had big goals and big dreams. He had some talent, but we didn’t know how much, and I think he maximized his talent and his potential by hard work and dedication.”