Brooke Reif is in her third year as a member of Wharton’s track & field team. During her first two seasons, she established herself as a formidable runner in the 800-meter (metric half-mile) and 1600m (metric mile) races.
Then she decided to step out of her comfort zone.
Reif, who also runs cross country in the fall, added the 3200m (two-mile) race in a preseason meet prior to the 2021 season. She ran it in 11 minutes, 19 seconds, which was just tenths of a second better than the school record. It wasn’t official but, just a few weeks later, that changed.
At the Ram Invitational in Sarasota on Feb. 27, Reif ran the 3200m race in 11:09.82. That broke the previous Wharton record, set by Katrina Skinner in 2008, by 10 seconds. It was Reif’s first official 3200m race at Wharton, and it put her in the school’s record book. Then, on Mar. 19, she lowered that mark to 11:01.
“I thought I could maybe do it next year,’’ Reif said. “I knew I was getting closer but I didn’t think I was going to be getting that soon.’’
That’s because Reif doesn’t run the 3200m very often. In fact, she will likely run it only once or twice during the regular season and not at all in the postseason. She will focus on the 800 and 1600m races as well as the school’s 4x800m relay team.
Adding the two-mile race this season has made Reif a better overall runner, according to Wharton track & field coach Kyle LoJacono.
“She’s not just trying to run as fast as she can and outrun people,’’ LoJacono said. “She’s racing people now. She’s following the race plan. She’s being smart. She’s using her mind as much as she’s using her physical gifts. Take the (3200m) race at the Ram Invitational. She was literally only in first place for about the last 10 meters. She was probably about 50 meters behind. But, she has a kick because she is a middle distance runner.’’
Reif had a sort of epiphany prior to her junior year. She said she found out that running is about 80% mental. She knows she has the physical talent, but that crossing the finish line ahead of everybody else takes brains as well.
“I mostly liked the 800 when I was a freshman and a sophomore because they were two-lap races,’’ Reif said. “But, we’ve been doing a lot more miles lately and I just figured out that the 3200 is actually an easier race. You can strategize while you’re still running. It’s not something that you have to go all out in. You can plan it out as you are running and fix any mistakes you make.’’
The state record in the 3200m is 10:10.39, set earlier this month by Winter Springs junior Carolina Wells, so Reif will have to improve her personal best by more than 50 seconds to break that mark.
For Reif, running is in the family. Both of her parents were runners in college. Her mother Dena also was an assistant track coach and cross country head coach at the University of South Florida.
Reif said her parents never forced her into any sport, including running. But, by the time she got to middle school and tried out for cross country, she knew that’s where her talent was.
“It wasn’t something I was forced into,’’ Reif said. “By sixth grade, I joined the cross country team and went out on a time trial and finished in second behind an eighth grader. So, I knew it was something I was interested in. The reason I came to Wharton was so that I could join this team.’’
She has certainly made an impact in her time with the ‘Cats. Her sophomore track season was cut short due to Covid-19. However, she continued to train during the quarantine and stayed in shape for the cross country season. She finished 31st in the Class 4A State meet in Tallahassee with a time of 20:04.2 in the 5-kilometer (3.1 mile) race.
With no seniors on the cross country team, it is Reif’s hope that the whole Wharton squad qualifies for the cross country state meet next season. But, for now, her focus is on qualifying in what will likely be her three events — the 800m, 1600m and 4x800m relay — for the State track & field championship meet, which will be held May 14-15.
She also has her sights set on yet another school record, as she is just three seconds off of Skinner’s mile/1600m record of 5:00.63.
“I’m hoping I can get that one pretty soon,’’ Reif said. “If not this year then I’ll definitely try for it next year.’’
The 800m record — which is 2:10.51, set by Bryanna Rivers in 2017 — could also be within Reif’s reach. Her best time is seven seconds off that pace, so she is shooting for it next season.
While Reif will almost certainly qualify for the State track meet as an individual, she said it would be more special if her 4×800 relay team — which also includes sophomores Serenity Brazell and Olivia Hammill and junior Alex Frye — could join her.
While the relay team hasn’t run together this season, based on their individual times, it could be the Wildcats’ best shot at a Class 4A State championship.
That would be especially satisfying for Reif. One of her favorite things about cross country is the team atmosphere. She said that track can be a bit lonely sometimes, focusing mainly on individual races. The relay team allows her to feel like a team player.
“I like it because you get to work with your team, it’s not just you on your own,’’ she said. “You’re able to cheer on everyone else. I like when you’re running for your team.’’