After winning the 5,000-meter run Thursday night at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, Bethanie Brown was asked whether she first wanted to speak to the media or take a victory lap.

Neither was terribly appealing for the humble Waterville native, but she ultimately settled on the victory lap.

“I did that but apparently I did it wrong,” Brown said by phone Saturday afternoon, noting that she ran on the inside lane as if it were an actual race as opposed to the outside one to be closer to the crowd. “No one has ever taught me how to run on the victory lap.”

A victory lap was hardly Brown’s focus. Given all that the former Waterville Senior High standout has endured the last two years, just the simple act of running was enough to put a smile on her face.

A redshirt sophomore at Iowa State University, Brown’s career with the Cyclones got off to a blistering pace. She was the 2013 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in cross country and also garnered All-American honors — just the sixth freshman in Iowa State history to do so.

She compounded that with standout indoor and outdoor track seasons, and Brown seemed fast-tracked for stardom with the Cyclones. It was at the end of her freshman year, though, that she first began noticing that she did not feel quite right.

She competed in just two meets her sophomore cross country season, the Roy Griak Invitational and NCAA Cross Country Championships, and missed all of the indoor and outdoor track seasons. A foot injury contributed to the extended absence, but Brown said an iron deficiency was at the root of her struggles.

“I got my levels tested and they were really bad,” Brown said. “It was to the point where I was almost anemic, and then I was anemic.”

She and her doctors addressed the issue, but by the time the cross country season arrived Brown still could not compete. She had the will to do so, but physically her body would not allow it.

“I could barely digest any food and I was just having enough energy to do life in general,” Brown said. “I had this overwhelming fatigue. I’d rest a lot and then maybe feel a little bit better, but one little run would knock me out.”

“A lot of doctor’s appointments” later, Brown said, it was determined that her thyroid was not working properly, which contributed to her symptoms. Even after discovering the cause, it was not until March that she could start running again.

“It was really tough. I really wanted to go out and run. I would go and try, but my body just wouldn’t cooperate,” Brown said. “It was definitely a struggle to have that feeling of really wanting to get back in shape. I wanted to compete. I wanted to get back in shape, but I couldn’t. My body basically told me, ‘that’s not happening right now.’ I had to be patient.”

On Thursday night, that patience paid off in more ways than one. Though just her second meet of the outdoor season, Brown had planned to go out strong and fight amongst the lead pack early on for position. She ended up toward the back of the 24-runner field.

“I got stuck back there,” Brown said. “I just decided to chill, go with it and wait and be a little patient for the first few laps.”

The strategy served Brown well. She broke out wide with 10 or so hard strides during the straightaways and then tucked back within the crowd on the corners, each time picking off a few runners. As the final few laps approached, Brown was within striking distance of the lead and — for the first time in years — she felt good.

“I was running with them and with the way I was feeling I thought, ‘I’m not going to use everything I’ve got by the end of this race if I don’t go,'” Brown said. “With two laps to go I risked it and It worked.”

She posted a time of 16:25.19, which was good enough to best University of Minnesota-Duluth junior Breanna Colbenson by a little more than three seconds. Brown became just the third runner in Iowa State history to win the 5,000 at the Drake Relays and first since Lisa Koll did it in 2008.

“I just felt really grateful and really happy,” Brown said. “To go that long without being able to compete and being able to run at times, it’s just been really hard for me. To be able to finish that race and have that success — even if I hadn’t won it, just to feel good and compete — it felt surreal.”

Brown did not know what to expect heading into the meet, but was well aware that if it did not go well it could have been her final one of the outdoor season. Instead, she will now compete at the Big 12 Championships in Fort Worth, Texas beginning on May 12 and hopes her time in the 5K from Thursday will be fast enough to get her into the NCAA West Preliminaries on May 26 in Lawrence, Kansas.

Either way, Brown says she has learned a lot about herself over the past few years. She has learned, she says, that training is not all about how many miles you log, but more about feeling fit and “Just listening to my body.”

Most importantly, Bethanie Brown has a fresh perspective on a sport she has excelled at for most of her life.

“I have a new appreciation for being able to run,” she said.

• • •

Brown was not the only area athlete to compete at the Drake Relays this past weekend. On Thursday, Purdue University senior Matt McClintock, of Athens, placed fifth in the men’s 5,000. He clocked a time of 14:01.20, the second fastest in the event of his career.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

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Twitter: @Evan_Crawley