In the Locker Room: Joanna Johnson

The Review recently caught up with senior track standout Joanna Johnson to discuss Nationals, her dedication to the sport and life after Oberlin.

Marissa Clardy

You just automatically qualified for nationals in the 10k. What was your mindset going into and coming out of the race?

The goal of the race was to qualify. I knew that was the plan. The qualifying time was 35 minutes, 48 seconds, so I set my goal pace a little below that. It didn’t go perfectly because I was running alone. I think that it could have gone better if I would have had other people to run with, but I can’t complain about having qualified. Coming out of the race, I was happy to know that I was definitely going, but I feel that I could have done better.

You are an extremely dedicated runner. Was running always such a huge part of your life?

No. It was a progression. I started running my sophomore year of high school. I had tried other sports, but I was not athletic by any means. It was frustrating in the beginning because I wasn’t very good, but I knew that if I worked hard, I could get better. I worked hard and came back the next season, and I was better than the season before. That has become my mentality — I have not reached my peak yet, and I want to take it as far as I can; so if I keep working, I will hopefully continue to get better.

What created such a love of distance running? Was there a specific moment that you realized you really wanted to pursue it seriously?

I don’t think there was a moment. But I think the timeframe was my junior year of high school. I didn’t do track, so I came back from the end of the cross country season my sophomore year, my first, and I had just gotten through the season. After having worked for a year and coming back as one of the top six on the team, it was really exciting. There are so many things that you can work hard at and not see the results the same way. I played piano for a long time and I knew that if I practiced I would get better, but you cannot see the results the same way that you do with running. I think recognizing that gave me a lot more confidence. I have always been a more reserved person, and seeing that I could accomplish things that I never realized I could and that I didn’t think were possible really gave me confidence in myself and made me want to keep pushing myself. I am definitely capable of more than I think I am. You think you have limits, but then you break them.

You run cross-country and track. Is there a different thought process when it comes to running them?

There definitely is. Cross country is my favorite. The 10k is my best event — simply because it is the longest one — but cross country is my strength, because it is all about competition. With cross country, your times do not matter because you can’t compare one cross country course to another and, really, you can’t compare races on the same course to one another because conditions change. You could have a stormy day one race and a beautiful, sunny day another. It is all about really competing with the people that you are running with. With track, it is much more standardized. It is more precise about the time, and, for me, that is much harder. It is much easier to just compete against the other people that I am running with than to compete against the clock and knowing all my splits. I used to be terrified of track, but now I really like it, especially indoor track. There, you are being measured every 200 meters, so it is very precise, but there is a certain comfort in that: knowing exactly what time that you need to come through in for each lap.

Do you plan to do any running after you graduate?

Yes. Now I can confidently say that. I was awarded the Watson Fellowship, which is a 12-month fellowship. For my project, I will be spending four months each in three different countries training with professional distance runners. It’s a two-part project. The first part is, I admit, to better my own training, but the second part is about the women that I am training with. Learning how the cultural context — how the perception of women in the society and the perception of athleticism in the society — has influenced their paths to becoming professionals and the challenges and motivations that it has created for these women. It begins with four months in Ethiopia on August 1. I am going to Ethiopia, Australia and Norway. The routine in Ethiopia, which is the only routine that I know right now, you get up in the morning and you go for a run, you come back and have breakfast, then you either hang out for the day or you have classes. I will be writing since the plan is to write the stories of these women. Then you have a run in the afternoon, you have dinner, you go to bed, and then you do it again the next day. I’m doing that for four months. So my hope is that that is going to help my training. I plan to run at least one marathon. I am hoping to run one in December and then another one in either April or May; it will depend on what is in the area. I know that I will have opportunities to race, but it may be a 10k instead of a marathon. [Olympian] Greta Waitz just passed away, but I am going to be training with her team in Norway, so I am really excited. I have a year of really intense training — it is going to be all about running and writing.