Johnson returns home to Lime City to train for shot at national track title

Lauren Johnson, a professional runner from Huntington, runs a lap on the track at Huntington University’s King Stadium on Tuesday, June 12. Johnson is competing in the 1,500-meter run at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, which begin today, Thursday, June 21. With the meet being held in Des Moines, IA, Johnson returned to Huntington to get reacclimated to running in the Midwest’s climate.
Lauren Johnson, a professional runner from Huntington, runs a lap on the track at Huntington University’s King Stadium on Tuesday, June 12. Johnson is competing in the 1,500-meter run at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, which begin today, Thursday, June 21. With the meet being held in Des Moines, IA, Johnson returned to Huntington to get reacclimated to running in the Midwest’s climate. Photo by Steve Clark.

When professional runner Lauren Johnson comes to Huntington, it’s usually to visit with friends and family in her hometown.

Her most recent trip to the Lime City, though, was motivated by something else. This time around, she was here to train for a national title.

Johnson, a member of the Boston Athletic Association High Performance Team, is competing in the 1,500-meter run at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. With the meet being held at Drake University in Des Moines, IA, she knew the best way to prepare for it would be to refamiliarize herself with running in a Midwestern climate.

And that’s what led her back to Huntington.

As a professional, Johnson is diligent about preparing herself to compete in the conditions that she’ll encounter at meets.

“Last year, nationals were in Sacramento, which was dry heat, over 100 degrees every day,” she says, “and I went there before and trained for about 10 days and was really prepared for the conditions.”

Time and again, Johnson has reaped the rewards that come with reducing climate inexperience as a factor in races.

“At the professional level, that’s just one of those factors that, if it’s something you can eliminate in terms of physiologically, but also psychologically, on race day, you can get a big benefit,” she says.

Johnson is hoping to get such a benefit when she takes off from the starting line in Des Moines. The preliminary round of the 1,500 will take place today, Thursday, June 21, at 3:35 p.m. while the final round will be held Saturday, June 23, at 3:46 p.m. The preliminary round will stream on NBC Sports Gold while the final round will air on NBC.

While Johnson says her 1,500 performances this year have been about six seconds off her personal-best outdoor time of 4:04.17, she attributes that to the pace of the races she’s competed in.

“I haven’t (run) any super-fast times in the 1,500, but that’s more of an indicator of just the race and how things played out, rather than where my fitness is,” she explains. “Every year is different. You can be super fit and train and maybe you don’t get the races to get the results you want.

“I kind of learned, being in this for as many years as I have now, that I can take confidence from training and what I’m able to accomplish there and not necessarily have to be able to go out in a race and put down a really fast time.”

The effectiveness of Johnson’s training was apparent at a meet she competed in earlier this month, the Adrian Martinez Classic, held June 7 in Concord, MA. She opted to run in two events at the meet. While that, she notes, is rare for a professional runner to do, she found the challenge of it appealing.

Johnson’s first race was the 800-meter run. She posted a time of 2:01.22 – a personal record in the event – which earned her second place overall.

“And then I had about 70 minutes’ rest before coming back and running the mile,” she says.

Johnson performed well in that race, too. She submitted a season’s best clocking of 4:28.16, which netted her fourth place.

“Coming back and beating a lot of my competitors that were racing fresh was a good indicator of where my fitness is,” notes Johnson.

Following nationals, Johnson says her next objective will be to lower her time in the 800 even further.

“This year, one of my main goals is to run under two minutes for 800 meters,” she explains. “So, I’m going to be doing a few more. Usually, I’ll do one or two 800s a year. But, after nationals, I’m looking to go to Europe and run like three or four 800-meter races.

“So, hopefully, I can get that goal of running under two minutes. That’s a big barrier for women.”

Before she runs in Europe, though, she’ll be running in Des Moines.

And she’s glad she made a stop in Huntington along the way.

“Being at races this spring, all my competitors are talking like, ‘Oh, the humidity’s going to be so bad. We’re going to die in Des Moines,’” shares Johnson. “And in the back of my head I’m like, ‘It’s not going to be that bad. I’m going to be training in Indiana. I’ll be used to it. It’ll be fine.’”