Lauren Johnson’s Working Her Way to the Top / by Scott Bush

Giving It a Go as a Pro

By Portland Track

At the 2014 Portland Track Festival, the women’s 800m finish was mighty exciting. Standout Kate Grace pulled away over the final 50 meters to take home the title, but arguably the most impressive run came from third place finisher Lauren Johnson. The OTC Elite athlete ran a 2:02.19, taking nearly two seconds off her personal best, but her PTF performance was only the start.

Johnson had a big 2014 season, getting her first taste of international racing, while running a new PR of 4:10.67 for 1,500 and steeplechase PR of 10:00.79. With another season of improvement, the former Huntington University basketball player (bonus point if you can name where Huntington is located), could very well make her way up into the U.S. top 15 in any of those events.

We caught up with Johnson this week, discussing her season, what lies ahead and her interesting path to becoming a professional track athlete.

Follow Lauren: Twitter

Portland Track (PT): This time of year seems like a good time for athletes to reflect back a bit. How do you feel about your 2014 season?

Lauren Johnson (LJ): 2014 was a good season for me. I did not see the improvement in PRs that I would have liked, but I was able to lay a solid foundation for the coming years. This was my first healthy season since 2011 and now that I finally have a year of consistent training under me, I'm looking to make a big jump come the 2015 season. I had some great opportunities this year as I was able to travel to Europe for some races following USAs and got my first taste of international competition and had a lot of fun in the process.  

PT: Your season was mighty impressive though, with some notable PRs and tremendous consistency. What do you attribute your jumps in performance to this season?

LJ: I only missed two weeks of training this year so I had a lot more consistency in my training. This year in June and July I ran within a second, plus or minus, of 4:11 six different times. While I'm glad I ran so consistently without any major drop-offs, I was really looking to drop my time into the 4:0X range. I've proven to myself that I can run 4:11 a number of different ways, fast start/slow start/pacing the first half/etc., and I know it takes just one race to make a breakthrough. I am almost there. 

Photo by Runnerspace.com

Photo by Runnerspace.com

PT: You're part of OTC Elite. What's it been like being part of the program over the past few years?

LJ: The OTC Elite is great. Mark Rowland is one of the best coaches in the business and is a total genius. I also have great training partners; Sally Kipyego is an Olympic and World medalist, Aisha Praught had a breakout season and in now one of the top steeplechasers in the country, and new addition, Shelia Reid, is also amazing. Having these women to work with and to push me every day is awesome and one of the things I most value about being part of such a world-class team.  

PT: Your 1,500m best ranks well among the top Americans, but the field is so stacked with talent in the U.S. What's it like being part of such an incredible event filled with world-class talent?

LJ: It's very inspiring and motivating yet also very humbling. Seeing other American women on the big stage competing with the best, and winning, is a great thing for our sport. It gives you hope that you too can do amazing things. It also motivates me in training because I know if I'm not working there is always someone who is. You have to be at the top of your game just to be competitive here is the U.S., let alone internationally.

PT: In order to take another big step forward in 2015, what do you feel you need to do between now and the time the season ramps up in April?

LJ: My focus this fall and winter is on aerobic development and improving my aerobic base. This is something my training has really been missing the last couple of years as I have been working through injuries. The plan has always been to make the jump to the steeplechase. I've got the hurdling down, I ran the 400m hurdles in college, but what I've been missing is the aerobic engine needed to sustain that for 3000m. 

PT: Okay, it's the off-season...how does your day look compared to when you are in-season?

LJ: Really my day looks much the same. We have the same workout schedule now as we do in-season. The biggest difference is in the type of training we do. Higher volume with lower intensity in workouts in the fall, whereas the spring in just the opposite. 

PT: Final question - You competed at Huntington University, a small NAIA school in Indiana. You had some success your senior year in school, but what ultimately drove you to continue competing after college?

LJ: In college, I was not a "runner." I was recruited to the school to play basketball and that was my main focus. I had run track in high school and there was room on the HU team, so I continued to run in college, mostly for fun but also to avoid spring basketball workouts. My senior year I started running a lot on my own during that basketball season to be in better shape for games. I didn't run much, maybe 15-20 miles a week, but it was enough that come track season I saw major improvements in my times.

I set school records in the 400m hurdles and in the 800m, lowered my 800m PR from 2:19 to 2:07, and finished 4th at Nationals in the 800m. After seeing that much of an improvement with just a little bit more training, I was really intrigued to see what I could do if I trained seriously year-round. So that's what I did.

My husband and I moved to Beaverton, Oregon to work with Andrew Begley and Amy Yoder Begley, and they are the ones that really helped me get my start in the professional world of track and field.

This interview was published in Portland Track Weekly on October 15. Sign up for Portland Track Weekly to receive once a week an interview or story on the special track and field athletes from Oregon.