OTC Elite Week, Day 4:
What Is Lauren Johnson?
by The Trailer
EUGENE – In 2010, Lauren Johnson was an 800-meter specialist. Strictly. She did the odd 400m or 1500m, but it was mostly 800s, and that’s what she competed in at the 2010 USA Outdoor Championships.
In 2011, the 25-year-old was a miler. Strictly. She did the odd 800m or 3K, but it was mostly 1500s, and that’s what she competed in at 2011 USA Outdoor Championships.
In 2012, before a bone fragment in her ankle started floating around, prematurely ending her season, she’d become a steeplechaser.
And those are only the most recent changes.
At the tiny NAIA Huntington University in Huntington, Ind., Johnson, a 2009 graduate, was a long hurdler for the two-and-a-half months of track season. The rest of the time, she was a basketball player.
So, the question is, what exactly is Lauren Johnson?
“Well, we haven’t figured that out yet,” she says, laughing. “[For 2013] I’m going to be more focused on the 1500, and trying to make the move into the steeplechase.”
Whatever Johnson is, one thing she is not, unlike the rest of the new OTC Elite class, is fresh out of college. She, with husband Nick, moved to Oregon in January of 2010, and to Eugene this past January.
The goal on the west coast was always to run. But with whom shows just how lonely post-collegiate training can get.
“My training partners were injured all the time, and I never really had someone consistent,” Johnson says. Except her husband.
Now, with Nick Johnson, it’s not like he was coming off the couch. At Huntington, he set a 14:43.18 best in the 5,000m, so he’s got the legs. But it is different training with your wife all the time versus training with the guys.
Take conversation topics, a long-standing tradition in group runs: “Usually it will involve our to-do list, and what’s for dinner; things that are coming up with our family in the future,” he says. Contrast that with the guys: Big Ten, PGA, fantasy football.
Despite this unique relationship, the Johnsons were making it work: Lauren set a 1,500m best of 4:11.22 in April at Payton Jordan, as well as her steeple best of 10:04.49 in Eugene the week before.
But Johnson’s background in team sports made everything she achieved feel hollow. “I wanted to feel like I was a part of something. Just training on my own and being by myself, I felt like it wasn’t as significant because it was all for my own gain,” she says. “I just really wanted to be part of a group again.”
Johnson approached the OTC Elite, figuring all coach Mark Rowland could do was say no, and she’d be no worse off than she already was.
Obviously, Rowland said yes.
“In terms of age, I’m older, but probably in terms of the training that I have and the experience I have, I’m probably a lot younger than a lot of people he just brought onto the team,” she says.
Johnson’s getting her wish: soon she’ll be training with a pack of girls, and the premier track and field club in the U.S. And don’t worry about Nick; he won’t be getting fat now that his rabbiting days are coming to an end—coach Rowland lets him tag along with the group runs whenever he wants.
Rowland’s realized that whatever Johnson is, she and Nick are together.
Lauren Johnson has a blog. And a website. And two dogs. [Ed. note: She's also on Twitter, but boy, there are a lot of Lauren Johnsons out there. Favorite description from a random Lauren Johnson: "I tweet shit."]
From photographer Erik van Ingen’s post-shoot email: “Right away Lauren said she was going to have trouble not smiling. Sure enough, she would bust out a smile. Got a few nice shots of it. They were too friendly.”