By Anderson Bobo -- Florida MileSplit Correspondent
Johnson didn't just win the race, she broke the meet record with a blazing time of 4:05.98 a converted 4:25 for the one mile.
"It was kind of crazy. Crossing the finish line and realizing, 'wait you know I just won a national title' that was a pretty crazy feeling," Johnson said. "I think when I saw my time that just shocked me even more. I had so many emotions of just pure shock and then pure joy. It was just hard to process and comprehend everything at the time."
In the race, Johnson put herself in the front of the pack, jostling for position with the Oregon's Jessica Hull. Johnson stayed in the front of the race for the first three laps which is rare for her typical racing style. With a lap to go Jonhson took off, blasting a 62.68 last 400m to take home the national title.
"It sounds so cliche to say, but it really is so hard to put into words. You feel all of this happiness -- it's a testament to everything that you've been doing all season," Johnson said. For it all to come together on one specific day. It's really unreal."
The road to Austin was not an easy one. Last year, Johnson made it to the NCAA Outdoor Nationals in Eugene, but didn't make it out of prelims. With disappointment in her heart, Johnson was forced to watch the 1500m final from the stands.
"That didn't play out like I wanted to. It was pretty disappointing, but I knew 'this isn't you, know who you are as an athlete, do not think that that performance was indicative of what your fitness was' use that as a motivation to get back out there and prove to myself and anyone else that I belonged up there," Johnson said. "You know you deserve to be contending for that title just as much as anybody else and I think going forward I just use that huge disappointment as more motivation to get to the top."
Getting to nationals is one thing, but running well there is another. Johnson knew that first hand from her experience in 2018, but she stayed positive and continued to work hard, succeeding in her junior cross country season -- staying healthy every step of the way.
"We don't do anything very special. I think that if anybody was to go back and look at my workouts maybe a couple might stand out, but nothing that's really shocking. I think we're very smart with timing we timed it right this season. We hit hard workouts when needed to and rested when we needed to. Being smart during the season and not getting too greedy, it really kept me fresh and ready to go by the postseason," Johnson said.
Coming into the NCAA West Preliminary, Johnson had only raced one outdoor 1500 prior. Going into the west preliminary, she would go head to head against the top competition that would follow her to the NCAA Outdoor Finals.
"You have two rounds at regionals then prelims at nationals. It's a lot of 1500s you have to run and I wanted to go into regionals feeling like 'Ok I'm not burned out of the 1500m yet. I haven't run enough 1500s to feel like this is getting monotonous,'" Johnson said.
Johnson's time of 4:05.98 was the second fastest 1500m time in NCAA history. Second to another Central Florida native and Oviedo alumna, Jenny Barringer-Simpson. Simpson won multiple state titles on the high school level in the state of Florida and added Olympic Bronze medalist in the 1500m in Rio 2016 to her running resume.
Simpson, has been someone that Johnson has looked up to since her high school days.
"Being from the Central Florida area and going to a high school 30 minutes away from where she went to high school, I would hear her name on the record books or at the state championship meet. She is definitely someone that I looked up to, and I thought it was just really cool to have someone of her caliber come from the same place," Johnson said.
Johnson's next race is the 1500m at the USATF Outdoor Championships in July, where she has a high chance of racing Simpson.
"I could very well be in her heat in the prelim and then hopefully I'll make the final and I'm sure she will too so I could be racing her again in the final which just seems like a pretty surreal thing to say that you're running against Jenny Simpson," Johnson said. "That would be really cool and I'm definitely looking forward to the experience and the chance to be able to race against some of the best 1500m runners in America."
Dating back to her high school days, the former multi-time state champion has steadily improved. She came into college with a PR of 4:57.27 in the 1600m and 2:08.71 in the 800m and now runs 4:05.98 for the 1500m and 2:04.73 in the 800m respectively -- a huge improvement and attributed to training smart.
"I wasn't running a whole lot, probably running around 25 to 30 miles a week and when you have a high school career like that, you just have so much more time to develop. As a female too, it's a lot more common to do so well at a young age and then just kind of plateau or kind of decline as you get older," Johnson said.
Just how young runners and especially girls look up to Jenny Simpson, now they're starting to look up to Johnson.
"My biggest piece of advice for younger girls is to not take yourself, and your training so seriously at such a young age. Being in high school running should be something that's fun, you should never dread going to practice or dread racing," Johnson said. "I think that if it stops becoming fun for you then you should probably move on and find another sport. I think not getting too serious too quickly is very important. Even my first couple of years in college I was not even that serious about running. My training program changed a lot, but In terms of now I pay so much more attention to my diet, recovery, sleep, and stuff like that. I've developed more of a serious mentality."
For Johnson, the Central Florida running community has been a constant support for her throughout her running career, and continues to be a strong pillar in her life.
"Shout out to all my central Florida fellow runners out there," Johnson said. "They're always rooting for me and I appreciate having such a great community back home that's always like rooting for my success."