Matthew Johnson is one of my good friends from college XC at Augusta University. He was our team captain for 3 years and I could not have asked for a better teammate and captain. He is one of the nicest, most driven people I have ever met and I’m thankful that I got to know him as a friend and teammate.
FAST FACTS SECTION…Get to know Matt outside of running:
I am a PE parapro at an elementary school. I coach high school cross country. I previously worked in the running specialty industry (Fleet Feet Atlanta)! I graduated college with a degree in Communication Studies and a minor in Health and Physical Education. I am a writer. I am an avid porch sitter. I am a lover of coffee and country/bluegrass music who loves fishing, hiking, kayaking…basically anything and everything outdoors! I desire to live a simple life and serve others. Most importantly, my faith, hope, peace, and joy in life is found in Christ!
How long have you been running? What made you start enjoying it?
I have been running competitively for a little over 10 years now. I decided I wanted to try out cross country at the end of my 8th grade year in school (2006). My middle school PE teacher at the time was also the high school cross country coach. He talked to me about joining the cross country team going into my freshmen year of high school after we ran the mile fitness test in PE. I had always played football during the fall up to that point, but for whatever reason I decided to give running a try. Looking back now, I can’t really think of a time when I didn’t enjoy it. I have always loved sports that require a lot personal motivation and hard work to get better. Regardless of my talent level in any given sport, I have always prided myself on being a hard worker. I think that was the initial draw for me towards running. It truly is one of those sports where you only get out of it what you put into it. Outside of that, I have always loved the “team” aspect of the sport. The camaraderie and respect amongst runners is unlike any other sport I have ever been around. My best friendships in life have come through the sport of running.
You wrestled in high school too. When did you decide you wanted to give that up to focus more on running?
I was a three sport athlete for years growing up (baseball, basketball, football). Once I got to high school, I played baseball for a year and wrestled for a couple years. While I loved those sports, after my sophomore season of cross country I knew that running had become my true passion. I made it a goal that season to one day earn a scholarship to run in college. While it was a difficult decision to stop playing those other sports, I didn’t want to look back and wonder “what if” at the end of my high school career. I had my sights set on the goal of running in college and being the best runner I could be. I knew the only way for me to do that was to focus solely on the sport I wanted to be best at. Cutting out other sports also allowed me the opportunity to start running track in the spring. However, I will say that if there is one sport I miss the most it would definitely be wrestling!!!
Did you run in college? What was your favorite distance to run? What were some of your best times?
Yes, I ran at Augusta University (formerly Augusta State University and Georgia Regents University). While I ran both cross country and track at the collegiate level, I would have to say that cross country has always been my favorite. I am a true cross country guy at heart. As far as my favorite race distance goes, it’s pretty simple…the longer the better (an early sign of an ultra-runner to come, haha)! In college that meant the 10k. I have to admit…I was always a little jealous of the NAIA guys though, because NAIA sanctions a marathon national championship every year, haha. I did race a couple half marathons in college and really enjoyed those. As far as time goes, I ran 26:05 for 8k in cross country, 15:59 for 5k, and 33:25 for 10k…nothing crazy fast, but times that I am proud of. Unfortunately, I was plagued with some untimely injuries during my last couple track seasons. I also ran a 1hr 13min (5:35ish pace) half marathon. I had a fifth year of eligibility in track, so I had an entire fall to just train in preparation for the spring. My coach and I decided to play to my strengths and give a half marathon a go. I actually think that my half marathon time is my fastest PR once you start converting it to shorter distances. I definitely think I have still have some PRs in my legs whenever I decide to take a break from the trails.
Do you have a favorite college XC/track racing moment?
I have many great memories from my college running experience, but the best would definitely have to be qualifying as a team for the 2013 NCAA Cross Country National Championships. That was literally my biggest goal in college and had been a team goal for four years. That entire fall was a dream season for us. As seniors, we were able to win our second conference championship and go on to qualify for nationals. Toeing the line at a national championship and ending my career on the biggest stage (at the collegiate level) with all of my brothers (aka teammates) was a dream come true, and a perfect way to close out my cross country career. It is truly something I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.
What kinds of injuries did you have throughout high school and college? How were you able to overcome those injuries?
Overall, I have been pretty fortunate throughout my running career. While I have had my fair share of nagging/overuse injuries here and there over the years, I have never suffered from what I would consider a serious injury in the sport of running (stress fracture, ect…). For the most part, I have dealt with the usual…bouts of IT band syndrome, quadriceps tendonitis, achilles tendonitis, and plantar faciitis. The worst was probably a case of plantar faciitis that flared up in the middle of my last collegiate track season. Being my fifth and final year, I had no choice really but to continue to train and race while simultaneously treating it like crazy along the way. I even went as far as having dry-needling done on my feet and calves…OUCH!! As a result, I ended up doing some serious damage to my feet over the last few weeks of the season. I ended up battling with it for about 8-9 months total. While it was a bummer at the time, I try to remind myself that while that final season didn’t go as I had hoped, it does not define my entire collegiate career. As far as overcoming injuries, I am a firm believer in doing everything you can to prevent them in the first place. I always remind myself that “prehab” is better than “rehab”. My college coach always called it “doing the little things”….daily ice baths, foam rolling, strength/mobility work, stretching, STEM/ultrasound treatment, massage, proper sleep and nutrition, minimizing outside “life” stress as much as possible, ect. Over the years, I have become much better at listening to my body and knowing when it needs to recover. My college coach also would always remind us that we were only going to be as good as our recovery…advice that I think all runners at every level could benefit from.
General Post-Collegiate Training
Did you take a long break after finishing your last season of college track and field? Or did you jump right back into training?
I didn’t really take a long break after my last season. However, I did take a little longer break than normal in an attempt to let my body (mainly my feet) completely heal. I took a couple weeks off and then slowly started with some very short/easy runs a few times a week. That was around the time I started my first season of coaching high school cross country, so most of my running that summer was done with the kids. My feet still took another six months or so to get back to 100%. Overall, I am passionate about the sport of running and still have many goals, so I plan to continue training and racing at a high level for as long as I can.
What kinds of races are you training up for now? What are some of the highlight races you’ve done since college?
My post-collegiate career thus far has consisted mostly trail racing (with a few road races mixed in). After college I was looking for new ways to challenge myself and get me excited to train, so I decided to turn to the trails. I have always loved running on trails, and I feel like my strengths as a runner suit me well on them. I have raced in several Xterra races, as well as other trail races ranging in distance from 10k to 11.5 miles. I also competed in my first ultra marathon (50k) this past April! Racing a 50k was equally one of the most awesome and hardest things I have done in my entire life. It tested me physically, mentally, and emotionally in ways like nothing else ever has. I found out a lot about myself that day.
Do you have a coach or any specific training partners?
I currently do not have a coach. I read /research a lot, talk to people, and use knowledge I have gained over the years. That was a decision I came to after college for a couple of different reasons. One, being married now, working full-time, coaching, and having a number of other responsibilities/obligations to take care of throughout the week, my schedule is constantly changing. I have always been a very meticulous when it comes to my training. Now that I am in “the real world”, I have had to learn to be much more flexible with my training. Sometimes that means switching workouts to different days because of the way I feel or a lack of time…others it might mean missing a run completely. Bottom line, life happens and things come up sometimes. I have learned to go with the flow and not get frustrated if my training week doesn’t go exactly as planned. With all that being said, if I have a coach putting in the time and effort to write training plans, I want to make sure I am giving that back by following exactly what he or she has planned for me. I have always maintained the mindset that if I am going to commit to do something, I am going to do it right. As I continue to adjust to “the real world” and my new normal, I will definitely consider going back to having a coach. Right now, I am having fun writing my own workouts and experimenting with new things in ultra training. It keeps things fun, and as corny as it sounds…that is always most important! In regards to training partners, my main one is my wife, Tia! I also run a lot with the high school athletes I coach, as well as a few of my former co-workers. I will always take any opportunity I can to run with people!
What is the next big race you’re training for? Any specific time/place/finish goals?
My next big race will be The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship 50k in San Francisco this December! I would be stoked to come home with a top-ten finish! I have learned that time/pace on the trails isn’t quite as relevant because of the varying terrain/course conditions from race to race. I am just excited for the opportunity for the challenge of competing against some of the best athletes in the sport. Leading up to it I plan to compete in a smaller race or two (both road and trail).
Without giving too many of your training secrets away:
How many miles a week are you running?
To be completely honest, I have no idea! In college I would max out at right around 90 miles a week. I train mostly by minutes like we did in college, so I don’t really keep a record or log of my actual mileage. I guess it would really depend on what I am specifically training for at the time. I am currently in the middle of a build-up for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k in San Francisco this December, so needless to say I am running a pretty good bit haha.
What kinds of workouts are you focusing on? Do you have a favorite workout?
Again, the specific workouts I am focus on really depends on what race I am training for. However, throughout most of the year my training is usually going to incorporate some sort of tempo run, long run, and faster paced intervals or hills, among general mileage/recovery runs. I also do strides throughout the year to help maintain foot speed/overall running economy (even when training for an ultra). More specifically for ultra races, I have learned that it is important to research the course you are going to be racing and do your best to mimic that terrain in training. The further I get into a training cycle for an ultra, the more my workouts become focused on helping me encounter/prepare for what I will see on race day (same applies for practicing nutrition intake as well). As far as my favorite workouts, I have always loved long runs! I also love longer progression runs and fartlek runs….basically any “effort” based workout that is less focused on hitting specific splits, and more focused on “feel” and allowing your body and the workout to progress naturally. Lastly, I enjoy running any sort of hill workout. I have learned that practicing downhill running is just as important as practicing uphill running when it comes to ultras and trail racing. Right now in training I have been working on increasing my overall long run distance, as well as practicing my climbing and descending.
What kind(s) of running shoes are you using?
Over the past year I have really fallen in love with HOKA ONE ONE. I have several different HOKA shoes that rotate through depending on what type of run/workout I’m doing that day. I am currently logging most of my mileage in the HOKA Bondi 4 and a trail shoe called the HOKA ATR Challenger 2. I also have a pair of HOKA Clifton 2s that I often wear for my faster speed/tempo workouts.
Do you run mostly on roads or trails?
Do you have any specific injury prevention routines you perform throughout the week? Do you do much strength training? (I know those two questions overlap)
I always try to be diligent with injury prevention on a daily basis. Nothing special…mainly foam rolling, dynamic and static stretching/mobility routines, ice baths, ultrasound and STEM when needed, and maybe an occasional sports massage. I am also a big believer in strength training for runners. I believe that injury rates go down, and overall efficiency goes up when a runner is consistently strength training. I am in the gym 2-3 times per week on average. Strength training has always been a big part of my training routine…especially now that I am training for ultras that are run on really tough terrain. I am constantly working on strengthening my legs, hips/glutes, upper body, balance, and core. A stronger frame is always a more durable frame.
I know you were really into writing and blogging during school. Do you have a blog or training page currently?
I love to write and blog! Believe it or not, I currently do not have a personal blog page. However, I would love to start one whenever I find some free time! In college, I blogged for the Peach Belt Conference about student-athlete life, as well as helped write many of the press releases for track and field. However, I am most proud to have served as the editor-n-chief of Augusta University’s (formerly Georgia Regents University) Phoenix Magazine. I also did a little bit of blogging for Fleet Feet Atlanta while I was working there (shoe reviews, ect…). Along with being one of the assistant coaches, I currently write press releases for the Buford High School Cross Country website, as well as the local newspaper on occasion. Since I don’t have a personal blog, I usually post updates and pictures on my training and racing through my social media pages. (Instagram: @matt_johns91, Twitter: @matt_johns91, Facebook: Matthew Johnson). For more information on the team that I run for (Anchored Elite), you can visit www.anchoredelite.com.
Is there a certain reason why you enjoy writing and posting online?
Not really…I have just always loved writing. Much like running, it is something that I have developed a strong passion for. I have always been pretty good at it, and I find it to be very peaceful and relaxing. Writing often serves as an “escape” for me just like running does.
I saw recently that you started being sponsored. What kinds of sponsorships do you have?
Yes, I currently represent four different companies as a brand ambassador in my training and racing: CEP Compression, Nuun hydration, and Headsweats performance headwear. The team I run for, Anchored Elite, is also sponsored by Janji. Janji is an awesome running apparel company that also works to provide clean water for those who need it in countries all around the world! I am very thankful to have the support of these great companies as I continue to pursue competitive trail running! I truly love their products and would highly recommend them to anyone! For any other running gear needs I go to Fleet Feet Atlanta!
What does your CEP sponsorship entail? Can you tell us a little bit about your favorite products from CEP?
For the most part, all of my sponsorships include basic gear (Janji, CEP, and Headsweats) and nutrition (Nuun). All four companies have sent me free products. Beyond that, they provide me with significant discounts on other things that I might want/need. A few of the companies even put up my athlete profile along with other ambassadors on their website. As far as my favorite products, it is hard to choose. From CEP I really like the full length run socks, calf sleeves, and short socks…depends on the day I guess haha. Currently my favorite flavor of Nuun is fruit punch. From CEP, I love training and racing in both the “Go Hat” and the “Supervisor”. However, in my opinion you can never go wrong with a trucker hat! I am not even going to try and choose my favorite Janji product…everything I have looks and feels great!
Matt very recently got married to Tia Johnson.
The two of you met during college XC. Do you get to run together a lot now?
Tia and I did meet in college on the cross country team. Running has given me a lot over the years, but the best thing it has given me by far is my wife! Now that we are out of college and settled into married life, we do get to run a lot together. While I was starting back training after my last 50k, I spent about a month helping her get ready for a road 5k. I pretty much did every run and workout by her side. I loved it!!! I probably run with her more than I run with anyone else now. We also workout and lift weights together at the gym! Even when I am focused on preparing for my races and running on my own, I will still start off my runs with her or plan to run with her on my easier/shorter days. We are great training partners!
What is she training for?
Since college, Tia has only raced on the roads. She really loves doing local 5ks. However, she also loves trail running and does the majority of her training on trails. She wants to start racing in some of the shorter distance Xterra trail races with me next spring. Having trained with her on the trails, I know that she would do great!
How does being a running couple help both your relationship and each other’s running goals (I know that’s a big question haha)?
It is awesome for Tia and I to share something that we are both passionate about! I mean, there are not many couples who choose to run away from their wedding instead of drive away haha. Running gives us an opportunity to spend time together while we are doing something we enjoy. While this comparison may be overused, running is a lot like life. There are often challenges that come up, but running has helped us develop a lot of intangible qualities (hard work, perseverance, commitment, ect…) that serve us well both in our marriage and in our daily lives. We love being able to support and encourage each other in our training and racing. We are each others’ biggest cheerleaders. There are countless times when Tia would run and then wait in the car another hour for me to finish up my longer runs. I try to help her out with her training as much as I can in return. I even had the opportunity to pace her in a race this past summer! We hold each other accountable and help each other get out the door everyday…even when we don’t feel like it! Even when we aren’t necessarily doing our runs right next to each other, it’s always nice to pass each other on the trails and know that we are both out there working hard. Tia has always motivated me and made me want to be better…not just in running, but in every aspect of life. We both understand the amount of time and work that it takes to be a competitive runner, so it makes it easier when preparing for a big race. Also, we both understand when the other one is tired and just wants to sit around the house and relax. We are both pretty laid back people though, so that is usually both of us all the time haha. Lastly, we really enjoy having our former teammates come visit us. We both love hosting people, and want to maintain those friendships for a lifetime Overall, running has had a tremendous impact on both of our lives. It helped shape us as individuals and ultimately was the commonality in our lives that helped bring us together.
Lastly, do you have any advice for runners who want to continue running competitively post-collegiately? Or advice for runners who are seeking to get any sort of sponsorship?
For those that might have a dream to continue running competitively post-collegiately, I encourage you to not give up on that dream. My main motivating factor was not wanting to look back in 10 or 20 years and wonder what I could have done in the sport if I stuck with it. One of my favorite quotes has become “Only those who risk going too far, can possibly find out how far they can go.” It is not always easy considering the majority of post-collegiate runners aren’t supporting themselves by running, but it can be done. Set new goals for yourself after college so you have a sense of direction and purpose with your training and racing. Also, always make sure you maintain a healthy balance in life. I believe too much of one thing can be a bad thing. Now that I am working full-time and married, I have had to learn where running fits into all that. Make running something you do, but not who you are. Adjusting to the “real world” and all of life’s demands can be difficult sometimes, so you have to learn to be flexible. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a workout or have to cut a run short because “life” happens. Ultimately, you have to find ways to continually make it fun. You have to enjoy the process before you can enjoy the result. As far as gaining sponsorships, don’t be afraid to reach out to companies yourself. Most of the time, unless you are at a world class level, companies aren’t going to come find you. Find products you love and believe in and start there. Put together a “running resume” and start sending it out to companies that you are interested in. Don’t be upset if you don’t hear back right away from companies. Positivity and persistency can get you a long way when it comes to both running and seeking out sponsorships!