Fran Johnson: Runner and Blogger
My name is Francene Johnson, and I’m from Joplin, Mo. I’m a wife, mom of three, blogger, assistant track coach and marathoner. I was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio. I was a sprinter from elementary school up to junior college, and during that time I won five state competitions. I also ran cross-country in high school to better my endurance in the 400-meter dash, and because of excellent performance, had the privilege to compete in China with other top cross- country runners from the U.S. in a 13K race. I placed 22nd out of the top 50 American girls.
I received a full track scholarship to NEO A&M Junior College. After my first year, the school cut the track program. When that happened, I moved to Joplin and got a job as a waitress at Shoney’s. I didn’t run from 1991 to 1996; then I entered the Show Me State games to run a 100-meter dash. Since I was the only one in my age group, I won my age class.
Skip forward to 2011 when my husband and I had a family. Randomly, in April 2011, I received an email saying that I was going to be inducted into the Lorain County Track & Cross-Country Hall of Fame. I was super excited, so we drove to Ohio for the induction. It was such an honor—and that is one of the main reasons I was inspired to get back into running.
In December 2011, I stepped out onto the street with my stop-watch from track and timed myself running a mile. The first two blocks was a killer. I was out of breath, and it hurt! I hadn’t realized how out of shape I was! I kept a journal and logged how long it took me to run a mile each day I ran. A few days later I learned about the running app, Mapmyrun, so I started using that to help log my runs; it kept track of my miles, pace, calories burned, etc. In the back of my mind, I had hoped to keep this going. I had always been excited about starting something new; but with many other things, after the newness wore off, I didn’t stick with it. However, it was different with running.
In January 2012, I signed up for my first 5K race since high school and placed first in my age group. It was so encouraging that in March 2012 I ran another 5K—and this time I was the first over-all female!
I felt I was on a roll and would run a few more 5Ks; but then the idea of running a half marathon crossed my mind. I wondered if I could ever run that long. I researched half marathons and training programs, and in the summer of 2012 I decided to run a half—which required I run up to at least 10 miles in training. On Sept. 29, 2012, I ran my first half marathon in Kansas.
I’d tried to figure out what my time would be; my husband guessed that I could probably do it somewhere around 2:05 or so, based on my 10-mile average pace. The race in Kansas was a small race, so I didn’t feel a lot of pressure;
I just had to remember not to take off fast! I ran an 11- mile pace for my first mile, and then started to pick it up. I could see the number of females in front of me and was slowly passing them as the race went on; I felt good about that. I started to count the females; I remember about four of them being in front of me at mile 6 or so. I kept a pretty good pace for the next few miles.
I remember a guy yelling to me that I was the fourth female and at the same time seeing a girl in front of me, close enough for me to catch. I had gone into the race thinking, “I’m not going to be competitive, I’m just going to run for fun and see how this goes.” So much for that. I passed the runner in front of me; and while the last two miles of the race seemed like they took forever, I finished in 1:55:09, third overall female.
I remember crossing the finish line thinking, “I’m a half marathoner.” I was interviewed because the event organizer heard it was my first half marathon—and placing 3rd was great! I loved the half so much that I ran another three weeks later, placing second in my age group. Three weeks after that I ran my third half, where I got a PR of 1:50.
I never thought running that long of a distance would be so much fun, but it has been and I happen to be doing well with it; but as with most things, you get to thinking, Can I run a full marathon? Frankly, I had no time for training for something that long. I was a busy mom, and assistant track coach—but I researched how to train for the marathon anyway. I knew I wouldn’t be able to follow a certain training plan; I’d have to do it my way.
Weeks went by, and in December of 2012, I started training for the Little Rock Marathon to be held in March 2013. Training went well, but one week before the marathon I came down with a fever. I couldn’t believe it. The fever lasted on and off for a week, and I wasn’t sure I’d be up for the marathon. I knew there would be more marathons, so I wasn’t disappointed; and my husband and I travelled to Little Rock that weekend anyway so that I could get the feel of what it would be like and so we could cheer for friends who were running. It was an inspiring weekend for sure.
The following weekend I signed up for the Oklahoma City Memorial marathon, six weeks away. I thought that was plenty of time for me to get ready for it and started my training over again, running 15 miles or so and adding a mile the following weeks. Marathon Day arrived; it was a beautiful morning and I was eager to run. I didn’t feel any pressure because I knew I was going to be running at a slower pace.
Running the OKC Memorial was emotional; it was just weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing, and athletes wore the names of the victims on the back of their shirts. People were also wearing blue and yellow ribbons in memory of the Boston victims. Firefighters were walking on the course. People were patting them on the back, saying “Thank you” as they passed them. I did the same. There was so much crowd support all along the course; it was AMAZING!
I didn’t hit the wall at mile 20, so that was nice; I did, however, feel some pain at mile 22 and I just wanted to get the race done. It was hot. The temperature was in the mid 80s or so, but I would finally get through the 26.2 miles at 4:21. My legs were on fire, but before I left the race I knew I would run the marathon again. I enjoyed it!
My next marathon will be in November 2013 at the Bass Pro Marathon in Springfield, Mo. This is where I ran my second half marathon. Recently, I considered running a 50K, and so I am looking into running one of those 31-miler races. I love the challenge! I know I can do it, and I will do it!
“I sometimes run with our local running group—The Run Around, LLC—the people I run with have pushed me; I recommend running with a group.”
I train on my own most of the time, but sometimes run with our local running group—The Run Around, LLC—on Wednesday nights. The people I run with have pushed me; I recommend running with a group of runners any chance you have. I enjoy the social part of it as well.
My running gear consists of Brooks Pure Connect shoes, New Balance Minimus, and Skora running shoes; headbands by Bondi bands and Sweaty bands; Lunatik Athletik Compression Socks; moisture wicking clothing from The Run Around, LLC in Joplin, Swirl Gear, Run Girl Run; funky compression tights from Nike; moisture wicking tops from Danskin; and my GARMIN and Mapmyrun app.
I drink lots of water and enjoy eating Chobani yogurt, fish, avocados, spaghetti, hard boiled eggs, salads with fruit and pecans, fruit smoothies, chocolate protein shakes by Arbonne, roast with rice, and chicken. I drink coffee, and will have a cup before a run.
My husband is a chiropractor and so he is my sponsor. I get all my chiropractic care from him and really appreciate all he does for not only me, but also other athletes in the community.
In addition to being an assistant track coach, I do some high school senior and family photography, and volunteer in the community with my photography as well. I have a blog at irunlong.blogspot.com and also enjoy my facebook runner blog, I Run Long at facebook.com/irunlongalways. I train anywhere from 25-35 hours a week and have started to throw in some biking as cross-training.
What drives me in my training is to remain consistent, staying hydrated, alternating my routes. I love running along busy roads. I enjoy the encouragement from motorists, the waves and honks. I usually see friends and other runners out, and that is such motivation for me.
I have not budgeted for my races, but I really need to; there are just too many races that I want to do, and I know that I cannot afford to run them all. I try to pick a couple a month to do, but I still put extra races on my calendar just in case (ha!). I had this brilliant idea of having a T-shirt made and asking friends and family if they would like to sponsor me at $50-$75 to have their business logo put on the back of my running shirt to advertise their business and also promote them on my blog, and they would have the option to buy a shirt. I haven’t started the project or even shared the idea with anyone else, but I will soon. I think it sounds like a great idea! I’d donate money to have my business advertised.
Since I got back into running, I’ve had a couple of setbacks. The first one was a strained groin muscle. I hated not being able to run. I laid off running for two weeks and kept up with my chiropractic care and stretching. The first setback happened early on in my marathon training. I do believe in rest; the body needs rest. I do not train every day, but maybe four to five days a week. I fell out of routine after my marathon, but I’m getting back to where I need to be. I recently felt a little pain in my left knee and thought, “What is going on?!” I believe it happened when I turned suddenly during a run because I was startled by large barking dogs behind me. But I’ve not had any serious injuries.
I love running on grass or a track surface. I feel it’s easier on the body; and running on grass, I believe, makes me a stronger runner. I also like to run hills—and here in Missouri, there are lots of them! I train on long incline hills near my house all the time. When approaching a hill in a race, I don’t look at the hill but look just a little in front of me, and I lower my head and pump my arms and talk to myself, saying, “What hill?” It sounds silly, but it works for me! I recommend a Garmin. It’s accurate; and being able to watch my pace on runs is a big part of my training. I am so glad I got one. There are so many cute colors out. I’m motivated by fun-colored clothing and gadgets. Whatever works, right?
I’ve had the opportunity to pace a group of runners at Joplin Memorial Run on May 18, 2013. I was asked to do it, and it was my first time. I got to do the 9:30 pace for the half marathon. My best was 1:50, and I needed to run it within 2:04:30. I was nervous about for weeks, knowing it was on me to get everyone back within that time. I didn’t have to be that nervous. The pace was a little slower than what I normally run, but I was nervous about the course because I hadn’t had a chance to run it before race day. I was accurate with my time, so I was happy about that! Next year I want to run the same race to compete. It was weird not to wear a chip timer or bib.
I’m always talking about gear that I love and look forward to sharing with my readers, friends and family on facebook. I’ve had the opportunity to do some reviews, but for others I shared their product for no compensation. I actually had a company contact me recently about doing a review for their running shoes. I’m watching out for the shoes to come in the mail. I had raved about the Lunatik Athletik socks on my own, and later was actually asked if I’d like to do a review for a pair of their new compression socks. I would be more than happy to do a review for companies. I sometimes contact companies asking if I can do a review for them. Some don’t reply back, but a few have let me. So far they’ve all been great products!
During my training runs and my races, I always wear Lunatik Athletiks (lunatikathletiks.com) compression socks to control soreness and promote quicker recovery (and of course for style!).
“I would like to thank all the companies that have allowed me to review/test their products.”
HOW SHE DOES IT
What drives me and keeps me sustained during competition is to remain focused on my race. I have to remember to stay on pace for the marathon and to be sure to stop at every hydration station.I cannot try to keep up with any runners who are running by me fast. I watch my pace and stick with that plan while enjoying the race. I don’t run with music anymore. the crowd is really what keeps me going. those cheers, smiles and the fact that they are out there all morning in the heat or the cold, motivating and encouraging the runners, is priceless. for my half marathons and shorter races, I have to go all-out. i try to run the first mile slower, but I’m so into getting a PR; and having a sprint running background, I love running fast and picking out someone ahead of me to push me. I don’t run in the middle of the course, but instead as far over as possible to keep from running extra mileage. if I’m going to be turning left ahead, I’ve already gotten over to the left side of the road so that i’m ready to turn left without crossing the road and dodging other runners. I have a very active and sporty family. My kids play softball, soccer and basketball, and run track and cross-country. My oldest daughter just graduated high school, and I’m pretty sure she will continue playing softball. My middle child, a 14-year-old boy, is super active and currently playing with a soc- cer summer league program; and my youngest, who is 8, plays on a traveling softball team on the weekends, bound for the 8 and under World series to be held in Alabama—plus she’s on a regular softball team that plays twice a week. We are quite busy! When my kids don’t have a game of their own, we love to travel an hour to springdale, Ark., to watch the Minor league northwest naturals baseball games. We have done that for about three years now, and it is so much fun. We enjoy bike rides, and at times I run while my youngest rides alongside me.