Sunday, 26 January 2020

NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson on running Boston Marathon: ‘I have to set those lofty goals’ – USA TODAY

NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson on running Boston Marathon: ‘I have to set those lofty goals’ – USA TODAY
10 Oct

Despite having to briefly interrupt training for the Boston Marathon to recover from muscle and ligament strains, Jimmie Johnson won’t stray from his goal of finishing the 26.2 miles Monday in three hours.

The competitor in the 43-year-old race car driver won’t let him. And the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion knows what motivates him.

“I don’t have the slightest clue if I’m going to hit it,” Johnson said last week. “The way my mind works, if I said, ‘I want to do a four-hour marathon,’ there’s no way in hell I’d get out of bed at 5 in the morning to go run.

“The only thing that makes me not hit snooze is, ‘Oh, damn, I said I wanted to run three hours.’ That’s just me being me.”

Planning to race the Boston Marathon less than 36 hours after competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ Toyota Owners 400 race Saturday night at Richmond Raceway is so Johnson being Johnson, who has wanted to run Boston since the 2013 bombing to show support for those persevering through the trauma.

Also Johnson being Johnson is keeping that three-hour goal despite a calf injury, an iliotibial band (a thick band of connective tissue that runs from the outside of the hip to the outside of the knee) injury and a serious cold benching him from running for several days.

“Even right now, (my coach) is like, ‘We’ll just take the race and see what happens,’” Johnson said 10 days before the marathon, prior to practice at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I had to run 7 miles this morning before I left to come up here.

“It was a really uncomfortable pace. It would have been so easy to half-ass it. I know this about myself — I have to set those lofty goals.”

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Despite wanting to run Boston, Johnson wouldn’t, though, try to muddle through it the day after a NASCAR race without worrying about the stopwatch.

“There was no way I could run a marathon after racing here (after Bristol),” Johnson said about the typical place of Boston amid the NASCAR schedule. “It would be a painful, slow 26.2.”

Now don’t take that to mean Johnson doesn’t enjoy a little training pain, even if that means constant soreness, lack of energy and yearning for more sleep. Having competed in triathlons, he knows how to push his body to the maximum, but the focus on solely running is a first.

“I love the challenge,” Johnson said. “I love the suffering. I love the pain. I enjoy that stuff. I don’t know why. But I can say if there is a pain scale of my cycling experiences and running, running exceeds all cycling issues.”

Johnson had no concerns about training for the marathon during the NASCAR season. The amount of time he spends running (typically 60-90 minutes a day except for the longer training runs) roughly equals the amount of time he would spend on his normal fitness routine.

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The preparation for Boston even included the April 7 race at Bristol (Johnson finished 10th), where he tried to mimic the food intake he would have during the marathon to make sure nothing would upset his stomach for Monday.

No other driver at Bristol spent time worrying or training for the Boston Marathon.

“I’m not going to run the Boston Marathon for sure,” said Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott. “But I think it is awesome, and it is something he enjoys and it is healthy

“I don’t think it takes away from his efforts on track at all. There is enough time to disconnect and separate and go do something you like to do and clear your head and still focus on the weekends.”

NASCAR driver Austin Dillon said he tries to stay hydrated during a race weekend and it amazes him to see Johnson go for long runs and be able to remain hydrated to race.

“He’s a freak,” Dillon said. “He’s a beast. I bounce ideas off him from time to time when it comes to nutrition or anything because I think he’s been there, done that when it comes to everything health-wise.”

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Johnson has never competed in a marathon. One of his sponsors, Gatorade, used a sponsor exemption to land him a spot, and Johnson hopes that their promotion of the marathon (his attempt has been well publicized in running and sports media) helps soften any criticism.

“I wish I had an open weekend to qualify on my own,” Johnson said. “It would be amazing from me to have experience of running in a marathon before doing the toughest one.”

So what does he hope to gain? His answer tells one everything there is to know about Johnson and marathoners in general.

“Just an experience,” he said. “This is in the Jimmie category. This is me as a fan of fitness. This is Jimmie Johnson personal side.”

Bob Pockrass is a Fox Sports NASCAR reporter. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.

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