Contributed photo/Angela Hanson
The Dalles track and field runner Emily Johnson, in front, completed her summer campaign at the four-day USATF Region 13 Junior Olympic Championships ending Sunday in Spokane, Wash., with a pair of top-14 finishes against a tough field of competitors. Johnson placed 12th in the 3,000 meters with a time of 12 minutes and 22.25 seconds, and she tacked on a final marker of 5:31.00 to lock down 14th in her try at 1,5000 meters.
All summer long, Emily Johnson used her challenging slate of race events to prepare for regional competition.
With a chance to move to the Nationals stage, the incoming The Dalles High School freshman notched a couple of top-14 finishes at the four-day USATF Region 13 Junior Olympic Championships ending Sunday in Spokane.
Facing the top-8 runners from across the region under triple-digit temperatures in the Spokane Valley, Johnson had her best outcome of 12th place in the 3,000 meters with a time of 12 minutes and 22.25 seconds, and she added a final mark of 5:31.00 for 14th place amongst the field.
“In the 1,500 she got into no man’s land and it’s very tough to race when you’re in between two packs of racers,” said coach Heather Fitz-Gustafson. “Emily had a strong finish, but was not where she wanted to be time-wise or place-wise. She started off good in the 3,000, but then just got out of it mentally with about a mile to go.”
Although she finished shy of her goal of a Nationals qualification, Johnson walks away from this summer running campaign excited about the future.
“It was a long season,” Johnson said. “Overall, I am very happy with my performance throughout. I’m bummed about missing a bid for Nationals, but am looking towards cross country this fall and setting goals for my next track season as a high schooler.”
Last summer, Johnson competed in the 800 and 1,500, but ramped up her event list by signing on to run in the 400, 1,500 and 3,000, clinching five top-7 finishes in her five meets, setting three personal records at the Portland Track Festival Youth Meet on June 4.
She had a first-place performance in the 3,000-meter event in Portland with a personal record of 11:27.16, added a 5:18.93, another personal record, in the 1,500 for third place, and rattled off a time of 1:09.21 for her career-best in the 400 meters.
It was good show of progression, according to coach Fitz-Gustafson, so now there is something to shoot for next fall, spring and summer as she takes on high school competition.
“Emily set two new huge personal records in the 1,500 and 3,000, so I feel that she had a fantastic season,” Fitz-Gustafson added. “She is excited to get a small break, before starting up high school cross country this year. I pass the torch on to my sister (Mandi Williams), who is the coach.”
These races wrapped up the track campaign for Johnson, a season that starts in early March and ends in the middle of July.
When the cross country season wraps up in October, the Athletics East team forms again and continues competing in the Junior Olympics.
By running in a handful of summer meets, Fitz-Gustafson feels Johnson is ahead of the game.
“Training during the summer gives the kids a huge advantage, not only coming into the season already in decent shape, but being used to the pain, and the heat is a huge thing for being mentally tough,” Fitz-Gustafson said.
The Athletics East program aims to bring middle school and high school youths from local communities together for a common goal.
In the past, it has been difficult for runners to find a platform to fine-tune their running regimen, set new marks and accomplish goals.
By combining kids from the Greater Columbia River Gorge, they have a team to be on to compete with top athletes and programs from across the Pacific Northwest.
Fitz-Gustafson would love to get more boys and girls into the fold and with the success of Johnson, the recruiting efforts could sell itself.
If there is a way to get kids to attend a few training sessions, then the goal of building lasting friendships and making athletes tougher will be met.
“Most people think running is really hard and not fun, but it’s actually really addicting, and most kids are surprised how much they like it after they’ve tried it,” Fitz-Gustafson said. “If each person could bring one friend, that has such a huge impact on the team, and the compatibility of everyone. And you never know, the next superstar could be out there, and they don’t even know it yet.”
To learn more about the running program or to join, email the head coach at heather@loansinthegorge .com.