Q&A with Brett Johnson
Sophomore Brett Johnson ran the leadoff leg of Virginia’s 4x800m relay team that won the title at the 104th Millrose Games Friday night at Madison Square Garden. While last weekend was Johnson’s first collegiate race at The Garden, the Ocean City, N.J., native also competed there in high school, finishing runner-up to current teammate and NCAA Champion Robby Andrews in the mile.
The Cavaliers will look to continue their success this weekend when they return to Blacksburg, Va., for a third time this season, in preparation for the ACC Indoor Championships (Feb. 24-26). This weekend’s VT Elite meet is scheduled for Friday and Saturday in Rector Field House.
Question: You were a member of the 4x800m relay that won at the Millrose Games this weekend. What was it like to return to Madison Square Garden to race?
Johnson: It was a GREAT experience to return to The Garden. Being a big sports fan, it was awesome to know of all the great athletes, not only track but other sports as well, that have competed there. To share the same stage with them for a night was unreal. This being my second trip to the Millrose Games, I think I had a greater appreciation for the games. The first time I went it was more a surreal feeling and I did not really grasp how awesome the games truly are.
Question: Have you been able to meet many notable athletes?
Johnson: I actually have been very fortunate to meet a lot of world-class runners and track athletes, but more in high school because I went to a few races that were professional meets that had a high school invitational mile. Friday, we were warming up and our stuff was very close to World Champion Bernard Lagat. That was a really cool experience.
Question: What type of preparation or mental focus does it take to compete at such a prestigious event like the Millrose Games?
Johnson: Running in Millrose takes a great deal of the right kind of focus and preparation. I say that because the tracks we run on all year are either 200-meter banked tracks or over size 300-meter tracks. Millrose is around 170 meters and a banked track, so the turns are very tight. You have to be mentally prepared for the turns and your timing to make your move has to be spot on or getting to the front would be nearly impossible.
On the flip side of that, thinking about something too much as a runner will most of the time cause you to tense up and not have your best race. Millrose is probably the biggest race in terms of the amount of people watching us run, especially since it is nationally televised. Being that in this race, unlike any other race, positioning is the MOST important thing, if you have a bad start the chances of you having the race you want is very slim.
Question: On Friday night, you were bumped around and ended up in an outer lane toward the end of your race. You recovered and still managed to hand off in first though. What was going through your mind at that point?
Johnson: I was a little worried because coach told me that it was key that I hand off in first. Being that positioning is key on that track, I was not sure if I was going to have enough room to make my move. My race strategy was all set up on making my move with 100 meters to go. I was more worried for our team’s sake because I did not want to be the one that hurt our chances to win. Luckily for me, it wasn’t the worst bumping I have had and I really did not really lose any ground on the field, so I was able to gather myself quickly and get back to where I needed to be.
Question: How difficult is it, or what are the challenges that you face, when leading off a relay?
Johnson: Leading off is pretty difficult. First off, it is hard to win the relay in the first leg, but it is very easy to lose in the first leg if you bury your team in a hole. It also depends on who is running with you. For example, the three other guys on our team do not really like to run with the lead. They would rather sit on the leader and kick him down at the end of the race. Therefore, you want to put them into a position where they are the most comfortable to take over the race.
Question: Do you have a specific leg of a relay that you prefer running the best?
Johnson: Personally I like to anchor a relay. I had done it so much in high school that that is the leg that I feel most comfortable running.
Question: The men’s team has a very strong middle-distance group of guys this year. What is that inter-squad competition like?
Johnson: The inter-squad competition is awesome. We have some of the best runners in the country on this team. In saying that, these guys hate to lose, especially to each other. It forces you to bring your A game every day to practice. If you are not having your best day on the track, there’s not much you can to do hide that fact. Because this team is so deep and so good, it really shows; and who really wants to look bad in front of coach or anyone else.
But it is also great to have quality-training partners. It’s like having 20 brothers out there that want to prove they are better than you are and will push you in order to get the best out of you. But at the end of the day, they have your back.
While we are all competing with each other for spots on relay teams and to get to ACCs and whatnot, the goal is to make this team the best that it can possibly be. I think that is what is great about this group of guys. We all have one goal and that is to win a national championship. When we set foot on the track for a workout or go for a run, that is the only thing that matters.
Question: What are some of your personal goals for this year?
Johnson: My personal goals are really simple. I want to help this team any way that I can. By helping this team that means qualifying for NCAAs in either the mile or 800 meters. I also want to help this team make it to nationals in the distance medley relay (DMR). I want to score as many points as possible at the conference meet and help us try to win an ACC title. In running, I try to have daily goals to do the best I can for that day and just focus on making myself better on that particular day. But overall for this indoor season, I think those goals are what I want.
Question: Off the track, what do you like to do for fun?
Johnson: Off the track, I like to have down time to recover my body. I like to watch a lot of movies with my friends or take a lot of naps, which apparently is a Jersey thing. But I like to spend time with my teammates going out to eat or just hanging out at each others houses. I have lived on the beach my entire life so I like to go swimming and am somewhat of a water rat.