2008 Female Runner of the Year - Lisa Johnson

Presented by Gary Droze

In describing the past season of this year’s female runner of the year, I’d like to offer an analogy. Now, a strong analogy helps to illustrate the point that the speaker is trying to make. A weaker analogy might still get the job done, especially if the audience has been drinking, and isn’t paying much attention anyway. But a really poor analogy might confuse the audience so much that the speaker is never again asked to wear long pants, shave, and leave his warm house on a cold Saturday night to entertain a tough crowd, when he could be lounging at home in his boxers, watching Terminator 2: The Rise of the Machines (for those of you in the back who aim to sneak out early, it starts at 8 o’clock). So…do I give you a good analogy, or a lame one?

Turns out that I’m a big fan of this year’s winner, so I’m going with the most appropriate analogy I can think of. In 1954, a children’s book came out. It was called The Little Engine That Could. As many of you know, the plot involved an undersized, underpowered choo-choo train that failed again and again in its attempts to overcome a challenging hill. But through relentless effort, an indomitable spirit, and a touch of magic, the little engine finally conquered the challenge. Of course, in 1954, tests for performing enhancing drugs didn’t exist, so we’ll never really know whether that “touch of magic” was perhaps EPO, growth hormone, or just a fortuitous tailwind. But I’m getting off track. 

When you look at the challenges overcome by our runner of the year, and compare her decent, but frustrating, 2007 season with her breakthrough 2008 campaign, you’ll want to ask her the same question I have: “Can you please provide us a urine sample?” Just kidding. In truth, I have personally witnessed the increased training efforts of our awardee over the past year. I can even take a guess at both the inspiration and timing of her increased dedication and focus. After a 2007 Breakfast on the Track mile of 5:38, and a series of 5K races that never dipped under the 19 minute standard she set for herself, this runner stopped going through the motions of training, and started really getting after it. Small, but significant signs told me that she was on a mission. For example, while she is unfailingly polite and gracious on the trails, I noticed that she was more inclined to set a training pace that didn’t allow for much small talk. Also, she started showing up for some Tuesday morning interval sessions. While that 6:30am Tuesday group is convivial enough, they aren’t there just to watch the sun rise over Maclay School. They have goals.

Like the little engine that could, our runner of the year didn’t immediately reach her goals. It took months of increased work before she saw success, which must have made her improved times all the more rewarding. But from February through November of 2008, she flattened out one hill after another. Check out these stats: After opening the year with a 1:03:13 win in the GWTC 15K, she sliced over two minutes from her 2007 mark in the Tallahassee Half Marathon, with a PR 1:25:55. That endurance base set the stage for her to blast through the 19 minute 5K barrier, with an 18:46 victory at the Palace Saloon. But that’s not a very hilly course, so to truly earn “LETC” props, she needed to demonstrate sub-19 chops on a rolling venue. No problem! She popped an 18:51, for another win, at the Women’s Distance Festival. Finally, to prove those wins were no fluke, she finished her 2008 attack on the 5K with yet another first place, and a personal best 18:38 at the FSU Cares race. 

For steaming through 2008 with multiple wins and personal bests, this devoted teacher from Roberts Elementary School – who also happens to be an invaluable example of level-headed living to the impressionable girls on my track team – is the clear choice as the 2008 Gulf Winds Track Club Female Runner of the Year. Congratulations, Lisa Johnson.