Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Passionate for Helping Runners: Juli Johnson

There aren't too many runners who are passionate about helping other runners achieve their goals at the expense of their own goals. I like helping other runners--writing some training programs here and there, doing a good amount of pacing--but I spend more time thinking and working towards my own goals than I do helping others. While runners fall in any number of categories, Juli Johnson is one of those rare runners who is passionate about helping other runners.

 When Juli started out running, she said she was "almost embarrassed to start running." She would run on her own, early in the morning, without even telling her husband. After running her first 10k, she found an online forum of runners that connected her to the running community.

Soon after that, her passion and knowledge about running led her to help hundreds of other runners. "My experience starting running alone as an adult in my 30's fuels my desire to help others start running," she said.  "I want others to know how supportive and helpful most runners are no matter how fast or slow they may run according to the clock."

Over the past five years, Juli, the director of the parks and recreation department of Eagan, has coached numerous beginning runners through the city of Eagan's running programs. She's seen them finish races from their first 5ks to their first marathons and ultra marathons  She's also paced numerous races, pacing six this past season.

In fact, during my my wife's first sub-2 hour half marathon, Juli was her pacer. "At the 13.1 Minneapolis Half Marathon," Laura said, "my plan was to push it with two miles left. Juli told me with five miles left that I looked pretty good and should go ahead. I did, and ran, at the time, my best half marathon."

Laura and Juli after the 2011 13.1 Minneapolis 1/2 Marathon.

Juli has also paced runners unofficially. In the ungodly hot Med City Marathon last year, Juli wisely put all time goals aside and went with a run-walk strategy for the last half of the race. When the hot conditions led many runners to start giving up, Juli lent her pacing expertise to help them out.  "I invited them to try joining me as a way to make it to the finish," she said. "By the end I had about ten runners with me. It was fun because we had all given up on time goals due to the heat, but as a group we were able to motivate each other to keep going."

Juli is definitely one of those rare runners who puts others' success ahead of her own. She's climbed that running pyramid, going from a wannabe runner who ran in the dark, to memorizing issues of Runners' World in her quest to improve, to helping hundreds of other runners through advice, running classes, and pacing. Along the way she's raced over 50 marathons of her own. She's also raised two successful young runners--Karina, a high school runner who competed in the 2012 Nike National Cross Country Meet, and Nate, who will become a collegiate runner this coming fall. Juli ran with both her children during their first 5ks, half marathons, and marathons.

Why is she so passionate about helping others? "I love this sport!" she said. "I love to talk about running and I love to run! The more people I have around me when I run, the more fun it is. I also want to help beginners so that they have early successes in running and don't feel like they have to do it on their own."

I'm thankful for runners like Juli. Without runners like her, the running community would be smaller, and definitely less welcoming.

Stay tuned for more runners who are passionate about helping other runners.

Happy Running!

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