Thursday, March 07, 2013

John Simons Joins the Sub-Four Club

John Simons(9) running in the 2012 Griak Invitational XC meet
Photo by Gene Niemi

Last weekend at Notre Dame, the Gophers' John Simmons joined an exclusive club by running a sub four minute mile(Simons is the 397th US runner to break 4 minutes in the mile).  As an added bonus the result qualified him for this weekend's NCAA DI championships.  Below Simons talks about high school, his route to the University of Minnesota, and the magical sub-four.

Down the Backstretch:  In a Minnesota Daily story during XC season said that you didn’t believe you were good enough to run at the “Big Ten level” when you graduated from high school.  Why was that?  What was your high school career like?  When did you begin to believe you could compete at a higher level?

John Simons: My high school career was a lot like my current college career, I was a developmental athlete that improved my times and placements every season.  It wasn’t until the end of my senior year in track that I finally performed well at a State meet (1:57/4:17/9:15).  Unfortunately for me, I made a name for myself a little too late.  

Most Division I schools had already signed their incoming classes and were out of room.  Before the State  meet, I was 99% sure I was going to run at UW-Oshkosh, and after that meet I found myself signing the dotted line with UW-Milwaukee, a mid-major Division I school.  It was good for me, I wasn’t ready to sit out a year and double my mileage at a Big Ten school right away.  

Milwaukee gave me a second chance to audition for a Big Ten school, and I really took advantage of that.  I knew I was Big Ten ready after I ran a very strong 5K/3K double at the Horizon League Indoor Championships, which finally gave me the resume to step up to Minnesota.

DtB:  In the Daily interview you also said: “I came to this university because I wanted to make a national team. That was the specific goal — running against the best in the country. It’s been a goal that’s eluded me for three years, so it has had its ups and downs. But I feel like this is finally the year where it’s the breakout, and I get to make nationals.” You did that last weekend.  How does it feel to achieve that long term goal?

JS: It just feels so amazing, I couldn’t be happier!  It’s been a long time coming, but it’s been worth the wait.   Of all the events I could qualify for the national meet in, I never expected that I would make my first meet in the mile, because I haven’t even been focusing on it this year.  Hopefully this means Coach Plaz won’t move me up to the 10K now!

DtB:  There was a photo of you—I wasn’t sure if it was from last weekend—where you were crossing the finish line and had the “Jenny Simpson look,” sort of shock and happiness in the same expression.  Was that from last weekend, and if so were you reacting to the fact you had just run sub-4?  Did you know you had to run sub-4 to make nationals in the event?  What did you think you were capable of running?

JS: Yes, that photo was from my race this past weekend.  I was just in total shock from having broken 4-minutes in the mile!  Originally, the goal of this last chance mile was to get a PR and work on some speed for the outdoor season.  I have been exclusively training for the 3K and 5K this spring, so I was just hoping I could run 4:02 or 4:03.  

For me, going sub-4 was unlikely and making it to the national meet wasn’t even a rational thought, so you can imagine the excitement I was experiencing as I crossed the line, having successfully broken the 4-minute barrier.  It was unbelievable!!

DtB:  The top three qualifiers in the mile have qualifying times about three seconds faster than the rest of the field, which is pretty closely matched within two seconds of one another.  What sort of expectations do you have going into NCAAs?  Now that you’ve made it to “the dance,” what sort of impact do you hope to make?

JS: I am a very goal oriented and competitive guy, so now that I’ve made it to “the dance” I expect myself to compete for a spot in the finals.  At this point, I’ve got nothing to lose, so I’m going to stick my nose in there and see what I’m made of.  I think I have a legitimate shot at making the final, if I do, I would love to come away from Fayetteville with a First-Team All-American honor.

DtB:  You’ve had injuries and setbacks that kept you from your goals, how did you cope with the roadblocks?  Why did you feel you were ready for “the breakout” this year?

JS: Yes, I’ve had some stops in training due to injuries, but I’ve been able to bounce back quickly from most of them because I have stayed focused on my goals and diligent with my rehab exercises.  It’s hard to point at just one factor that showed me I was ready for a breakout year.  It was the culmination of some maturing factors like:  age, experience, staying healthy, and adding more volume, that told me I could make a serious jump, and right now it feels really good to see all my hard work paying off!

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