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Johnny Gregorek — November, 2018
Johnny Gregorek was a member of the 2017 World Championships team and finished in 10th place with a time of 3:37.56. He won the 2017 Tracktown 1,500 meters to set his personal best time of 3:35.00. Johnny finished in sixth place at 1,500 meters at the 2016 Olympic Trials and in fifth place at the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships. The 2014 graduate of Columbia University was a 2014 NCAA Indoor All-American, placing sixth in the mile. He also won an Ivy League steeplechase title and was on Columbia relay teams that won the Ivy League 4 x 800 meters and Notre Dame Invitational distance medley relay. His final year of collegiate eligibility was completed while in graduate school at Oregon where highlights include being a member of the 2015 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championship teams and the Penn Relays DMR champs. Johnny graduated from Seekonk High School (Massachusetts) where he led his team to be State Cross-Country champions and won the 2009 State Indoor two-mile title. He was also class valedictorian and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. Johnny and his father, John, a 1980 and 1984 Olympian, are the fastest father-son mile duo in history with an average time of 3:52.25. Johnny’s mother, Chris, is a 1980 and 1984 Olympic Trials qualifier with a 4:29.00 mile PR, and the trio own the fastest father-mother-son mile average of 4:04.50. His personal best times include: 800 meters – 1:47.12; 1,000 meters – 2:21.32; 1,500 meters – 3:35:0; mile – 3:53.15; 3,000m – 7:49.93; 3,000m steeplechase – 8:52.85 and 5,000m –14:12.84. Johnny currently is a professional athlete sponsored by ASICS and resides in Tarrytown, New York. He was kind to spend over an hour on the telephone for this interview in November, 2018.
GCR: We met at the Fl Invitational cross country meet in September where you and your dad were there with Asics and I was meet announcer. How joyous is it to stay in close contact with your sport during the off-season through working with Asics, being able to share this with your dad and to feel the excitement and energy from the high school runners in a place where you were in your running development eight or ten years ago?
JG That was a lot of fun and the meet organizers put on a great meet. I was there two years ago as well and it is a fun time to stay in touch with that side of the sport, especially when I’m not doing my hardest training. It is also great to be there with my dad. The kids remind me of the fun side of the sport that is easy to forget like how much fun it is to be with teammates and to give it a hard effort and then eat some shaved ice afterward.
GCR: Now a lot of the fun becomes trying to reach your potential and, of course, that means trying to make Olympic and World Championship teams. In 2017 you qualified for your first World Championship team. What were the emotions of making your first big USA international team for a Worlds or Olympics?
JG It was definitely a great feeling to break through to that next level. It’s one of those goals where I thought about it, but it was very hard to follow through and to make a team like that. And it was crazy the way I did it to come back with a late kick. I managed to barely make it happen, but it helped me to reset the way I think about myself as a runner. It redefined my goals going forward into the future because I know that I can make a team and compete on the world stage. It was that much more exciting and validating of all the work I’m doing. I’m not just running full time and training and doing all of this in vain. It’s working toward something and it felt awesome as I work toward making another team and maybe the Olympic team. I’ve done it once and it isn’t like anything is changing. Its not a bunch of different guys I’m racing. It is just as possible to make another team and is exciting.
GCR: When I interviewed your dad and he spoke about making his first Olympic team in 1980 but missing the Olympics because of the boycott, he wasn’t too disappointed because he was only twenty years old and figured he would just make it the next time. But he did say that he wasn’t thinking about how difficult the task is. With so many good middle-distance runners in the U.S., how difficult is it to make a team when at least eight or ten very tough runners are battling for only three spots?
JG It’s tough. And it can change from year to year. In addition, the tactical racing can unfortunately take away from who is the fittest. It can come down to who is in the best position and who plays their cards right and moves at the right time. That’s part of it, but it is definitely very hard to make the team. There is a ton of talent right now. I must make sure I do everything in my power to be ready for the day and to get to the starting line with the confidence I’ve done everything I could and that the other guys’ talent doesn’t matter.
GCR: Speaking of a specific day, take us through the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships, how you were feeling the first few laps and then your mindset when you unleashed a big kick to move from 10th place to place third for the final qualifying Team USA spot.
JG I think a lot of times it is easy to just blink and the whole field goes by you. So, you must stay super-focused throughout the entire race. I was feeling very good in that race and was in great shape. I knew I was ready to do something big, but I sort of lost some focus, everyone went around me and I found myself a couple of strides later sitting in the back of the pack. With 600 meters to go and 400 meters to go I knew that I had a ton left in me, so I gave it everything I had to catch as many guys as possible. I was thinking, ‘if I can get top five after the position I’m in, then that’s pretty good.’ I kept catching guys and catching guys and was thinking, ‘all right, you’re moving.’ With about 150 meters to go quite the opportunity was presenting itself. I had worked hard for it and saw the position was there. The guys were fading, and I knew I could do it. I just went crazy and came through with it. Some little things worked in my favor as some runners didn’t have a great last 100 meters, but at the end of the day I believed in myself and knew I had done a lot to get there. I just let it rip and it worked out.
GCR: Then you got to Worlds, where so much of the media focus and public focus is on the final, but you’ve got to get through the rounds first. Could you take us through your semifinal race where the top five qualified automatically, but you were in seventh place and needed a time qualifier to make the final?
JG That was a similar race to the U.S. Championships where I had the goal of making the team, in that I had the feeling that if I could make the final it would be awesome. That was kind of what my goal was for the meet, but if I didn’t make it to the final it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I played it safe a bit and the opportunity presented itself with about 200 meters to go. I saw that we were faster than the first heat which was pretty slow. I knew we were going to get the time qualifiers because we were really rolling and that seven should make it through. I remember that last 100 meters thinking that I was going to make the final and that I could do this. I focused on my form and gave it everything I could. It worked out and I was psyched.
GCR: After you made the final, you finished 10th in 3:37.56. How tough was it to get mentally back up and to physically run your best? Did you do your best in the final or were you a little drained after your semifinal?
JG At that point I was tired, but everybody is. The Kenyan guys who went one-two had a plan going into the final. I think they were going to go right from the gun, but they let it go for about 400 meters before they took off. The amount of fitness in that field was incredible. They closed in something crazy for the last 1,200 meters. I think I closed in 2:50 or 2:51, which is a pretty fast last twelve hundred. And that was only good enough for tenth place. They closed in about 2:46. I think everyone was tired, but I closed hard and was okay with that. Initially when I crossed the line I was disappointed and was thinking, ‘I got torched.’ But then I put it in perspective and realized who I was torched by and that I could come back in two years or three years and be that much more prepared to hang with them when those moves are made. It was a good experience and I was learning from it. That was great.
GCR: Be that as it may and you see how much of a kick is needed like Matthew Centrowitz used at the 2016 Olympics to win the Gold Medal and what Leo Manzano did at the 2012 Olympics to earn the Silver Medal, have you changed up anything in your training or will you make changes to work on speed even more because it is so critical in the final stretch of your races?
JG It’s kind of the nature of our training in general that to continue improving we are always upping the ante as to how fast we run in workouts and how are strength workouts are run. We don’t completely change the formula, but we may focus more on a specific race plan for a given meet and depending on who will be the competition. We work to get ready for those pace changes and that’s where we will go from a jog to a sprint quickly to get ready for those types of moves and that kind of cadence. So, we have some things that may change a bit but, for the most part, the formula that my coach uses has a general increase in intensity that is always constant. The system is working and we’re working hard.
GCR: When you were building up toward competing at Worlds, you ran won the Tracktown 1500m in 3:35.00 on July 6th to set a personal record. Did that help to get you mentally thinking that you were much readier to compete at the highest level since you brought your time down?
JG Yes, it was a nice break from the championship style of racing and was just all out from the gun. It was a nice simple race. Putting up a good time and winning that race gave me a good feeling and really validated things in my mind that I was ready to make something happen. I had the goal of making the final at Worlds and it ended up happening. That race gave me a ton of confidence. When I look back on that race, it felt so easy and I knew I was ready to even run faster than that.
GCR: The previous year in 2016 seems like it was a precursor to your breakthrough in 2017 as you ran strong at the 2016 Indoor National Championship 1,500 meters to take 5th place and then at the 2016 Olympic Trials for 6th Place. How did you feel about 2016 as a building block to get you ready for 2017 and beyond?
JG It was a good year because in 2015 I was injured a lot. I enjoyed running with Oregon, but it wasn’t a crazy good year. So, in 2016 I got to put together some good training. Any time I’m able to string good training together I seem to have a good jump and that happened. The indoor Nationals performance was a good indicator where things were headed. At the Olympic Trials again it was a crazy meet during the qualifying rounds, but I managed to make that final and held on for sixth place there. At that point I wasn’t quite as confident in myself to be one of the guys who was tops in the country. I knew I had some talent and a good setup with my coaches, so that was another indicator of what was to come. But I didn’t know then how much better I could be, whereas now I’m a lot more confident and a lot more excited about the future. However, it was kind of dumb luck running well at those championships.
GCR: When you graduated and finished up at Oregon, were you considering several coaching groups or places to train and how did you select Coach Frank Gagliano and NJNYTC for your training group?
JG I liked Coach Powell and my experience at Oregon, but there wasn’t much opportunity left for me out there. My eligibility had run out and I knew Coach Gags. I also had some contacts like Kyle Merber, who was my teammate at Columbia, and a few other people who were involved with NJNYTC. I reached out to him and that kind of got me started. I was from the east coast, went to Columbia in New York City and lived in New Jersey for a while, so it was all familiar territory which made it that much easier to train. My fiancée also lives on the east coast so that was also nice to get back to her as well.
GCR: What have you found to be the major changes in your training, both mentally and physically, now that you’re a professional runner? What has Coach Gagliano added that has allowed you to step up your level, handle harder workouts and be more mentally focused?
JG The biggest thing that happened for me from college to running as a pro is the lack of classes and the lack of other distractions. While there is the removal of distraction without worrying about school or a job, there is also an increase in motivation. I’m doing this as my job and I’m doing this to make money and for my career and to fulfill a dream, so there’s no reason to slack off and hurt yourself. In high school and college there were times when I could become indifferent and feel like I was on the team because it was just something to do. I was in school then and had other things going for me. Now it’s just me, my coach and my teammates so I know I’d better take it seriously or its going to come back to bite me. So, the whole lifestyle change is the biggest change from when I was a student.
GCR: Since you’ve been a professional runner now for a few years, are there any other races as a pro that stand out for tough competition, a strong kick or mentally believing more in yourself?
JG Any time I run a fast time it is always exciting. That can take me by surprise or be a special memory. I ran a race in Boston last year and ran my mile PR of 3:53 and that was exciting. I didn’t win the race as my former Oregon teammate, Edward Cheserek, won, but that was exciting to be up there rewriting my PR with a fast time. In competition any time I win a race is a special memory. My first international win was exciting. I won a race in Ireland called the Morton Games and that was thrilling. It’s an old meet with a mile that has been run for many years and my parents were there. Any time I win it leaves a memory that is one I look back on the most.
GCR: Speaking of running the mile, how does it stand out in your mind from that first time you broke four minutes, which happened to be in Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2015, at the Millrose Games famed Wanamaker Mile, where your 3:57.47 time put you in tenth place?
JG It was exciting to see the ‘three’ for the start of my mile time. I think I was in shape for that for a while. A lot of people get excited and dramatic about breaking four minutes, but it is interestingly different since I was running for Oregon at the time. It’s such a high-caliber program that runners are kind of expected to qualify for the national meet, to deliver and to run fast times. So, I always expected it out of myself. When it happened, I got clobbered by a lot of guys in the race that were established professionals. That was a little bit demoralizing. Then I saw my time and it was validating. I was happy with it and just went back to my duffel bag. My teammates were all four-minute milers already. They kind of patted me on the back and that was nice. Then I put my stuff away and went home. It wasn’t a big victory lap type day. It was nice to run a sub-four-minute mile but, when I knew I was capable of it for so long, I kind of did it and had the feeling, ‘okay, that’s all right. I knew I could do that for a long time.’ When I ran faster and did the 3:53 and my dad and me had the fastest time was way more exciting and dramatic than my first sub-four which was sort of lackluster.
GCR: It’s nice you mentioned about your father, because that is the next highlight I planned to discuss. Only about ten father-son duos have both recorded sub-four-minute miles and your dad and your personal best times now average 3:52.25 which is the fastest. Next on the list are Kip and Martin Keino, from Kenya, with a 3:52.72, followed by Matt and Matthew Centrowitz family, with an average of 3:52.74. How cool is it to share this with your dad and to be in the company of the Keinos and Centrowitzes?
JG It’s nice to be in that company. I know both Centrowitz Junior and Senior and they are two incredible runners and people whom I really like. It’s nice to have a record with my dad that can stack up with such a high-caliber duo like those two. It’s a fun thing to follow in my dad’s footsteps and to carry the torch of family running. It was awesome when it happened. It’s not something I think about or talk about too much, but it’s a nice little feather in my cap.
GCR: Let’s go back somewhat chronologically through your running career. When you were a youth and teenager did you play many sports and when did you notice you were a good runner or develop an interest in the sport of distance running?
JG I liked a lot of sports when I was young. I liked soccer and baseball quite a bit. I was always a quick runner and had an inclination that I had a good stamina level. When I was real young my parents were active professional runners and I would go to road races. I ran the kids’ sections and I remember running well in those races. I would also win the gym class mile run. I was noting that I felt good and I was fast, but I didn’t necessarily have any strong desire to be a professional runner. I was going along with it because I was pretty good at it. I was also having a lot of fun and liked my teammates. That’s what drew me into running as several of the guys on the cross-country team were friends of mine and cool guys. It just naturally happened. I kept doing well and having more opportunities and kept enjoying winning. Now here I am in the spotlight and, if I keep winning races, I’m not going to stop. That’s kind of how it’s been since I was fifteen years old.
GCR: You mentioned running cross country and that is a sport which has an individual and team aspect. How much fun was it helping your Seekonk High School team to win the state cross country title and to share that with all the guys?
JG There have been some great moments individually, but the greatest moments of pure joy have been team accomplishments, whether they were good relays or the cross-country team championship in high school, winning the Ivy League with my teammates at Columbia and winning at the Penn Relays with the Oregon guys. All of those got me the most excited and are the most rewarding parts of this whole experience for sure.
GCR: Individual wins are also big on the accomplishment list. Was your winning the 2009 Massachusetts two-mile indoor championship memorable for any specific reasons?
JG I don’t remember too much of that race. I kind of sat back and then pulled away from people with maybe 800 meters to go. My high school racing was kind of up and down as I was inconsistent. It took me a long time to nail down consistency. It was a cool moment because I had some good races and bad races and showed up on that day to deliver on championship day. It felt good and showed that I could put my mind to it, really focus, be confident and take home a big title. It was special and satisfying in that regard. There were other times where I should have won and didn’t, but I learned a lot from those races.
GCR: Could you tell us about your coach, Eli Mello, and what were some key training concepts and sessions he advocated and how much mileage did you do in the off-season and during the season as you were in the early stages of becoming a distance runner?
JG My coach was also the Chemistry teacher. He did a good job researching what we should do to train as distance runners. I ran maybe forty to forty-five miles a week. We did good speed workouts on the track. It was basic, and he kept training relaxed so that I would have plenty in the tank for college and beyond. I’m thankful for that because a lot of high school coaches these days are hammering the kids into the ground. It was great as he kept it fun. I am glad I received an introduction to the sport where training wasn’t a horrible and difficult process. It was a means to an end so that I could race well. When I went into college at Columbia and Oregon and then now as a professional the training became more prominent and challenging.
GCR: When you went to college you selected Columbia. Did you consider Georgetown where both of your parents attended and ran? What led you to choose Columbia?
JG I never really got a call from Georgetown. I applied to a bunch of schools. I looked at Yale and the University of Virginia and the United States Naval Academy. I was accepted into the Naval Academy which was an honor. For some reason Columbia felt like home and the guys on the team felt like old friends. When I got there, I had the feeling that I knew it was right and that was where I was going to succeed the best, be the most relaxed and have the most rewarding experience. I could tell they wanted me to be a part of that team. Columbia is a great school, I always liked New York City and it was this natural fit. I didn’t have to think about it. Columbia was where I was meant to be. It was that easy of a decision for me.
GCR: I remember the big changes that I went through from high school to college. What was it like for you when you got to college with the change in atmosphere and what did the coaches do to help you adapt and to succeed in your racing?
JG Since my coach in high school had kept my training so reserved, it was a big difference in college as far as the intensity of the training. That was a big jump that I struggled with for a while. Thankfully, they stuck with me. I wasn’t that good as a runner in college for a full year or year-and-a-half. It was a real process that a lot of college kids undergo as they acclimate to the new life. We had to create our own schedule and our own discipline. When you’re eighteen years old it is difficult to make sure you stay on the course and don’t slack off. I was a big bookworm, so it was hard to make sure I wasn’t too focused on school and was also putting a good amount of energy into the running as well. It was a big transition and, thankfully, the coaches were patient with me. They taught me their system, I acclimated and eventually got stronger. The guys helped me along and that’s what teammates were good for. It worked out and everything ended up all right.
GCR: It’s interesting that you mentioned being a book worm, because some people are runners and don’t do much else while you were your high school valedictorian, an Eagle Scout and a top runner. How much did balancing those different components of your life help you to adapt to college possibly better than most other kids?
JG I was a master of doing many things at once in high school and that probably prepped me well for college. Being somebody who was stressed out about school was better than being someone who doesn’t care about school at all. Thankfully, I was blessed with that set of interests. I really cared about school a lot which helped me to create a schedule and to manage my time. I wasn’t a student who just cared about partying and was failing my classes. It was an easier challenge to overcome because I had a focused approach toward that background of being intense about getting the most out of myself academically, in the Boy Scouts or just any part of my life. That intensity and life converts well to a distance runner’s life and training regimen.
GCR: You didn’t race as great a variety of distances as your father did, but you were on the Distance Medley that won the Notre Dame Invitational, the 4 x 800-meter relay that won the Ivy League title, you won an Ivy League steeplechase and were All-American at the NCAA Indoor mile. Did you like running a lot of different races individually and on relays like your dad did just to challenge yourself?
JG I really didn’t even know what my best event was for a long time. So, it wasn’t like I was going to challenge myself – I was just trying to figure out in which race was I at my best. I tried the steeplechase and it hurt me and made me injured though I liked it. In cross country I was never the best. I didn’t know I was a good miler until toward the end of my college career at Columbia. Once I went to Oregon that is when I became a miler and so I’ve only been training specifically for the mile for a few years now. Before that I had a five to eight-year trial period of trying different events. In high school, if you’re good, you can race anything from the 400 meters to the 2-mile. It was a trial and error to see what I was good at that led me to specializing in the mile. My dad ran a lot of distances because he was more of a natural aerobic beast than me. He would feel good in the steeple and then decide to try the mile. I would run the steeple and feel I wasn’t that good at it so then I tried the mile. We came from different approaches.
GCR: As your career progressed at Columbia, how exciting was it to achieve first team all-America honors with a sixth-place finish in the mile at the 2014 NCAA Indoor Championships with a time of 4:04.36?
JG That was nice. There aren’t that many runners from Columbia who made All-American, especially in the distance ranks. So, it was nice to join them. It also gave me some opportunities moving forward to run at Oregon and to run for Coach Powell. It was exciting, and I was very happy to bring home an individual accomplishment for my team and my college friends at Columbia and my coaches. It was more than I expected and was another step in my life that showed me I could be a pretty good runner.
GCR: The NCAA does have the rule that if you have completed your degree and still have athletic eligibility that you can transfer. How did that rule and opportunities that were available end up with you going to Oregon to finish up your athletic eligibility?
JG It was a tough transition to the college running and I was injured several times at Columbia. That came around and since I had such a great senior season it opened some opportunities. I talked with a few schools about going to do a master’s program and running my final year of eligibility. Coach Powell at Oregon had previously been a volunteer assistant coach at Columbia along with his wife, so that contact was there thankfully. Columbia Coach Willy Wood reached out to Andy Powell who said for me to come on out. I had met him even before Columbia because he was a Massachusetts legendary runner. We clicked, and his system is like the Columbia training regimen. It was a natural transition and I loved Oregon, so it was simple. It was not too shabby to run for a school like Oregon with such a storied history and amazing facilities along with incredibly talented teammates to pull me and redefine for me what it is to be a successful runner and hard worker.
GCR: You mentioned how neat it was to be a member of your high school state champion cross country team. How was it to be a member of the 2015 Indoor and Outdoor NCAA Team Champions and to be with the group that was hoisting the trophy?
JG There were a lot of good runners at Oregon who helped me to get some cool hardware. They did most of the heavy lifting. It was fun, and I loved being a part of those teams. We had a very good chemistry. A lot of times the public and track fans tend to feel that the best running programs have all the advantages and it isn’t a big deal that they win because they are probably a bunch of people who are full of themselves. But the people on those teams I was on really did care about each other and look out for each other. They were very down to earth. It was a neat team to be a part of and a cool accomplishment to achieve with them. It was exciting, and it is nice to have an NCAA Championship, quote unquote, under my belt to some degree. It’s nice to be called an NCAA Champion.
GCR: You had a bunch of great races at Oregon, so does the Penn Relays distance medley relay win stand out the most or is there another race?
JG That Penn Relays DMR was awesome. I ran in the Penn Relays when I was at Columbia and individually this past spring. Winning the relay to get the wheel for the team and the watch that comes with it individually was fun experience. The guys on that distance medley team with me were fantastic runners so it was a sweet experience.
GCR: Your running success meant you had the opportunity to turn professional and continue your running career. Was this a tough decision to make rather than pursuing another career or additional studies in school and did your parents contribute guidance?
JG My parents have always let me make my own decisions. I did have some opportunities to do things outside of running such as finishing my graduate degree or getting another graduate degree. But I thought I would keep seeking this running dream and seeing it out to it end. I was injured at the end of my running career at Oregon and I knew I could have done so much better. So, I wanted to see what I could get out of myself. I’m still on that path. You only get so many things in your life that you are really, really good at. Running is what I’m really, really good at, so I have to see that through to the end to get the most out of it. So, I knew I had to keep doing it. I knew I loved it and there were opportunities out there for me. I’m thankful to be able to get a contract with ASICS and to run with Coach Gags out east. It was a natural decision I knew I needed to make so that’s what I did.
GCR: A lot of times consistency is so necessary, and those injuries decrease a runner’s consistency. When you look back at what you have done the past few years, are there some thoughts that might help you to minimize injuries as you move into a World Championships year and then an Olympic year? What will you do to decrease your chances of crossing the line between the ‘Two I’s’ – from improvement to injury?
JG I’m absolutely getting better at that. I’m getting better and better at staying healthy. Every time I get hurt it is a learning experience. Every time I fail is a learning experience. Even this past year, about a year ago, I had a bad foot injury and now I am finally able to be back after a proper build up from March to November 2018. I’m in good shape because I was smart about my approach while getting back into shape. All the different ways of staying healthy and treating my body right are carried with me day in and day out in my training. From a mental aspect I have the confidence of having breakthroughs the past couple years and the reassurance that goes along with my performances. I carry this into each race. It has been a matter of learning from my mistakes and using this knowledge to move forward.
GCR: What does your racing plan look like as you move into the 2019 World Championships year and then the 2020 Olympic Year? Will you possibly throw in more 800-meter races or time trials for speed or maybe the type of workout Matthew Centrowitz does where he will run several near all-out 800 meters in training with a big rest?
JG We do workouts like that with hard reps and a lot of rest in between. So, we are preparing. The system I’m using is working. As far as races and workouts, distance runners must be able to run a fast 800 meters and must be very strong as well. I’ll continue to run off-distance events like the 800 meters, 3,000 meters and 1,000 meters. In workouts we’ll continue to do those hard reps. That’s one aspect of the preparation and I’m always bringing in cross-training these days. I’m doing anything to make myself stronger and tougher and more prepared. I need to be ready to take on these great competitors of mine in the U.S.
GCR: Speaking of competitors, who are some of your favorite competitors and adversaries from your professional career, collegiate days and when you first started in high school competition because they brought out the best in you, the races were great, and they pushed you to be your best?
JG I’ve had a lot of guys like that throughout my career. There are too many to name. Even my teammates now push me. I don’t think I’ve had anybody who was my favorite rival. That’s the great thing about not being the best – you get pushed to your best or pulled to your best times. They can be times I didn’t even think I could run. There have been tons of rivals as the sport in general just pushes us to be our best. The competitors are there and it’s awesome.
GCR: You made the 2017 U.S. World Championship team and you’ll be aiming to make it again in 2019, but is making the 2020 Olympic team somehow different, even though you will race most of the same men to make the team and in the Games?
JG It’s different to other people as being an Olympian has a lot of weight to it and carries a lot of prestige. But I know a lot of people who were professional runners who weren’t Olympians that I look up to more than some who were Olympians. For the competitors it’s whatever is the highest competition of the year, so you try to get there and, if you do, you compete. It’s a great feather in the cap and it’s being able to compete at the world stage that excites me, being able to compete in a final comprised of the best runners in the world. I would say that qualifying for the World Championships and Olympics is quite similar but getting a medal in the Olympics is much more of a big deal than at the World Championships. The ultimate dream would be to get a medal at the Olympic Games. That is the real historic prestige. But again, they are similar, but to the outside world the Olympics has that cool prestige to it. They are both special.
GCR: There are a lot of aspects to your life that required a lot of structure and discipline, whether it was academics, running or scouting. But on top of that, how did the spirituality of being raised in the Catholic faith spill over to the rest of your life as a youth and give you some grounding as an adult?
JG My family are devout Catholics and I was raised that way. Calling on a higher power from time to time is the most necessary response I use. Being spiritually grounded is important. I don’t get on my knees and pray to have a good race, but it’s more about realizing there are things bigger than me and people who need help more than I do. It helps me look and think that it is nice to be a professional runner and that I have God-given gifts and it is nice to see them through, but at the end of the day I must realize that I’m not that important and I shouldn’t be full of myself. That makes things easier when I let go and recognize the higher power and recognize there are people who need help more than me. It’s a liberating feeling and has been very helpful.
GCR: When you are interacting with younger runners, like at the Invitational, and are asked to sum up in a minute or two the major lessons you have learned during your life from the discipline of academic studies and running, working toward Eagle Scout, and being a part of the running community, what do you like to emphasize that can help others to be their best based on what you’ve learned that could be the ‘Johnny Gregorek Philosophy?’
JG When I'm writing to someone or signing a picture I always write, 'Be prepared, be confident, have fun.' I think those are the biggest things I say. All we can do is prepare our hardest and know we can do it. All we can do is give it our best. If we show up on the day and are confident and our best isn’t enough to win, then the preparation we had still gives us a smile when it’s over and we are going to have a positive experience. We will know we left it all out there. That’s the philosophy I carry day in and day out. When I wake up each day, I’m ready to get the most out of each day. If it doesn't work out as I had hoped, I am trying to be the best version of myself and to do my best. I use that to have confidence and to be excited when it is time to put that hard work to the test. I make sure I have fun with it during the race and realize what a cool life I have and what a cool sport it is to be a runner. After the race, the camaraderie with the competitors is one of the sports where that fellowship is great. I have made so many friends in the sport of running that I enjoy seeing and I stay in touch with. It’s an awesome feeling. So, I take these experiences and give people I talk to these ideas and thoughts from my mindset to remember.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests I like to travel and I’m a huge history buff. Any time I get to travel, whether through running or not, I’m excited to learn the history of an area and to see some cool sites. I enjoy experiencing travel abroad. Even here in New York there are so many neat places to see. I’m always reading about history and like to check out historic places. I also just like hanging out with my fiancée and my friends from the team. My fiancée and I are big music fans, so we go to a lot of concerts. I play a little bit of the guitar, so I enjoy that. We also hang out with my pet rabbit
Nicknames I have a lot of nicknames and I love the silly nicknames. My middle name is Patrick, so when I was really little I was called ‘J.P.’ and ‘Pat.’ I would jokingly in college call myself ‘Johnny the Jet’ all the time, just being silly like guys can be. Most other nicknames are just born out of being with the guys
Favorite movies I don’t necessarily have a favorite movie. I really like a lot of the classic adventure movies. I’m a big fan of ‘Indiana Jones,’ so that’s up there. A lot of the ‘James Bond’ movies I really love. On the more modern side, ‘Catch Me if You Can’ is up there as one of my top five. Any movies that are about some kind of globe-trotting, cool dude usually tickle my fancy when it comes to film
Favorite TV shows As an adult in the comedy sense I’m a big fan of ‘The Office’ and ‘Parks and Recreation.’ On the serious side, ‘Breaking Bad’ was a big favorite. I also like ‘The Sopranos’ And ‘The Wire.’ When I was younger it was anything that had to do with super heroes like ‘Spiderman’ and the ‘Ninja Turtles’
Favorite songs I like a lot of folk music and folk rock, whether it be older folk music or country music or more modern folk rock or punk rock. I like other music peppered in there, but those are the main genres that I’ve always gravitated to the most. My favorite band is a local band from Providence, Rhode Island called ‘Deer Tick.’ My fiancée and I are kind of groupies of that band. It’s my pump-up music and my every day music
Favorite books There are a ton of books that I really have loved throughout my life. I like classic books like ‘The Count of Monte Christo.’ Historic stories that are told through a cool lens like ‘The Devil in the White City’ about the Chicago World’s Fair are great. So, I like historic classics and books that discuss historic events. I’m not huge on modern fiction. I also like comic books. I’m a big Spiderman guy and like a lot of the Marvel comics. I was sad to hear about the passing of Stan Lee
First car I used my mom’s Ford Focus when I needed to go somewhere
Current car My current car is my real first car. My own car is a silver Mercury Mariner and it’s a great car
First Jobs I did a lot of odd jobs like shoveling snow before I could legally work. All through high school I worked in a running store and that was my main source of income
Family My fiancée is Amy and she went to high school with me. We’re getting married in January of 2019. My older sister is Rachel and my younger brother is Patrick. You know my dad, John. My mom is Chris. We’re looking forward to being together for the holidays
Pets We had a dog when I was growing up and some goldfish and a gecko lizard, but not lots of animals. I think Amy and I will have lots of pets. We have a tiny little apartment, so we’re starting off small with a rabbit and will scale up. Our rabbit’s name is ‘Yoda’
Favorite breakfast Eggs benedict
Favorite meal I love chicken wings when I’m feeling naughty
Favorite beverages Seltzer water. Any type of carbonated water is my favorite drink besides water. I’ll have an occasional beer here and there
First running memory Those kids races I ran at the local 5k races are my first memory
Running heroes When I first started out, Alan Webb was in his prime, so that was someone I looked up to. Steve Prefontaine was someone that I and everyone looked up to when I was in high school. Louis Zamperini is a historic figure. It’s cool how for so many of these historic runners
Greatest running moment The whole World Championships in London. It was very special, I look back on it fondly and look forward to recreating it, if not completely surpassing it
Worst running moment I’ve got crushed in a lot of races and any time I’ve lost in a bad way I try to learn from it
Childhood dreams I wanted to be a pilot. I also wanted to be a chef
Funny memories : I had a very bad race a couple years ago. My grandma, who has since passed away, was there. She was a real good, hard-working woman from Brooklyn. She went to my races when she could and watched me get crushed that day. After the race she was saying, ‘You’ve got to get a real job.’ Everyone was laughing as she was berating me in front of everybody. It was funny
Favorite places to travel In the U.S. I really like Oregon, especially Portland and Eugene. I also like the northeast, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. They are such awesome areas. Abroad I loved London and any places I’ve visited. Japan sticks out when I ran an Ekiden race there. We are going to Japan on our honeymoon after we get married on January fifth