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Sinclaire Johnson — August, 2019
Sinclaire Johnson is the 2019 NCAA Outdoor 1,500-meter Champion and is the second fastest collegian in history behind Jenny Simpson. She placed fourth at the 2019 USATF Championships in the 1,500 meters in her personal best time of 4:03.72, narrowly missing making the U.S. World Championship team by 0.17 seconds. At Oklahoma State in 2019 she earned a bronze medal in the NCAA Indoor distance medley relay and was Big 12 Conference Champion at 1,000 meters and the distance medley relay indoors and 800 meters outdoors. Sinclaire is also 2019 and 2018 NCAA West Region 1,500-meter champ, 2019 and 2018 Cardinal Classic 1,500-meter champ and a member of Oklahoma State’s 2019 Drake Relays 4 x 800 and 4 x 1,600-meter relay champion teams. She competed for Lake Brantley High School in Longwood, Florida, where highlights included five Florida FHSAA 4A State Titles including three at 800 meters and two at 1,600 meters. Her personal best times are: 400 meters – 55.48; 800 meters - 2:00.43; 1,000 meters - 2:43.37; 1,500 meters - 4:03.72; mile - 4:35.62; 3,000 meters - 9:10.53 and 6,000 meters cross country - 19:56.3. Johnson recently announced she is foregoing her final year of collegiate eligibility to turn professional and focus on training for the 2020 Olympic Trials. She is coached by Dave Smith and lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Sinclaire was very kind to spend over two hours on the phone during August, 2019.
GCR: This year has been a time of change as you have stepped up to another level with your racing especially as you won the NCAA Championships 1,500 meters and finished fourth at the USATF 1,500 meters while narrowly missing the World Championships team. How have these big races and these outcomes affected you and your decision to return to Oklahoma State or turn professional and what are you excited and enthusiastic about as you focus on your running career?
SJ The biggest thing about these races and my racing two times with the pros this summer is my mindset about my competition. Just because they are pros and I have looked up to them for a while, now I’m racing against them, now I want to beat them. So, it has changed how I look at them. I must go in with a mindset that ‘I belong here’ just like the rest of them belong and they are all beatable just like I’m beatable. My view of my competitors when I get to the line can’t be that they are better than me or they are faster than me or I have already lost the race right there. Changing my mindset to one that thinks I can compete, and I can beat them, and that I belong is crucial, and something I had to do quickly this summer. As I go forward, it has me excited because of what happened in my first two races with pros. I was nervous going into races with the pros because I had no idea how I stacked up against them and how it would be racing them. It is much different at this level as runners are racing for money and their livelihood. They are racing more aggressively, and I wasn’t used to that at NCAAs. Now that I got that experience this summer, I have a better grasp on how differently racing is and that will help me be more aggressive for the 2020 Olympic Trials.
GCR: Where are you in your decision-making process in joining the professional ranks, hiring an agent, signing with a shoe company and other sponsors, selecting a coach, affiliating with a training group and other major changes that are part of moving to the next level?
SJ Luckily, this coming year I’m not going to have many major changes. One big change is that I will no longer be in an Oklahoma State uniform. It’s taken me a while to come to this decision. It took lots of conversation with my college coach. I have two semesters of school left. My training with my college coach went very well, so I want to stay in that training environment and to stay with him as my coach going forward into the 2020 Olympic Trials. After that I will make drastic changes. I won’t be in uniform this coming year as I have given up my eligibility. I have decided on an agent and will be signing with Ricky Simms. He’s already gone to work for me. Right now, I’m in the process of talking to shoe companies. Ricky is soliciting offers. Then I will review the contracts, the numbers, and see which makes sense for me and my life. There are many training groups in the U.S. where, if you want to train with a certain group, you sign with a specific company. If you want to go with Brooks Beasts, you sign with Brooks. If you want to go with the Bowerman group, you sign with Nike. I want to be in a group that is structured like those groups, so that limits my choices somewhat. That isn’t a bad thing. I have not decided on a group yet. Some of the Nike groups are attractive to me. What they are starting down in San Diego with Adidas and Terrence Mahon is appealing to me. This fall I will take some visits, talk to the coaches and see what is a good fit for me. Then I can decide next summer and make some major changes – moving to a different city and being trained by a different coach. That’s what it looks like going forward. Most of the companies I’m talking with are okay with me staying in Stillwater, finishing school and being coached by Dave this next year and then making a change after the 2020 Olympic Trials. That is good because I want to be coached this year by Dave and I have school remaining, so it makes sense for this next year.
GCR: With changes in life, even if they are positive, it adds stress and makes it harder to succeed, so by minimizing changes are you hoping to have a higher likelihood of success as you head into the 2020 Olympic Trials?
SJ Yes – there will be minor changes here and there and I will be on a different schedule than the college team and in general from my schedule last year. But, honestly, my coach and I have talked a lot about it and won’t change what I do in training that much because the Trials next year are at the end of June, and NCAAs this year were in the first or second week of June. So, it’s only extending my season by two weeks. That doesn’t change a whole lot in my training. But it would change a lot if I were to move and change my environment and coach and I don’t know how that would affect me. I’m not ready to take that big jump this soon before the Trials.
GCR: Will you be talking with some of the athletes like Courtney Freirichs in the Bowerman group, or Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn in the New Balance group, or 800 meter star Ajee Wilson who is training in Philadelphia, to determine not only if the shoe company you select fits you, but also the athletes you will train with fit you because that may be the most important factor in your success?
SJ I agree that is the most important thing. I talked to Jenny Simpson before one of my races earlier this summer because I was inquiring about going pro versus staying in school. I knew that she was faced with the decision to forego the rest of her eligibility or to go back to school. She ended up going back to school, so I was trying to get some insight into how she made that decision and why she did. She told me that, when she was training with her coach, she was in Boulder about three hundred days of the year. So, she said that you must be very comfortable with where you will live and train since you will be spending a lot of time with your new coach. She mentioned that you will be spending most of your time in a new city and have new teammates. So, just like with the college recruiting process and finding a place where I felt I was at home and felt comfortable and felt like I could succeed at Oklahoma State as far as m coach and teammates and resources to use, I think that will be the most important thing for me going forward and choosing a group and a coach.
GCR: Let’s look at your 2019 racing season, focusing first on NCAAs and USATF and then looking back at some races earlier this year. Before you came into the NCAAs, you had to qualify at the West Regionals. Could you discuss your strategy as you took third in your heat to make the final and then winning in a PR of 4:09.50?
SJ I had only run one 1,500 meters this season. My coach and I had decided that we were going to take quite a bit of a break after indoor season and have some more time to train and get a good training block in before I started racing again. I had never been through three racing seasons back-to-back before either from injuries or redshirting because I didn’t make the cross-country team my freshman year. At Regionals I felt super fresh. I had run that one 1,500 meters in 4:13 out at Stanford and so I knew I was in pretty good shape to make it through the Region. But anything can happen in those races – people can fall, I could feel sick – there are so many factors that go into a race. But I felt that, after going through the rounds last year, I was much more comfortable this year and a lot more relaxed going into the races. You’re always going to get a little bit of nerves, but I was never truly nervous. I was comfortable and relaxed and ready to do whatever I needed to do to make it to the next round. Luckily, out in California we had great weather. Then it was the next round and I ran 4:09.50 which was a two second PR. That was shocking to me and was one of my favorite races because I led from wire to wire. I had never raced like that ever except maybe a race here and there in high school, but never in college where you don’t typically lead from wire to wire.
GCR: How did your performance at Regionals give you a boost heading into NCAAs?
SJ Racing in that particular race gave me a ton of confidence going forward, especially since I saw Jessica Hull run 4:09 right before I went on the track. For me to also run 4:09 gave me a lot of confidence because I knew she would be my main competition at Nationals. For me to do what I did put me in a good position. Leading the race going into Nationals, I was very excited. I hadn’t raced Jessica in a final since the last round of Regionals in 2018. I was very antsy and excited to race her. She has had a lot of success and I wanted to see if I could beat her. It was an exciting factor going into Nationals since I would get to race her, and we didn’t face off until the finals. It came down to the final at NCAAs which was very special. So, going in I felt very relaxed and leaving I felt very comfortable with my training and how the races were progressing.
GCR: When you got to NCAAs, again you had to go through rounds. At Regionals you ran 4:18 in the first round and at NCAAs you ran 4:12.35 in the first round. Since you were six seconds faster, which was as fast as you had ever run before Regionals, how smooth did you feel, did that take much out of you or were you relaxed heading into the final?
SJ It’s interesting that you ask that because at Nationals the men’s 1,500-meter rounds are more tactical. But in the women’s 1,500 meters we are in competition and racing the best women in the nation who have made it through Regionals and have run 4:15 or faster. This is very solid, so racing women of that caliber makes the races tend to go faster. Since I was in the first heat in the first round, it was crucial to run fast so that we could get as many time qualifiers out of our heat as possible. That is probably the reason why our heat went fast. In that prelim I felt terrible and, I don’t know if it was because of the heat, but that was a tough race for me. I had to make some mental decisions in the race as it was tough mentally. I kept saying to myself, ‘You’re fine. You’re fine. You’re going to be fine.’ I’m not kidding, but I was counting down the meters left by each one hundred meters because I didn’t feel good. I still made it through smoothly. There were no trip ups and I got through easily even though I didn’t feel very good. Having a day in between before the final and kind of putting that race behind me was good. I thought that I didn’t feel good in the prelims but that I would feel completely different in the final. And I did on Saturday going into the race. I think I get more nervous for prelims because there is everything to lose and nothing to gain from them. Maybe that is why I wasn’t feeling too great.
GCR: When you got to the NCAA finals, I’m sure that your coach and you had an action plan as to what you wanted to do and, of course, it would depend on what the other racers did. Will you discuss your pre-race plan and then how it changed when BYU’s Whittni Orton took the field out fast and Jessica Harris made a move with two laps to go and how you adapted your plan to these moves?
SJ My coach and I talked before the race and we thought my main competition would come down to two women, Jessica Harris and Jessica Hull. We didn’t discus Whittni Orton being with us, so that was a little bit of a surprise. We’ve seen Jessica Harris and Jessica Hull race multiple times and we knew Jessica Harris would make a move with 800 meters to go and Jessica Hull was going to make her move with 300 meters to go. Basically, all my coach told me was that I had to weather both of those storms and, if I did, and was with Jessica Hull with 200 meters to go, I’d win the race. Going into the race I kept all of this in the back of my mind. I didn’t feel panic when the pace started to increase. Whittni Orton took the lead early on and that was nice because we all like to go out hard and then that second one hundred meters usually slows down. She came around the corner and picked up the pace. I was running hard and definitely did not want to do that so early. With 800 meters to go, Jessica Harris made her move. Jessica Hull went with her and I went with her. I thought, ‘Okay, this is the first move. I need to run with this. Stay calm. You’re fine. It’s going to hurt for a little bit, but you’re going to feel comfortable going into the rest of the race.’ Then Jessica Hull made her move at 300 meters to go. I was thinking, ‘This is for the national title right here. If I let her go, I’ve lost. If I go with her, I can win the race.’ So, as soon as she made that move, I almost matched her instantly. With about 200 meters and 150 meters to go I was still with her. I thought, ‘Wow! I’m going to win this race.’ Then coming off the curve and into the last one hundred meters, I wanted to make my move at the last possible moment. I didn’t want to make it too early and then give her a chance to pass me back up. To me the last possible moment is at seventy-five or fifty meters to go and that’s when I did it. I swung out wide and drove for home and it was cool that the race played out like we thought it would play out.
GCR: How exciting was it to cross the finish line and realize you were an NCAA champion and then to see how fast you ran? Did you have any idea you ran that fast or were you just caught up in the moment of racing?
SJ I had no idea how fast we were running. When I’m in a race like that, I’m just concerned with the people I’m racing. Whether I run 4:12 and get first place or run 4:05 and win, I’m still a national champion. All of us are just focused on trying to beat each other. Everyone in that race had their own specific race plan of how to beat their competition. Those race plans came together, and it ended up being a very fast race. That was cool because crossing the finish line and knowing I had just won Nationals was surreal. It was exciting and a bit of a shock. I couldn’t believe it because it had been what I was working for the entire season. To all come together on one day was a very, very special moment. I had no idea how fast it was. Jessica Hull and I were giving each other a hug after the race and she was telling me, ‘Congrats.’ Then she said, ‘We just ran a World Championships standard.’ That’s when I looked up at the scoreboard and saw ‘4:05.’ That threw me for a loop. ‘What?’ I just couldn’t believe we had run that fast. Some people asked me, ‘Did it feel like you were running that fast during the race?’ To that question I can say that it didn’t feel like we were running slowly by any means. I knew we were running an honest pace. But if I would have run 4:10, I would have thought, ‘Okay, that felt like 4:10.’ But running 4:05, I guess all I can say is, ’Oh, that’s what 4:05 feels like.’ Its kind of weird to wrap your mind around how fast you’re going in a race, especially when you’re not looking at your splits. Then you finish and the thought is, ‘Oh, that’s what we ran.’
GCR: After that I believe you were planning to wrap up your season, but USATF was out there and you went to the Sunset Tour Meet at Azusa Pacific to work on your speed in the 800 meters. How was it to come in with a 2:04 PR and 2:02 relay split and to mix it up with Kate Grace and Shelby Houlihan and to almost break two minutes?
SJ When we went out there, Dave and I were talking about getting in some speedwork. At first, the race wasn’t shaping up and not that many top runners seemed to be interested. Then at the last minute, after the Prefontaine Classic, a ton of runners became interested and entered the race. I think they wanted to get in one last race before USATF or they may not have had an IAAF standard and a lot of the races are set up to try to get the standard. It ended up being a very stacked race so Dave and I decided I should go for it. We got out to L.A. and the meet atmosphere reminded me a bit of high school. I say that because the meet was very laid back. It wasn’t like a national meet where the officials hold us in a pen for ten minutes before the race and don’t let us do any stride outs. It felt more relaxed and I think that was the best scenario for my first race with the pros. The mood didn’t make me hype up the race too much. I obviously knew who I was racing and how fast they had run for 800 meters. It was about changing my mindset to one where these are my competitors. I may still look up to many of them, but I couldn’t put them on a pedestal because they were going to be in the same race with me. But during the race I kind of forgot about who they were. I stuck behind Shelby because I knew she was going to run fast. I decided to stay behind her and to see how long I could hold on. That’s kind of what I did, and she had another gear the last one hundred meters that I didn’t have. I ended up in third place as Kate Grace had hung with us, made her move with about a hundred meters to go and drove by me. I tried to find another gear and I didn’t have another gear left. It was a fun race. It was a great tune up and great confidence builder. If I could be within a second or less of Shelby and Kate, I felt good about what would happen at USATF in the 1,500 meters. I knew I would need to close in sixty or fifty-nine seconds to win the race.
GCR: The goal of the top runners at USATF is to finish in the top three and to make the World Championships team. Even though there were a lot of Olympians and former World Championships competitors, did you and your coach still have a strategy of how to put you in the best spot to make the team and to not worry about who you were racing?
SJ Yes, definitely. In the prelims it was about getting an automatic qualifier and not having to worry about time qualifying. Those are the top three spots and Dave said, ‘If Kate Grace is behind you, that’s one spot that you will go back,’ because she would most likely pass me at the end. So, he said, ‘You need to be in second or first going into the last turn because Kate Grace will have you.’ At the last turn I put myself in position to be in the top two in case Kate Grace swung around. She ended up swinging around me, so it was good I put myself in the right position. I auto qualified for the finals. During the finals it was hard to make a race plan because I hadn’t raced against these women before in a 1,500-meter final. I hadn’t paid attention to their racing too much. Dave said that I needed to be in qualifying position, basically third place, with five hundred meters to go because, when those women go with four hundred meters to go, I won’t be able to outkick these women, which is true. I’m not going to be able to run a sixty second quarter mile and beat Shelby Houlihan who is also running a sixty or fifty-nine second lap if I’m behind her. So, I needed to be in position and that was the biggest mistake I made in that race. I did not put myself in a great position with five hundred meters to go. I think I was still in ninth place. I was far back. That created a lot of bodies to get around and it makes it very hard.
GCR: One thing I did notice though is that you didn’t get boxed in. You were mostly on the outside of lane one the whole way. It seemed that whatever position you were in you weren’t blocked so that when you did make your move a bit later that you had wanted to you could make the move you wanted to do and some of the others couldn’t. Hiltz was blocked and Grace was having trouble getting around while you seemed to be able to make your moves smoothly.
SJ I wanted to be on the outside because I feel it is easier to answer moves and to make moves from the outside. It isn’t as important on the first two laps because everyone is together, but once it gets down to two laps to go I feel it is important to get to the outside because we can run into an issue like we had on the home stretch. I remember Nicki coming up to my left-hand side to try to get through Kate Grace and me. There was no room there and she kind of realized that and went back on the inside of Kate Grace. I made my move too late. It may have been a little bit of not believing I could really make the team until about two hundred meters to go. Then I thought, ‘Wait a second – I actually could make the team.’ That’s when I decided to make my move. Maybe if I would have believed a little earlier and put myself in position like my coach said to do with five hundred meters to go the outcome could have been different, but it’s kind of hard to tell. I took away a lot from that race. I had never been in a pro race with something on the line that big before. It was very interesting to see how everyone raced. It was everyone for themselves out there. None gave up their position. Elbows were kind of perked out. You’ve got to be aggressive out there. I may have been too timid and too naïve and let myself get pushed around a bit. Going forward, it was helpful that I had that experience. It was helpful that I was in that fourth-place position, as much as it stinks to be in that fourth-place position. Now I know what it feels like to be one spot out. I never want to feel like that again. I’m going to be better because of this race.
GCR: A couple of points I took away are that, one – Kate Grace did not out kick you this time and, two – your time was fast enough that you would have made every previous World Championships and Olympic team, which is amazing.
SJ I didn’t know that. The U.S. in general is so competitive in all events. I watched the women’s 400-meter hurdles and it was insane to be able to see a World Record go down at USAs. I knew the kind of competition I was racing. The women’s 1,500-meter team is one of the hardest to make, if not the hardest to make. When I realized how close I came in my first go around to try and make a team, I couldn’t be that upset with the outcome. I did get the 2020 Olympic standard out of the way which is very nice too. I don’t have to worry about chasing the Olympic standard during the next year. I can just race and, when I get to the Trials, I can just worry about racing and not have to worry about time. That’s a good way to go into races. I can focus on racing and not have to think, ‘I need to run this certain time.’
GCR: I’d like to look back at an aspect of your racing earlier this year that you won’t be experiencing in the future and that is the team part of the collegiate running experience. You were on distance medley teams that won the Big 12 indoors and placed third at NCAAs and then outdoors won the 4 x 800-meter relay at the Drake Relays and Big 12 Championships. How important is it and how much fun is it competing in relays with your Oklahoma State teammates?
SJ It’s a lot of fun. Indoors we knew we had a good team and one that was a national title contender. We didn’t win on that day and it’s hard to have four women who are ‘on’ on the same day. But that was the highest finish OKSU women have ever had in the DMR at Nationals. It’s fun because it reminds me of cross country. We’re all in this together. We’re all cheering each other on and wishing the best for each other. Coming together and being able to showcase our middle-distance talent at Oklahoma State has been a cool experience these past two seasons. Drake Relays was a fun weekend because in the outdoor season we are all so caught up in our individual races and in trying to get a Regional qualifying time. It’s cool that our coach took us to a big meet and told us to just go for the win and not to worry about our splits or finishing time. He wanted us to get together and to do something fun. It breaks up the season when we do something different like that. I will miss those meets and miss those relays a ton. Being on that distance medley relay this indoor season was a lot of fun and is something that I can’t replicate as an individual and can’t be done at the pro level. It will be hard to get over the hump and to realize I won’t be on those relays next year. I’m appreciative of it. I maybe shouldn’t have even been on that distance medley relay. We had such a stacked middle-distance crew. We could have had a totally different combination of women on that relay. For my coach and my teammates to trust me to be on that relay and to run as well as I could on the relay was reassuring.
GCR: You mentioned that you only ran the 1,500 meters once before the Big 12 Outdoor Championships. Indoors you ran and won the Big 12 1,000 meters and outdoors you ran and won the Big 12 800 meters. First, how exciting is it to win conference championships for yourself while scoring points for your team and, second, how much did those 800-meter and 1,000-meter races allow you to feel more relaxed when you ran at a slower pace in 1,500-meter races?
SJ I think that when I go down in distance those races make me feel more comfortable with the 1,500 meters. Also, when I run 1,500 meters in meets back to back to back, it becomes boring. It was nice that my coach had me go down in distance and mix it up. Indoors I ran something different almost every weekend. I ran the 1,000 meters twice indoors and the distance medley relay. It was a nice way to get in some speed work. Being able to get comfortable with a faster pace at a shorter distance makes transition to 1,500 meters a lot easier. On the first two laps it’s like we’re jogging. I didn’t run the 1,500 meters at Big 12 Conference this year or last year and felt like it was good speed work going into the Regional meet. My coach and I knew that the 800 meters outdoors and the 1,000 meters indoors were going to be the most difficult of the distance races to win at conference, especially the 800 meters because of who was in the race. That was a challenge which was cool because I was dropping down in distance to race these 800-meter women. It was a real test of my confidence to see how I stacked up against them. The way that race went helped me going into Nationals. And for the 1,000 meters indoors there was a woman from Kansas State who took it out from the gun at the start of the race. I had to remain calm and stay patient so that was a different style of racing. I had to learn to be comfortable racing from behind and to try and catch somebody. These different distances taught me how to win from all kinds of different scenarios – whether it was from behind or up front or negative splitting 800 meters like it was at outdoor conference. Those meets were very valuable in that sense.
GCR: With your success at 1,500 meters, 800 meters and some earlier efforts in high school at 400 meters, plus cross-country racing at 5k in high school and 6k in college, is there one distance that is your favorite?
SJ The 1,500 meters and mile, for sure. I think that it’s the perfect combination of endurance and speed. In my training and how I’ve progressed as an athlete right now that is my sweet spot. It’s long enough to be able to race people but it’s also short enough that I’m not getting bored or losing focus.
GCR: Let’s talk a bit about your training a bit and first discuss the foundation underlying distance training and racing. What was your typical training mileage and how did it change as you progressed through four years of high school and three years of college?
SJ I typically was always a low-mileage runner. It started out like that because that is how my high school program was. I didn’t even keep track of my mileage in high school, so I couldn’t tell you an exact number. If I was to guess, going back and thinking about the workouts we did and the kind of other runs we did, I would say no more than thirty miles a week and less than that sometimes. That alone made it hard to transition to college. My freshman year at Oklahoma State, Dave had us doing fifty miles a week and my reaction was, ‘What?’ That contributed to a little bit to my injuries. My body was not ready to handle that much impact and that much mileage. The first year I tried to run fifty miles a week and I ended up getting a stress reaction by the end of that fall. Then we took a step back and realized that I probably needed to do less mileage and to cross train more. I backed up my mileage in track to maybe forty-five miles a week, but I wasn’t doing any cross-training yet to supplement the running. My sophomore year I was running fifty to fifty-five miles a week during cross country season and I was handling that a lot better. Then I got injured again in the winter. I felt I needed to change what I was doing in training because the same kind of thing was happening. I tried to run longer, and I was getting injured. As I got older and stronger, I have been able to handle more.
GCR: How much cross training do you usually do to supplement your running?
SJ In cross country last fall, to give you an example, I was running sixty miles a week and I also did a lot of cross training. I swim often up to a hundred minutes a week during cross country. In track I do the same swimming, but I run less, roughly forty-five miles a week. I’m doing a lot more track workouts on harder surfaces with more pounding, so I cut back the mileage. I’m cross training one hundred and fifty minutes a week now. We consider ten minutes of cross training to equal one mile of running. If my goal is the equivalent of sixty miles a week and I’m running forty-five miles, then I’ll cross train one hundred fifty minutes to get total distance comparable to sixty miles. That is where my mileage has been. This summer I have been running more than during previous track seasons, about fifty to fifty-five miles a week with no cross training and I haven’t had any issues. I’m getting stronger and my bones can handle the mileage now.
GCR: What are some of your favorite training sessions to build your stamina and early season speed and then for sharpening prior to your most important meets of the season? Was there much of a change from high school to college or mainly more intensity?
SJ In high school I did basically all speedwork. For the most part we did 400-meter repeats and 200-meter repeats. I didn’t know what a tempo run was. I didn’t know what a long run was. Then on the days we weren’t on the track, we were doing hill repeats. It was a lot of speed, speed, speed. That was part of the reason I ran 55 seconds for 400 meters in high school and I was able to run 800 meters in 2:08. In college it was much different because we train more aerobically. We do a lot of tempo runs and threshold running and VO2 max type running. That has been hard mentally because we must focus for a lot longer. We do touch on speedwork too. We do fast 600-meter workouts. We do some 200-200-400-800-meter workouts. Those workouts are the best part of training for me. That’s where I feel at home like I did in high school. Those are my favorite types of workouts for feeling sharp and getting fast because they are in my wheelhouse. In cross country season we do a lot of aerobic training. We’ll go out to a dirt road and do six-mile tempo runs. We also do tempo runs on the track. I’ve come to like them more, but I can’t say that I love them. I’m more comfortable with them and that’s helped me tackle those longer type workouts.
GCR: Let’s take a trip back to your youth when you were learning to appreciate academics and athletics. How encouraging were your parents and how did your upbringing form your character and mold you into the young lady you are today?
SJ My parents have been very influential in that regard. They raised my brother and me to be very, very independent people and to create our own success rather than ride the coat tails of their success. That alone has been very helpful. They allowed us to do whatever sport we wanted. They were very encouraging – whether that was in school, on the track or anywhere. They are both athletic, into fitness and very competitive themselves. They instilled that competitive nature in me and helped in little things. When I needed to go on a run during high school and didn’t want to get up on the weekend, my mom would bike with me and encourage me to get up and run. They held me accountable. Running and track was very new to them. Especially when I got to college it was new. They tried to encourage me every step of the way. They were very supportive and only wanted the best for me. They also let me make my own decisions. I think that alone was super helpful. I never felt like I was getting pushed one way or the other. I never felt like I was going to get burned out with track and field because they weren’t pushing me to train harder. They let me make my own mistakes and let the reigns go. That helped me to be successful in college. When we get to college, we get all this freedom. We can choose to be great or we can choose not to. With all the freedom and new people and new things to do at college it’s very easy to choose the latter. They instilled in me to be confident, to be an individual and to be independent which helped shape who I am now. In high school I didn’t realize what they were doing, but now looking back on it, it makes sense that they helped make me into who I am today, not only as a runner, but as a person too.
GCR: I know you played some lacrosse before high school. Did you pay many sports and get varied activity and when did you start noticing through your physical activity, such as playing lacrosse, that you had some running talent?
SJ I played lacrosse for five years. I also danced and did gymnastics and cheered. In terms of ball sports, lacrosse was the only sport I picked up. I really liked lacrosse and continued with it for five years before high school. I had full intentions of playing lacrosse in high school. When I was playing lacrosse as a midfielder who was running back and forth across the field, my mom had heard many comments that I could run like a gazelle. That’s where my running roots started. I just didn’t know it yet. It really came into fruition went I went into high school and pursued track and cross country. My mom went to a sports night at my high school before my freshman year where they had information on all the different sports that Lake Brantley High School offered. My mom came back with cross country information. She told me it would be a good idea for me to run cross country in the fall to keep in shape for lacrosse season in the spring. At the time it didn’t sound like it would be fun, but one of my friends was going to try it out too. So, I said, ‘Okay, I guess we can do it together then.’
GCR: How was that period of your infancy in distance running when you started out training in the summer before high school?
SJ In the summer I started training with the cross-country team and I had very humble beginnings. I was not even able to run a mile without stopping. Even when I could do my first real run it was three miles and it was very, very slow. The season started for girls and went along and by the end of the season I qualified for State as an individual. That’s when we realized that maybe I should put up the lacrosse stick and pursue running.
GCR: Let’s go back to your early roots as a runner in high school. First, in general it is amazing the great girls you raced, the tightness of the competition and the back and forth of beating each other that I’m sure developed you as a racer. When I look back at your freshman year at Lake Brantley, by the time you got to the big three races at District, Region and State, in the District you won the 1,600 meters and 800 meters and the races were very close. In the 1,600 meters, you, Kerstin Sosa, Sarah Carrion and Hannah Baker were within two seconds and in the 800 meters you beat Taylor Johnson by only seven tenths of a second. What do you remember about that first season when you were fourteen or fifteen years old and not just running fast times, but having to really race tough competitors at a young age?
SJ At that moment track was so new to me that it was just getting comfortable with getting uncomfortable. That is the best way to describe it. Racing is uncomfortable at times. Being in that type of sport teaches us to be uncomfortable. I had so many fast runners like Bridget Blake and Bryce Seymour who came before me that I looked up to and wanted to be like. I was so new to the sport that I didn’t know how to race or the right way to race, so I was experimenting with racing. I was very fortunate to have such strong, competitive fields in high school. It really taught me to be fierce out there and it taught me different ways to race. When I got to college I adapted naturally because there wasn’t this huge jump in how to race. It was just that it was faster. Quite a few girls on my college team didn’t have much competition in high school maybe because they were in a small classification or a small town and were running more on their own and kind of time trialing. I was very fortunate in that sense to have people I was racing closely against. When I got to the next level it made it easier to transition. I knew what to do by then.
GCR: Sticking with your freshman year in high school, in the 800 meters you beat Taylor Johnson at Districts, but she turned the tables and beat you by a half second at Regions with Bridget Blake a coupe yards behind you and then at State Taylor was second, Bridget was third and you were fourth, so you young ladies were really duking it out. How exciting was it to place fourth in the State after these very competitive races and to be up on the podium as a freshman getting a State medal?
SJ It was very exciting because I don’t think any of us expected me to be fourth when we went into the race. Afterward, when we looked at who was in front of me, they were all seniors, and we started thinking that maybe I could win the next year. It was cool because I was so new to the sport and didn’t know what my feeling was at that point. Finishing in fourth place and realizing who was in front of me made me realize I was in good company. That I was able to do this as a freshman with limited training got the wheels turning in my head and my parents’ heads that this could be something very special.
GCR: Then your sophomore year in high school you were getting stronger and seemed to be racing equally well at 1,600 meters and 800 meters. Still, the competition was so high that as you went through Districts, Regions and States that culminated in your winning the 1,600 meters and 800 meters at State, you duked it out with Charlotte Stevens of Winter Park at Regions in the 1,600 meters and she beat you by a half second. How much did that spur you on and help you realize that you had to be ‘on’ in every race to be the champion?
SJ That year was different because I qualified for both races for State, and the previous year I was tenth in the 1,600 meters at Regions. I still felt like the 800 meters was my race and didn’t like the 1,600 meters much. That was more because I wasn’t as prepared for it. Honestly, I didn’t think much of it when Charlotte beat me at Regionals, just because I was thinking, ‘She can have that one – the 800 meters is my race and I’m more concerned with that.’ Going forward, at State that year the race went out slow in the 1,600 meters. I was still with the pack and surprising myself. With 800 meters to go I thought, ‘Wait! I can win this thing – I’m still here!’ I stayed with the pack and winning that race was strange because I was so focused on winning the 800 meters. I made my first State finals in the 1,600 meters and winning it was very shocking.
GCR: It was very tight too because you only beat Katherine MacNeal by zero point three seconds at 5:01.49 to 5:01.80.
SJ I remember that – it was a very tight race. I remember going into that race with one of the slowest PRs. But, because of the way the race played out and didn’t go out fast in the beginning, it kind of played into my wheelhouse and made it an 800-meter race. When I realized I was with them, I got very excited. I was actually competing in a 1,600-meter race, whereas previously a lot of times I felt like I was just doing the 1,600 meters to do it. Before I didn’t feel as competitive, confident and comfortable as in the 800 meters. Winning that race at State propelled me into a whole new level of confidence in the 1,600 meters.
GCR: Then you came back in the 800 meters and there were four underclassmen in the top four with you, Maddie Beaubien, Alon Lewis and Shaquanda Hill. You and Maddie set school records and all four of you ran personal best times. How cool was it to come back and win the State Championship in your favorite event without much rest after winning the 1,600 meters?
SJ That was very special. We had maybe an hour and a half after the 1,600 meters. I felt a little pressure in the 800 meters because that was the race I was supposed to win. In the 1,600 meters I wasn’t the favorite, but I was in the 800 meters. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder and the pressure and that was good for me. It was good for a young sophomore Sinclaire. I wanted to win that race more so because I was expected to win. Winning that was very special to leave with not only one, but two Gold Medals. I thought that season that one Gold Medal was in the cards, but not two. It got me excited for the next year. That kind of showed because the following cross-country season when I was a junior, I got second at State.
GCR: What did you do over the summer and that next fall to get the strength to do so well in cross country because, like you said, you weren’t running much mileage and were more of a speed runner? What was the difference that allowed you to race well over 5k cross country?
SJ I started doing more mileage over the summer. I started to take my summer training more seriously. Also, a big part of my transition from my sophomore year to my junior year in high school, and I had a similar change from my sophomore year to my junior year in college, was I decided I wanted to be great at cross country too. I didn’t get that much more serious about my training that summer and fall, but it was more my mentality in cross country. I went into races thinking, ‘I belong here. I can keep up.’ That changed me. The slight increase in mileage helped but didn’t stand out. I did basically the same training my junior year and sophomore year with the same coach and the same workouts, so not much change.
GCR: It’s interesting that you may have surprised some people as a sophomore with two State titles, but now you’re back as a junior in track where you got through Districts with two wins, but at Regionals sophomore Kayley Delay from Fletcher beat you and she was the new, young buck. What did that do mentally and physically as you had to prepare for State in the 1,600 meters?
SJ That is the nature of our sport. People young and new come up all the time and we are constantly having to race against the new youngster. After that race I knew that the main goal was to qualify for State and to not get hung up on being first all the time, especially in races where I’m just trying to qualify. Because of that, I started learning to put races like that behind me and not letting those determine my future and what I think of myself as a person or athlete and not let bad days define me. That has helped me to move on from a race that didn’t go quite the way I wanted it to go. After that I went back home for the weekend, looked at the positives of qualifying in both races again, and a bit of the negative that there was this little sophomore I’d have to worry about at State. I had to be prepared and maybe it was good that I got beat at Regionals because I knew what it felt like to lose and didn’t want to lose when it came to a bigger stage. That taste left me going forward wanting to defend my title. I knew what it felt like to lose and didn’t want to let it happen again.
GCR: At State there was a strong field with six or eight young ladies who were contending for the win and you had to battle through all of them. You did and you won, and you broke five minutes for the first time at 4:59.93. How exciting was it to compete with such a great field, get through to the front, defend your title and break five minutes?
SJ That was exciting. It was comparable to this year’s 1,500-meter race at Nationals. To be able to beat such a strong field and win it, and to run the fastest I ever had, were all the three things I could want in a race like that. For all three to come together was very special. Crossing the line, I was just full of a lot of happiness because that was the race where I thought I would be challenged the most due to the depth of the field. To defend my title and beat a field like that was very good and gave me confidence going into my next race, the 800 meters, which was about an hour and a half away.
GCR: The 800 meters was interesting because you came in with a fast time of 2:10.07 from Regionals and then you faced Maddie Beubien who had finished second to you the year before and she’s a notorious fast starter who took out the race in 61 or 62 seconds. How cool was it that she sort of set you up for your PR win in 2:08.71? Did you thank her afterwards?
SJ I’m always so impressed with runners who take it out fast like that because they’re the ones who make the race fast. That’s not my style. I just don’t race like that. But I’m very appreciative of women who are brave enough to do that. It was cool to have her take the lead the first lap and take over the reins. I knew I had to slowly chip away. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to chip away at her lead because it seemed she was so far out front. I slowly reeled her in and passed her and crossed the line and - oh my gosh, I got another PR that day. That was very exciting. That was one of the best days I had in my running career up to that point. It was reassuring to be able to not only win those races but to run as fast as I could at the time that it really mattered.
GCR: After that great junior track season, you were getting ready for your final year in high school and working on the decision-making process of where to go to college. You took official visits to the University of Texas, Harvard University, Oklahoma State and the University of Alabama, along with an unofficial visit to the University of Central Florida. How tough was that whole process and what was the tipping point that led to your signing with Oklahoma State and Coach Dave Smith?
SJ I received a lot of interest and had to decide what I wanted out of college. I concluded that I wanted to be the best runner possible. That kind of narrowed down my decision as to what colleges I looked at and who I was interested in coaching me. That led to which colleges I visited. Oklahoma State was my first visit and, when I was there, I felt like, one, I was at home and, two, the athletic department and community seemed to be where I would be well taken care of and provided with everything I needed to succeed. I got along well with Dave and thought he was the one who could potentially help me to do big things at that time. I believed in him and he believed in me. Another factor was that I loved the team. My visit was so much fun and it felt like everyone included me and that I belonged there and with everyone. Those were the main deciding factors. I had made up my mind after my visit, but I had other college visits planned and had to go. I went to my remaining visits and crossed them off the list, but I wanted to sign with Oklahoma State and soon as I left there. My parents told me that the other schools had paid for plane tickets for me and I should check out the other schools. They said that I needed to make sure I didn’t have any regrets.
GCR: So, you knew where you were going to college, but you had another year of high school. How disappointing was it coming back after a second place in the State cross country meet your junior year and thinking you may have a shot to win only to have IT band issues and you couldn’t fulfill what you had hoped to do in cross country?
SJ Honestly, I think that I possibly didn’t take my senior year seriously enough. I was thinking I had done this and this and this and that was good enough. I was content with that. Looking back on it, that is one of my biggest regrets. I wanted to leave my senior season on a high note, but I really didn’t care enough. I know that sounds bad, but I just got caught up in a lot of senior activities. For the first three years of high school I wanted to be a good runner and it held me back from a lot of activities. I wasn’t doing fun things with my friends. I couldn’t sleep over at someone’s house for a weekend because I had a cross country meet in the morning. I couldn’t go to a football game on a Friday night because I had a meet in the morning. I missed out on things like that the first three years of high school. I don’t regret how I approached the season because I was able to experience things I couldn’t before like football games. I had never been to the homecoming football game or the huge homecoming parade that the school puts on because I was always away at a meet. So, running took a step back as far as my priorities. Maybe that wasn’t the way I should have approached my senior year, but that’s kind of the way it happened. It showed in my performances because I wasn’t that into it, especially in cross country. Going into track I didn’t run that fast. I won some races. I won the 800 meters at State. I didn’t win the 1,600 meters. I didn’t take it as seriously enough my senior year.
GCR: Let’s look at a few of your senior year races. You went to Florida Relays where there are runners from the different Florida classifications and from out of state and you did run a personal record 4:57.27 for third place. How did that experience help you to think about your upcoming transition to college where there would be runners from everywhere and at Oklahoma State, when you were racing, almost everybody on your team and that you faced would be a state champion?
SJ Getting a little bit of experience in that regard, racing girls from different states, was very helpful. Like you said, almost every woman on my college team was a state champion at least once. When you’re in college you can’t say, ‘I was a state champion,’ because everyone was. It is getting comfortable with realizing that you’re going to get beat sometimes and you’re not going to be the best runner even on your team. I wasn’t the best runner on my college team for about two years. Having races like that in high school, especially my senior year going into college, was helpful in preparing me to get comfortable because I was going to have to fight for my spot on the team, let alone out on the national stage.
GCR: When you went to the Region and State meets, you won both the 1,600 and 800 meters at Region and the 800 meters at State. What happened at State in the 1,600 meters where you ran only 5:14.49 for sixth place but then came back to win the 800 meters in a quick 2:09.10?
SJ They switched the order of races and I ran the 800 meters on Friday and the 4 x 800-meter relay on Saturday morning and the 1,600 meters in the afternoon. Going into the last lap of the 1,600 meters, Bailey Hertenstein and I got caught up a little together. Our feet got tangled up and she went all the way down to the track. I just got tripped up a little bit. I mentally just kind of lost it. There isn’t another reason for me to have run what I did because she is the one who fell down all the way out to lane four and then got up and ended up winning the race. I can’t even use the fact that I got tripped up as an excuse, because it wasn’t an excuse. I think it was more so that something didn’t go my way in the race, and I didn’t fight through it. That was probably a little bit because I had won it two years in a row and maybe it wasn’t that bad if I didn’t win it again that year. That is something that I have realized going forward and I am a different person mentally because of that. Whether I’m feeling bad or I’m feeling good or I won a race before or I don’t want to race, I am never going to go into a race and be in the middle and give up. I am pushing through that finish line and fighting for every single spot. I’m fighting for every single second. There were many lessons learned from my senior year. My senior year wasn’t great, and I realized that there were some things I could have done differently to have a better outcome. But, because of that outcome, it shaped me even more into the runner I am today. Now I know what it’s like to fail. Now I know what it’s like to give up. Now I know what it’s like to not care. I don’t want to be in that kind of situation again. Now I don’t allow myself to feel sorry for myself. I just want to be tough.
GCR: One final question about your high school racing, and it is sort of like a question I had about your college racing. You mentioned about running on the four by 800-meter relay and your team won District, won Region in 9:15.61 before finishing third at State in 9:24.31. How nice was it to earn that Bronze Medal with your teammates Jordan Stevens, Sarah Kopack, Chloe Hyde? And, since you team ran nine seconds slower than at Region, did you possibly miss a chance to win?
SJ I anchored the four by 800-meter relay and had been anchoring all season. It was exciting. Sarah was a year younger than me, but the other two girls on the team, Chloe and Jordan, were both freshmen. So, we hadn’t put together a strong four by 800-meter team until my senior year. That was very special because in track and cross country it had been a very individual sport for me the past three years. The cross-country team hadn’t made it to State, and we hadn’t qualified a relay either in track. It was always a bit envious of the Winter Park girls because they had a great squad going to State in cross country and their four by 800-meter relay always went to State. I wanted to be able to go to State with some of my teammates and have fun racing together. So, I think any place we finished we were going to be excited about. Maybe getting first at District and Region told us we should be winning and put a little pressure on us, especially the freshmen who were at State for the first time. They didn’t really know how to navigate through their nerves and emotions going into that race. We got a little bit behind and by the time I got the baton I was probably sitting in fifth place. I was quite far behind and made up two spots. Maybe I could have made up more. Who knows? That was all I could give in that race and that was all I had in the tank. I don’t have any regrets or think that we left anything on the table. Being a new four by 800-meter team, we hadn’t run that much together. And having two freshmen on the team, it was going to take a very good day to finish first. It was bittersweet because we won Regionals and sort of expected to win at State. It didn’t play out that way, but we were all happy we medaled.
GCR: Leaving high school behind and heading off to college, how was it adjusting to being away from home, the difference in weather and changes in training volume? You mentioned that your parents taught you to be independent, but how was it to have the freedom and independence of setting your own schedule for studying, sleep, eating and how was that adjustment?
SJ The first year was very hard. It was difficult being away from home. It wasn’t so hard managing my time and class schedule and practice. In high school I got a pretty good grasp of that, so I was confident in my time management skills and that helped me navigate the whole balancing of classes, studying, practice and being accountable for showing up to class and practice. There were advisors to help us our freshman year and we were required to go to study hall the first semester to get us on the right track and to set us up to be successful the remaining semesters. I incurred a lot of stress being away from home and that was a huge adjustment. I gained a bunch of weight because of emotional stress and adapting to no longer eating meals cooked by my parents and having access to dining hall food which is not the best. I had access to a lot of sweets and got a bit carried away my freshman year. But I feel that I had to learn what to do and what not to do by going through it myself. People can tell you to do this or do that, or don’t do this and don’t do that. But to really get a grasp on what is good for you and not good for you, you must experience it yourself. I made some mistakes my freshman year – nothing too detrimental – I was a very good student, but maybe made some mistakes in not sleeping enough and not eating correctly, but because of that it taught me what I needed to do to be great. My freshman year was a huge adjustment in training and being away from home. Classes were also different than in high school as we weren’t sitting in the classroom for seven hours a day. We had a lot more free time. Using that time to be productive was part of the lessons I had to learn the hard way.
GCR: After your freshman year did you almost feel like now you knew what was coming when you started running cross country season? And how much of an adjustment was that when you were running pretty strong times for six kilometers just over twenty-one minutes but you weren’t placing high as you were just in the top thirty at Big 12, outside the top sixty at Region and not in the top two hundred at NCAAs?
SJ I was having fun with it. I didn’t expect much of myself in cross country then, though now I do. My first year running collegiate cross country, I barely made our team. I never thought, ‘I’m fifth on the team’ or ‘I’m sixth on the team’ or ‘I finished in twenty-first place.’ It was mainly that this was something new, I didn’t have any expectations and I wanted to go through the ropes and to figure it out on my own. I had fun and that was how I approached cross country season.
GCR: Did that cross-country season get you ready to be much stronger on the track because when you got to outdoor season in 2018 you really dropped your times? You ran 4:25.54 at the Stanford Invitation and you won the Cardinal Classic in 4:20.37 – did that strength help you to become a runner at another level?
SJ Yes, my sophomore year I was able to handle the cross-country training much more and that helped me on the track. I had a whole new level of aerobic base that I didn’t have that year before. I could train at a higher level and, when I finished the workouts, I was benefitting from them. The 1,500 meters is very aerobic and so is the 800 meters, so being able to build my aerobic system is something I was lacking in high school. Expanding that in college helped a lot.
GCR: In the latter part of your 2018 track season at Oklahoma State it seems you set the stage for a similar pathway your junior year. You ran the 800 meters at the Big 12 Conference Championships, and it was very competitive as you ran 2:04.73 and only finished in fifth place which did set you up for winning the NCAA West Region in 4:11.57. How did those two races change your outlook and what you thought you could do as a runner?
SJ When I ran that race at Regionals and did 4:11 it changed my outlook because now I was competing with and beating the top names in the collegiate middle-distance running scene. Jessica Hull wasn’t as big a name as she is now, but she was emerging onto the scene of being on the top tier level. Elise Cranny was in the race. Katie Rainsberger was in one of the heats, so there were many big names in that West Regional race that I did beat. That alone propelled me into this next year thinking I was now in the class with these other women. I had to start seeing myself as one of these top NCAA 1,500-meter runners.
GCR: How disappointing was it when you got to NCAAs and you were poised to be a finalist in the 1,500 meters, possibly an All-American and to race for the podium and you came down with something beyond your control - bad allergies and you didn’t make it out of your semifinal race?
SJ It was hard, I’m not going to lie. We got there on Sunday before the race and I knew something was not right. I’ve had allergies my entire life, but nothing as severe as what I experienced in Eugene, Oregon. Some people told me before I went that the allergies were bad there, so I was aware. I was taking Claritin and Zyrtec every day, but I didn’t realize the severity of my allergies. I believe it was a mixture of cottonwood and some other pollen in Eugene that are very bad that gave me a bad reaction. I knew something was up when we did a workout and I felt tired and fatigued. My training runs weren’t going well. It was hard going into the preliminary race, but I kept thinking maybe I was reading into things more than I should, I’d be fine during the race and things would be different. I told myself not to think about this and that tomorrow would be a new day. But tomorrow was never a new day. I kept getting worse. I’d wake up and my face was swollen. I tried to spend as little time outside as I could. I’d run, shower, wash my face and then stay inside the rest of the day. By the time I got to Thursday, the first lap of that race I knew something was up. I felt like we were sprinting, and we only ran a 67 which should feel comfortable to me. But it did not feel comfortable. The race was very disappointing, and it stinks that we couldn’t have done something differently or maybe prepared a little bit better. The positive I took away from that race is now I knew what it felt like to go there and be embarrassed and not make the final when I thought I was going to make the final and be All-American. It was helpful that Nationals was not in Eugene this year, but I am going to have to race in Eugene many times in the future and the 2020 Olympic Trials are in Eugene.
GCR: What are you doing to be prepared to minimize your allergies since you will be racing in Eugene frequently in the future?
SJ I’m not going to be able to get away from Track Town, USA so we’ll have to take some measures with these allergies. I got allergy tested and now I’m taking allergy shots. I have a rescue inhaler just in case and we are taking more measures to combat these allergies. It has definitely helped. Hopefully my symptoms will only lessen from here on out.
GCR: We’ve been through most of your running career but haven’t discussed your junior cross- country season. You mentioned your sophomore year that you were enjoying cross country and were one of the last competitors on your team. But now another year later and with another year of training under your belt, you stepped it up and were one of the stronger members of your team your junior year as you finished second at the Big 12 Championship, top twenty at the Midwest Region and top fifty at NCAAs. How much fun was it to be racing at a high level for 6k cross country?
SJ That was a lot of fun. I felt like I never enjoyed cross country until my junior year of high school and now again in my junior year of college. It was fun being able to mix it up with the distance women and to feel like I was actually racing in cross country and I’m not just running around the course not knowing what place I was in or what time I was running. Now I’m racing and that was very exciting. It made me like cross country more because now I was competitive and not just running the course and not really having any idea where I was at.
GCR: We’ve talked about numerous races in high school and college. Often, we can race at another level because of strong competition. Who are some of your favorite competitors from high school and college that you liked racing against because they pushed you to be your best?
SJ In high school it was Rafaella Gibbons, Kayley Delay, Maddie Beaubein and Kayla Johnson. It was even Bridget Blake and Bryce Seymour, even though I wasn’t really racing against them. Just having them in the race helped push me. There was also Fatima Jasper from Lake Mary. In college it was Jessica Hull obviously. This past season alone I have been incredibly grateful for her because I know when I run up against her that we are about to run fast. She is not going to let me win. I do appreciate competitors like that who are just not going to give up the win to anybody. Kaley Logue in cross country is a great competitor. And then a lot of time it’s been my own teammates for the most part. In the 1,500 meters at Nationals I had two teammates in the field. So, a fourth of the field were people I train with every single day. That alone has been helpful. I don’t only get pushed in races by these other women, but I’m getting pushed in practice because these other women that push me are in fact my teammates.
GCR: Let’s look forward to 2020 which obviously is an Olympic year. I know you have many things to still flesh out, but what do you think your training and racing plan will include in terms of racing various distances and domestic versus foreign competitions as you ready for the Olympic Trials?
SJ I wish I could answer that question, but I really don’t know. I didn’t even come to the decision that I was going to forego the rest of my eligibility and turn pro until probably two weeks ago. This is all still very brand new. It’s brand new to my coach as he hasn’t coached pros before. I think we’re going to be figuring out this whole pro experience together. We’re basically going to set it up like an NCAA season because the Olympic Trials are shortly after Nationals if I were to be racing there. The only thing that’s a little bit different is that I won’t technically have a real cross-country season. I might go run club cross country, but that is a maybe and I’m not sure. Luckily, indoors and outdoors there are plenty of domestic races and I won’t have to do much foreign travel. That is good because I’ll still be in school. There is the New Balance meet, the Wanamaker Mile, Camel City JDL and Husky indoors. Outdoors there’s Peyton Jordan and Oxy, the Prefontaine Classic and many opportunities domestically where I’ll be able to get in some racing. At least before the Trials, I won’t need to go overseas and race internationally. Maybe towards the end of the summer next year I will. But those are some bridges we will cross when we are closer to them. As of right now, we don’t have much of a plan going forward. Also, I’ve been away from my coach this summer and haven’t been able to sit down and figure out a plan going forward. Once I get back to school in the next week or so we will be able to kind of look at some things and make a good plan going forward so we know what races I’m going to do and what my training is going to look like and what my season as a whole will look like.
GCR: Your focus is on the 1,500 meters, but with your racing results at both 1,500 meters and 800 meters, especially that 2:00.43, if the time schedule allows will you consider doubling at the 2020 Olympic Trials?
SJ I’ll definitely pick one distance or the other. I don’t want to get too greedy. When you’re racing at that level against the best women in the nation and sometimes in the world, it’s hard enough to make the team in one event. I personally don’t think trying to make it in two events is going to be possible. I’ll put all my eggs in one basket and go for either the 1,500 meters or 800 meters depending on what I’m running at that time and in what race I feel most comfortable. I want to make the 1,500-meter team. That’s been my goal. That’s been my dream for a while – to make the U.S. 1,500-meter team.
GCR: Though we have been discussing making the U.S. team, as approach the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and 2021 World Championships do you have any time goals you wish to share in the 1,500 meters and 800 meters? Do you have minimum time goals and then A+ goals?
SJ I want to break that four-minute barrier. Anything beyond that I will be happy with. But I don’t want to say, ‘3:59 is my goal.’ I think the sky is the limit. I feel like I never really make time goals for myself and, when I have, I never hit them. So, even this past season I had no goal of running 4:03 and two flat. My goal this season was to win Nationals at NCAAs and then to make the team at USAs. Those were my goals and I knew if I was fighting for those positions I was going to run fast. I don’t want to limit myself on what time I can run next year. I could say that four flat is doable next year in that range, but I could be running 3:57. You just never know. As you cut down and get faster in the 1,500 meters it’s a lot harder to find races that go that fast. A four flat race or sub-four flat race is usually one that happens in Diamond League races or races over in Europe. It’s hard to find domestic races like that. We’ll see what opportunities present themselves. For sure the sky is the limit and I’m excited to see what my progression will be like next year.
GCR: I can’t help but think of our other local central Florida distance star, Jenny Simpson. The first time I interviewed her she was in college and an NCAA champion a couple of times in the steeplechase, the second time she had just turned pro, and then years later for her third interview she had won four medals at World Championships and the Olympics. Do you see Jenny as a role model and someone you want to talk to and get tips from on how she was able to be in a position where you are now and then to be able to have a great pro career for the next nine years that still isn’t finished?
SJ She has been a role model since I was in high school. He longevity in the sport is not something that is very easy. I think she has made every U.S. team since 2007 and that is incredible. I definitely look up to her. I want to be in the sport as long as she has. Just having Jenny come from central Florida makes me feel we are connected in more of a way than we are just both 1,500-meter runners. Hopefully, now that I am coming onto the scene, I can use her as a mentor and someone who can give me advice and help me through these next couple of years. She’s probably going to start her transition out in the next couple of years. I hope to try to fill her shoes and to be the next Jenny Simpson. I’ve already been in contact with her a bit. It is cool to know that my role model is now going to be my competitor and someone who can be an asset to me as I jump into these pro ranks and try to run as long as I can and be as competitive as I can for a long period.
GCR: What advice do you have for younger runners, especially teenagers to improve consistency, minimize injuries, reach their potential and enjoy running so that it can be a lifetime sport and fitness avocation?
SJ I stress to high school girls that the most important thing is to have fun with the sport. Getting too serious too quickly is almost detrimental to longevity in the sport because in high school with girls their bodies are changing, and I don’t think putting it under such high stress and high training is good in the long term. I realized that with some runners who were very, very good in high school and then I watched them plateau in college or even decline. My biggest asset in college was that I made the sport fun. I never felt that I was burned out. I never took myself too seriously in high school or even my first two years of college. Now I am a completely different person and I’m very serious about my running. There are a few nitty gritty things that are important in terms of sleep and diet and being strong and finding the weaknesses you have as a runner and trying to strengthen them. That’s helped me to reduce injuries. But, again, my biggest piece of advice to younger athletes is to have fun. Obviously, we all want to run fast, but don’t ever make running into something that feels like a task or feels like work or that you have to race or have to do this or have to do that. You should want to do it. You should want to run fast. You should want to step up on the line and race other girls. Never feel like it needs to be done or has to be done.
GCR: I don’t know if you have much more to add, but what are the major lessons you have learned during your life – whether it’s athletically, academically, the discipline of athletics, balancing the many components of life and any adversity you have faced that is summed up as the ‘Sinclaire Johnson Philosophy’ of being your best, not just in running, but as a total person balancing family and academics, spiritual life, community involvement, athletics and social life?
SJ Balance is super key in life. There are tools we need to be successful and balance gets overlooked sometimes. Runners may focus on needing to run a lot of mileage, lift a lot of weights and other athletic focus, but a lot of time it may be doing less and paying attention to other aspects of life that make you even more successful. For me, having school and a social life and hobbies outside of running are helpful. I love hiking. I love cycling. I’m an outdoors person and there are many things I put my time and energy into and it’s not just running all the time. One of the big things is to not value yourself as a person based on how fast you’re running or how much you’re winning. Everyone is more of a person than just their athletic ability. Not getting too caught up in what other people think if we run badly or do this or that is good. I’ve realized that most people don’t care or remember that much. If I run poorly in a race, I used to worry about what people would think of that performance and lots of times people just don’t remember. Balancing life and athletics with all the other things that comprise you as an individual are important. Not valuing life just based on athletic performance or race times has helped me immensely to be successful on the track. As odd as that seems, by focusing on other aspects of my life, it has made me more successful as a track athlete.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests Cycling, hiking, kayaking and outdoor activities. I’m a big advocate of getting outside and enjoying the great outdoors. Also, I love travelling and my family have always been big travelers. We’ve traveled out of the country a lot and in the country quite a bit
Nicknames My first ever nickname was ‘Sinky.’ I’m not sure how I got that name or who gave me that name, but I ended up naming my first cat that name. My friends started calling me ‘Siny’ or ‘Sin.’ That has died down and people are just calling me ‘Sinclaire,’ but in elementary, middle and high school those were my nicknames
Favorite movies My favorite type of movies are thrillers, mystery and suspense films. I’d like to watch more movies than I do
Favorite TV shows I honestly did not watch that much TV when I was younger. I really like ‘Friends’
TV reaity show dream : I would like to do a show like ‘Fear Factor.’ It’s kind of gross or weird but I think that would be cool to see what it’s like. Also, ‘American Ninja Warrior.’ I like watching that and the obstacles the contestants encounter
Favorite music My favorite type of music is in the alternative genre. I’ve never been someone who has a favorite band or favorite song, so I couldn’t tell you anything more than music basically in that category. But I also like to listen to hip-hop and a little bit of pop. I’m not big into country music, but I do like some country
Favorite books My favorite type of books are the same as my favorite types of movies – thrillers and suspense. My favorite book is called ‘Before I Fall’ by Lauren Oliver. I remember reading that book and thinking I want to read it again and again and again, but I haven’t had a chance to reread it multiple times. That was a book that I didn’t want to end
First car It is still the same car I have. It’s a 2012 Hyundai Elantra. It’s a little small car and has been good to me. It’s taken me a lot of places thus far. It hasn’t had any major or electrical issues so that’s been good too. It hasn’t cost me much money to repair and, hopefully, it will last me a couple more years
First jobs In high school I was a shoe fitter for Fleet Feet Altamonte Springs. My mom is good friends with the owners, and they were kind enough to let me work there. I did that for about a year. Since then I worked at a running camp in Boulder, Colorado last summer. Other than those, I haven’t had any other jobs
Favorite Halloween costume One year my friends and I dressed up as gangsters with chains and baggy clothes and our hats on sideways. We were a group together and that was fun
Family My mom is Claire and she is an Ob-Gyn. She is a world traveler and has been to almost a hundred, if not over a hundred, countries. She’s been to forty-eight or forty-nine states and all seven continents, even Antarctica. She is where I get my travel bug. My dad’s name is Thomas and he is a landscape architect. He recently took a big job in Saudi Arabia and is working on a project at the Red Sea. He will be there for about three years because it is an extensive project. My brother, Brian, is a sophomore at the University of Florida. He is studying microbiology and hopes to become a doctor one day. He has the brains in the family. He is very, very smart
Pets I mentioned my first cat, ‘Sinky.’ I don’t currently have a pet in Stillwater. We had another cat, ‘Ti,’ which is short for ‘Tiger’ because he looked like a tiger. We had a dog that was a Maltese named ‘Cody.’ He lives with my grandparents now because my mom travels a lot and my dad doesn’t live in the U.S. anymore. They’ve been taking care of our dog. I do get to see him every now and then when I visit my grandparents
Favorite breakfast Some kind of scramble. I like to make my own scramble with veggies, sweet potato and squash and onion and spinach
Favorite meal I love Mexican food. I like tacos, quesadillas, tortas – anything Mexican I’m game for
Favorite beverages I mainly drink water. My favorite other beverage is coffee. Now, since I recently turned twenty-one, I’ve been getting into the craft beer scene. I’m into going to breweries and trying different concoctions that they brew
First running memory My first real running memory was in fifth grade. I ran with the school team and did one race and that was all I did in elementary school. It was a cross country race at Bear Lake Elementary School, and I tied for first place with another girl. We flipped a coin to see who was going to go home with the trophy and then the other person would get a trophy later. I ended up winning the coin toss, so I went home with the trophy. I think the cross-country race was about a mile. That was exciting but also a little bit bittersweet because we tied, and I didn’t get first place on my own
Running heroes Jenny Simpson comes to mind as, like I said, I’ve looked up to her since I was in high school. My other big hero is Shelby Houlihan. I’m a big fan of hers. She seems like a down to earth person and an all-around balanced athlete which I do like. Obviously, she is fast and great and a stud. It’s easy to look up to her
Greatest running moments My first great moment was winning the 1,600 meters at State my sophomore year in high school because that was very unexpected and very thrilling to win that race. It was my first State title and that will always be one of my top running moments. This past spring winning the 1,500 meters at Nationals is something I’m going to remember forever. So, those are my top two running moments
Worst running moments The NCAA race my sophomore year in college when I had the bad allergies and got dead last in the prelims stands out. My senior year in high school at Regionals for cross country when I didn’t make it to State was a disappointing race. Most races my freshman year in college were disappointing, especially when I was running 2:19 for 800 meters when I was never running that slow in high school. I had a lot of those disappointing races. But I don’t dwell on them, so I don’t think too much of them
Childhood dreams In elementary or middle school I wanted to be a lawyer. I know now that’s not what I want to do, but that was my dream job back then
Embarrassing moment I was in third grade and was in competitive cheerleading. I went over to a friend’s house, probably on a Friday, and we were in the pool. Then we got out and rode bikes and were going down this huge hill that was in our neighborhood. I was on her sister’s bike and it didn’t have brakes. I completely fell over onto my right side and I still have a scar from when I fell. I was cut up all along my right side. The next day I had to do a cheer competition and that was kind of embarrassing because I had bandages all up and down my legs. It was traumatizing. I could barely bend my arms or straighten them out. That was something I will remember forever
Worst date ever I haven’t had any. I wasn’t into the dating scene in high school. I had one boyfriend, but it was not very serious. Now I’ve been with one guy for the past two-and-a-half years and we haven’t had any bad dates, even when we first started dating
Favorite places to travel We did a trip to Europe last year and went to Hungary, Bratislava, Czech Republic and Austria. My favorite place was Prague. We spent a couple days there and I really enjoyed it. We also went to Machu Picchu in Peru and to a mountaintop city called Cuzco. That was awesome and a lot of fun. Another is when we went to Spain and the Rock of Gibraltar. The monkeys were all over us and the van we were riding in. The monkeys at the bottom are very friendly and then at the top they start to get angry, more aggressive and you can’t get out of your vehicle