Darien's Johnston reflects on Lake Placid Marathon victory
Michael Johnston knows a little something about running, particularly of the long-distance variety.
A Darien High School Class of 2012 graduate, Johnston participated in the maximum 12 seasons of running, having been a key member of the Blue Wave's varsity cross country, indoor track and outdoor track teams for the last four years.
A senior captain for all three squads, Johnston was a two-time All-FCIAC First Team selection in cross country as well as an All-State selection this past cross country season. Johnston was also part of two state championship cross country teams his sophomore and senior seasons.
Of all the accolades, however, perhaps none is as impressive as his most recent victory. On June 9, Johnston captured the Lake Placid Marathon with a time of two hours, 35 minutes and 48 seconds, basically leading from coast-to-coast and finishing comfortably ahead of runner-up Stephen Trull, who clocked in 2:40:54.
"I had never run anything more than a half marathon. For the first three miles I was right behind (the leader). There was a big downhill and I kind of took off and felt good," Johnston said. "I looked over my shoulder and they were way back. I thought they would catch up after a while. Slowly but surely, the gap was getting bigger and bigger. At mile 20, I thought I had it and took off at that point."
Tyson Kaczmarek, who coached Johnston on all three teams at Darien High School, wasn't necessarily surprised that Johnston won the marathon, but he wasn't expecting him to finish with quite such an impressive time.
"The time was really fast so I wasn't overly surprised that he won, but that he ran as fast as he did. That was about 20 minutes faster than I thought," Kaczmarek said. "Michael is different in the sense that the longer the race, the better he gets. The marathon is about as long as it gets and Michael really saw his potential as a runner. Michael is a long distance runner so this event suits him well."
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As Johnston closed in on the finish line, it was evident that he was about to take first place in front of the other 357 runners who completed the marathon.
"I felt really tired at mile 18 because there were four miles uphill and then downhill again," Johnston said. "At mile 23, I said I could do three miles without a problem and sort of pushed myself harder. Right at the end, there's a really steep uphill. You don't see the finish line and then you get to the top of the hill and you're right there."
Johnston began running competitively when he was in middle school.
"Even in middle school, I started off doing some charity 5Ks and I have an aunt who's really into running," Johnston said. "I thought it would be fun to do long races. I got to high school and it was a lot of fun."
Although he knows he's losing one of his very best runners, Kaczmarek seems to believe that his captain did an exceptional job of getting the next group of Blue Wave runners ready to carry on the success of Darien cross country and track.
"All our seniors are tough to replace. Michael was our No. 1 runner in cross country this year," Kaczmarek said. "But the boys will tell you tradition never graduates and he has successfully groomed the next group of DHS standouts."
Johnston is attending Northwestern in the fall, where he plans on majoring in economics.
"I'm just going for academics, but I plan on participating on the club team," Johnston said. "It's nothing huge, but I definitely plan on continuing to run."