For Jimmie Johnson, the Boston Marathon was a struggle—within himself.
Johnson’s competitive spirit was driving him to try to complete his first try at the 26 mile, 385-yrd distance in three hours or less.
On the other hand, the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion wanted to enjoy his first experience in one of the world’s most prestigious marathons.
“The race itself was awful and amazing at the same time,” Johnson said on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, venue for Sunday’s GEICO 500. “I had a goal in mind to run a certain pace and tried to hang onto it, so I didn’t really slow down and enjoy the experience as much as I maybe should have.
“I had a few arguments with myself along the way like, ‘Look, you just need to enjoy this and take it all in.’ So there was definitely a mental battle going on throughout the 26 miles.”
Johnson got plenty of encouragement from his fellow runners, and at the halfway point, he stopped looking at his watch.
“The first reality check was mile seven,” Johnson said. “It was the first flat stretch of road, and I couldn’t run the pace that I had hoped to at the heart rate that I had desired to run for the entire distance, and I’m like, ‘All right, pull it back.’
“And then at halfway, I was a minute, 20 (seconds) off the split time I needed, and I knew I wasn’t going to get any faster on the second half with the hills. So I honestly got into a pretty aggressive argument with myself and just told myself to stop looking at my watch and run comfortably.
“The next time I looked at my watch, I was on the final road, and I saw it was a 3:08 and something as I was approaching the finish line. I went, ‘Damn, I ran pretty good.’ ‘Cause I didn’t look that second half of the race. I just had to go to a different place mentally to get through it.”
Johnson finished the course in 3:09:07, good enough to qualify automatically for next year’s Boston Marathon—if he decides to run it the day after the spring race at Richmond.