On the surface, Manual runners Reece Johns and Christina Arnold do not have much in common.
A senior middle distance runner, Johns is studious, soft-spoken and mild-mannered. Arnold, on the other hand, is a gregarious, animated junior sprinter with a penchant for breaking into dance during lulls in training.
Although opposites in style and demeanor, Crimsons head coach Otis Ralston believes the two have more similarities than meet the eye.
“They are the glue that holds this team together,” said Ralston, who is in his 13th season at Manual.
“They help teammates in their own way. Christina is outgoing and Reece is more reserved, but when something needs to be done, whether it’s getting the team motivated or keeping things fun, the two of them get it done,” said Ralston.
Johns, who also ran cross country, is strongest in the 1600. Last Saturday at the Eastern Relays held at U of L, Johns ran a personal best time of 4:26.09 in the 1600 that was also the 7th fastest in the state this year. He posted a season best time of 2:01.15 in the 800 as well.
In his fourth year of competitive running, Johns said his style has become more instinctual. “The more you race, the less you have to think about holding position in a pack, avoiding getting cut off, or knowing when to make moves. It becomes automatic,” he said.
Johns is a piano major in the Youth Performing Arts School (YPAS), a magnet component of Manual, and will attend Columbia College Chicago next fall.
Open events only
While Columbia does not offer athletic programs, Johns wants to keep training through college and enter open events in the Chicago area.
Johns says his strengths as a musician transfer to the track. “Pacing is important in both and being able to internalize a rhythm has helped,” he said.
Former Manual teammate David Hamm introduced Johns to competitive racing. “I ran in middle school but was never exposed to the real track world until I was thrown into things (as a freshman). David, who was a junior, taught me a lot about running and…set me on the right track to have a successful career,” he said.
Hamm is now a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, where he runs track and cross country.
This season Johns has taken a more deliberate approach to training. “In years past, I’ve peaked a little too early but this season I’ve tried to be patient in my training so I can peak at the end of the season,” he said.
“The school record in the mile – 4:20.50 – has been on my mind for a while,” said Johns. “If I can run that at State I think I’ll be happy and pretty successful at the meet.”
The 29-year-old record was set by Mark Berry in ’82.
On the girls’ side, Arnold competes in the 100 and 200 and runs a leg on the Crimsons’ highly regarded 400 and 800 relay teams.
Short races best
Arnold, who also runs cross country, says she prefers shorter races. “I don’t get the same runner’s high that the distance runners get after a mile. I get it after running a 100 or 200. It’s more fun for me.”
After battling injuries last season, she set a personal best time of 27.83 in the 200 earlier this year and is looking to eclipse the personal best time of 13.17 she set as a freshman in the 100. She ranks in the top-20 among Kentucky juniors in both events.
“From day one she’s been ready to work and the other girls feed off of her energy,” said Ralston.
While both Johns and Arnold said overall team chemistry is good, some friendly competition between sprinters and distance runners occasionally crops up.
“It’s a good rivalry,” said Coach Ralston.
“In practice, we like to put them together for speed workouts and give them lots of repetitions,” explained assistant coach Debra Moore. “In the beginning the sprinters are much faster, but as the reps wear on the distance runners start to prevail.”
“We like to think of ourselves (sprinters) as the good-looking, talented group,” Arnold said.
The divide between these two camps is reflected in Johns’ and Arnold’s preparation before Saturday meets.
“As a distance runner you have to take care of yourself – eat right and sleep,” said Johns. “A lot of time it means not going out on a Friday night. It’s a commitment.”
On the contrary, Arnold said the key to proper sprint preparation is…dancing.
“Oh, we have a meet tomorrow? Well, I’m still going out to dance,” Arnold joked.
“I probably don’t get to bed as early as I should,” she admitted. “But I still get by.”
Both agree that Coach Ralston cuts no slack for either group during training. “He’s intense and our workouts are tough,” said Arnold.
“It’s a tough sport, we have high standards for the kids and they have high standards for themselves,” said Ralston. “We’re putting in a last push to get some times to drop.”
As the state championship meet approaches (May 28 at U of L), Moore is thankful for Johns and Arnold. “It’s good if you have a couple of fast ones, but it’s really great to have fast ones who are also nice kids.”
Runner rankings courtesy of www.KYtrackXC.com.