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Johnny Gregorek joins the CITIUS MAG Podcast ahead of his world record attempt in the Blue Jean Mile on May 30.
Johnny is a professional runner for Asics and a member of the New Jersey-New York Track Club. Johnny is also the second-fastest American indoor miler in history. His 3:49.98 from March 2019 is just behind Bernard Lagat’s 3:49.89. He has also run 3:35 for the 1,500 meters. He was a member of the U.S. national team for the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London, where he made the 1,500 meter final and finished 10th. At the NCAA level, he was an All-American for Columbia and Oregon.
In this episode, we’ll take a dive into his career thus far since he’s certainly someone in the mix for an Olympic team spot next year but…this Saturday he will be spiking up for a world record attempt. He will be going for the blue jean mile world record of 4:11.80 and who knows if sub-4 is in the cards. Not only is he providing the world with some good old fashioned entertainment in a time when there are no races, but he’s also doing it for a great cause. He has already raised more than $12,000 for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in memory of his brother and for mental health awareness month. We talk about all that and more.
CITIUS MAG popularized the Blue Jean Mile in 2017. We said we’d cough up some money for someone to break four minutes in it. CITIUS Mag will be donating $1,000 for a sub-4, $500 for a world record and regardless we’re cutting a check for at least $250.
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We have transcribed some of the interview below. It has been edited lightly for clarity.
CITIUS MAG: What made you want to do this?
Johnny Gregorek: I guess I really decided to do it officially right after talking to you. Maybe it’s just I had CITIUS MAG – you guys are the ones that plugged this initially – and this subliminal thing going but it just came to me. I remember Paul Snyder had come out with that idea. People had been doing it and running some pretty fast times. It’s funny and stuff. I figured I could attach some sort of awareness and cause to it. Mental Health Awareness Month had been coming up and it had been on my mind to do something special. (My wife) Amy and my family wanted to do something special. I just decided to attach that cause to this event and it just seemed like it would be fun, could raise awareness for mental health and it all came together nicely. The support has been insane.
CITIUS MAG: Initially what was the bar of what you wanted to fundraise? I remember clicking the link and it was $2,500 to $5,000 as the goal and now at this point, you’ve raised more than $10,000.
Johnny Gregorek: Again, the outreach has been wild and the generosity has been unexpected. It’s greatly appreciated. When we went into it, it was more of just an act of getting some awareness out there. It was something I wanted to do in memory of my brother. For those listening and don’t know, my brother, Patrick, passed away in March 2019 after struggling a long time with depression and anxiety. It was a tough time. We just wanted to do something in his memory. That was a big part of it. The finance part of things wasn’t even a big thing. It was more like ‘We can also raise money for those in need of resources right now.’ Our family has worked in conjunction with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In these crazy times with people in isolation and people needing this, resources may be lacking and I bet some organizations are strained. Let’s raise some money and so we set out with an honest, modest goal with no idea of where this would go. Immediately and within an hour, everything we had thought about this thing…that it would be this fun gesture that we did on Instagram live, then people are throwing out these huge time goals. People are also throwing out really generous donations. You just have to roll with it and take it as it comes. People want the blue jean mile and I’m going to give it to them.
CITIUS MAG: The world record is 4:11. How are you approaching this? It would be awesome to see a sub-four. Is that in the cards or are we just thinking world record?
Johnny Gregorek: I gotta say I’m going to run an all-out mile in blue jeans. I’ve been training well. I’m in good shape. I’m in the same type of shape when I run fast miles and sub-four miles – I can say that. I just don’t have the frame of reference of being in jeans after 200 meters. We’re going to all find out together what happens after 200 meters in jeans. Dillon (Maggard), the world record holder, is a great runner. I’m not going to go in there and think that no matter what I’ll easily smash the record and sub-four is the real goal. No, no. I’m focused on getting this record and getting it by as much of a margin as I can. That’s going to be an all-out mile in jeans. I’m not going to be out there jogging. That’s for sure. If it comes out to sub-four, it would be a nice icing on the cake.
CITIUS MAG: What does that do for the allure and mystique of the sub-four mile? Do you think it puts a little bit of a damper on it? For years people want to join this club and something like 500 American people have done it. Then all of a sudden, there’s going to be one guy who has done it in jeans and maybe it’s a little less special because of it.
Johnny Gregorek: I think that the times change and technology advances. We have great spikes that we race in now. I’d say if Roger Bannister could do it in the leather on the cinders and you see the stuff that he wore, then why not a little denim with some high-tech spikes? Again, let’s not put the cart before the horse here. We still have to get it done. I hope the event picks up more steam and more people do it. I’d love for someday to have a stacked Blue Jean Mile with Centro, Craig and all of the big milers in there. On that day, I think we could see something crazy timewise. If anything, I’d like to keep the ball rolling with this event and set a new bar and then who knows what happens from there.
CITIUS MAG: What was coach Gags’ reaction to you doing this? There are no races on the calendar so you could be doing worse things with your time.
Johnny Gregorek: He was completely supportive. Gags is the man when it comes to this sort of thing. He’s very close with my family. As is, my other coach, Tom Nohilly. They were both supportive of the cause and totally in favor of it. Gags was immediately like, “Great. Let’s do it. Blue Jean Mile. Sounds good.” No questions asked. He doesn’t even ask about the history of it. It was like, “Where do I make the check out to?” He’s the man. He’s in favor of it. We’re hoping he can watch from a car or something like that. We’ll see what happens. They were supportive.
CITIUS MAG: You’re doing this for mental health. In these times, given how weird things are, what have you been doing to keep yourself at ease and sane in such an insane world. All you can really do is be present in the moment, take account of yourself and make sure that everything is OK.
Johnny Gregorek: Taking it a day at a time has been huge. A lot of mental health is important in running in general, whether or not there is a pandemic going on. I’m implementing a lot of the tools that I implement whenever I’m in season or training hard. I’m doing a lot of meditation. I do a lot of journaling actually. Every morning and night, I take like five minutes to write down goals for the day, things that I’m grateful for, things that have gone well or things to work on. I take a little inventory of how things went and how I felt. Checking in with yourself and showing yourself compassion is the way you can do the best for yourself and everyone around you. You’re going to be the best version of yourself and bring out the best in others. You can ideally help other people with their struggles.
CITIUS MAG: What does it do for you when you go back and re-read some of those entries? Not every day is perfect so you don’t get to check every single box.
Johnny Gregorek: You can see a lot of patterns happen. You can learn a lot about yourself and see how you bounce back from bad days or benefitted from good days. Sometimes I’ll go back before a big race and I’ll highlight just cool things I wrote to myself, cool quotes or anything like that. Same thing with my training log. I’ll circle and bold big workouts or anything that went really well. If you can go back through and find where you had a big peak after thinking things weren’t going to be great and then a week later you crushed your workout….you just have to keep checking in and reminding yourself that you’re awesome.
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