Interview: Sinclaire Johnson Joins The Sub-4 Club

By Kyle Merber

June 1, 2022

Sinclaire Johnson had herself a weekend at the Pre Classic knocking almost five seconds off her 1500m personal best from 2019 to run 3:58.85 – the seventh fastest ever by an American. The former NCAA Champion from Oklahoma State joined the Bowerman Track Club after college, but after two years with the group made the switch this off-season to become part of Pete Julian’s Union Athletic Club. I caught up with her to hear about the breakout performance.

Big personal best this weekend! 3:58.85 to finish fourth in your first Diamond League race. Did you know that was coming?

I felt like training indicated that I was ready — we didn’t really know exactly what I was ready for, but I was ready for something big. Going into the race, we had a really aggressive plan of swinging for the fences. In the worst-case scenario, we fall short and I still break four. So that’s kind of what I did.

And I was shocked at the time, just because I felt like we were running fast, but I didn’t think it was that fast. Not only breaking four, but breaking it by like a good margin — I was just super stoked with the whole race. I competed well and gave myself a good shot at placing high. It was exciting to see it all coming together on that day because there are so many variables that go into race day. Just because you’re fit doesn’t mean you’re going to perform the way you want.

You didn’t have much of an indoor season, but I could tell almost immediately watching you race outdoors that you looked like your old self again. What happened over the winter that allowed you to come out swinging, but also kept you from racing earlier?

I actually had a bad injury in the fall — a stress fracture in my femoral neck. I didn’t run for three months in the fall until November, so that’s why I didn’t do indoors. I was coming around in fitness, but I wasn’t exactly ready to race so I did some pacing and then the DMR.

And mainly because my confidence was shot after last year — I just did not feel like myself. I had so many races where I just wasn’t confident at all. And so I didn’t want to start off the year knowing that I wasn’t in the best shape.

Instead, I had so much time to train and stack together a ton of weeks. And I found that every week I came back from injury just got better and better. By the time it was April, I felt like I hadn’t had all that time off. I put in a lot of time in the gym and cross-training in the fall.

After two tough years that weren’t quite as exceptional compared to 2019, you join a new team and start things off with an injury. How did you mentally handle that situation? Because that seems like it’d be stressful!

I mean, it was. In August we thought it was a labral tear and an MRI showed a small tear, which is only fixable if you do surgery. But it wasn’t significant enough to get surgery so we kind of treated it as that.

And as I was going through this injury, I was also having conversations with Jerry and Shalane about leaving Bowerman then also having conversations with Pete about trying to join Union. I was trying to join the team but letting him know, “Hey, I’m also injured and I have no idea what’s going on!” So, yeah, very stressful.

But I felt like as soon as I made the switch, I was immediately in such good hands. David (our strength and conditioning coach) wanted to get more imaging done and so it felt like progress. And eventually, we found out it was a stress fracture in my hip. It’s not an ideal situation to come to a new group saying you want to join, but not be running. But they saw past all of that and knew I’d eventually be healthy and would do whatever to help me get back.

What was that communication with Jerry like about the coaching switch? It is obviously working out as you’re running great and I’m sure that strength is working nicely with the speed. But how’d that unfold?

I had been feeling this way for quite some time. It was hard because Jerry was occupied with everyone getting ready for Tokyo. So I kind of had to sit on it, which probably was a good thing, to think about if this is what I wanted to do.

When he finally got back from Tokyo, I sat down with him and Shalane to address it. At this point, I had really made up my mind that I wanted to leave and I expressed the concerns that I had. And these were concerns that I had voiced throughout the year. So none of it was really like the first time they heard it. But I said I wanted to leave after I told him why. And there wasn’t really a divergent path as he wanted to continue what we were doing. And so I think once he said that, it really made up my mind like, this is just not a place that’s going to work out for me.

Just to confirm, it was all training related?

Yeah, it was all training related. I know a lot of people asked me if it had to do with Shelby and stuff, but it really didn’t. And I know last year was such a different year with our team going through all that, but it really took his mind off of the rest of us. And I felt like a lot of us kind of went under the radar — he wasn’t paying as much attention to each individual as he probably would have in a normal year.

So I do recognize that. But at the same time, I tried to voice concerns throughout the year and it didn’t feel like I was ever being heard. I felt like it was always going in one ear and out the other about training. And so I ultimately was like, well, I want a relationship with a coach that’s going to be a collaboration. And this just felt like it was going to be his training or not.

Just for those who don’t know, what is the big ideological difference between the way Pete approaches the 1500 versus Jerry?

The main difference is volume and amount of strength and aerobic work, which is why Bowerman has been so successful in the 5000m/10000m. Everyone is so strong in that group. There’s a lot of emphasis on high mileage, but also really, really long tempos. Whereas with Pete, I obviously do that stuff, but it’s just much more manageable for me. Coming from more of an 800/1500 background, I had never done a tempo over three miles before. To go from that to ten miles of tempo work, which was standard — I couldn’t adapt to that at all. And so now we found middle ground and it’s anywhere from four to six, max, and I think that’s my sweet spot when it comes to strength work.

Something I like about Pete is he’s definitely into racing and I think of you as a racer. So on that front, how did it feel to watch your DMR record go down after you had issued the challenge to everyone? I’m maybe starting something.

I would have liked us to have been invited to the race. Obviously, it was a New Balance event and focused on the New Balance athletes. And I totally understand that. But I think it would have been really cool — because we invited every single training group to come race us at the Lilac Grand Prix — and no one came.

It’s a DMR, it doesn’t really matter. No one’s winning medals and no one’s making any money off of this — it is just for fun. It would have been cool to have both teams there. I mean it’s all fun and games, though. It’s not like I’m really that bothered by it.

You can settle it at USAs in the 1500. We’ll take team scores.

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.