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Running that extra mile for others

Developing mind over matter
By: Amanda Calzada Placer Herald Sports Correspondent
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Nearly 3,000 miles away from home, Eric Johnson is anticipating a day unlike any other: 1,000 of the world’s fittest individuals running 10-mile laps and tackling 30 of the world’s most strenuous obstacles for a continuous 24 hours. “You have to literally tear your body down to its lowest point, and then build it back up again the way you want it and become acquainted with pain. The body is truly amazing, and I think a lot of people do not realize what it is fully capable of when the proper training is completed,” said Johnson. The 28 year-old financial statement auditor of Lincoln, who grew up in Rocklin, is geared up for the World Toughest Mudder Championships this Saturday, having qualified in the top 5 percent of 2011 Mudder events. Just this September, Johnson’s performance at the local NorCal event ranked him in the top 5 percent of all finishers. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people competed in this event. The World’s Toughest Mudder is a non-stop 24 hour obstacle designed by British Special Forces. Competitors will run laps on a 10-mile course that features 30 of the world’s toughest obstacles. Potentially pain-inducing obstacles such as barbed wire require acute focus, he said. He said the race would be 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. Johnson looks forward to the parts where he will pass spectators and hear their cheers. He calculates the aquatic exercises will be the most challenging part. “We will have to be completely submerged swimming in ice cold water and getting out and running in 20-degree weather, all soaking wet, throughout the night,” he said. Johnson thinks hypothermia will be the No. 1 reason people will not complete the race. The challenge is designed to identify the toughest human being on the planet. The World Championships is capped at 1,000 competitors from all over the globe, and will take place this weekend in Englishtown, NJ. The mudder who completes the most laps in the 24-hour period will receive a cash prize of $10,000. Participants will wear timing chips, a common feature of running events. According to the World’s Toughest Mudder website, only 10 percent of those who qualify for the world championships are estimated to finish. The competition’s creators advise that only those with the highest caliber of physical and mental strength enter the event. Participants should encourage each other to finish the course. Prior to Mudder events, Johnson was a varsity track and cross-country runner at Del Oro High, where he graduated in 2001. He initially heard about the Mudder event from a friend at church, who wanted to organize a team for the local NorCal competition in Squaw Valley in September. He had run smaller mud runs, but this was his largest race up until this point. Johnson relishes the camaraderie of the event and appreciates the sponsorships he has received from companies such as Cliff Bar, Northwest Rafting Supply, Mountain Hardwear/Montrail, Camelback, Black Bear Outdoors, and Fleet Feet Fair Oaks/Roseville. He has held a sponsorship with Cliff Bar since January 2008 and been supported with their products and running gear. For the weekend, Cliff Bar has covered the entry fee and gear expenses, all of which total $1,300. Cliff Bar is also offering Johnson a monetary incentive of $1,000 for his performance. Johnson is a member of the Fleet Feet Fair Oaks/Roseville 2011 ultra racing team. He has also been a product tester for the new formulas, recipes, and products for various corporations, including Cliff Bear, Mountain Hardwear/Montrail, and Camelback. Such opportunities have helped him train, he said. During the first half of 2011, Johnson was preparing for the 2011 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and logged over 1,200 miles of running, including races distanced at 50 miles, 50k, and 100k. The ultra-runner also started swimming to develop upper and total body strength. A rigorous regime of repeated swimming in the American River and running hills while wet has strengthened his endurance, although the Jersey course will be relatively flat. Earlier this month, Johnson clocked a time of 8 hours and 20 minutes in San Francisco’s North Face Challenge 50 Mile championship race. Although he has twice run the Western States 100 Mile Run, he considers himself very young in the ultra-running and racing world, and attracted by the idea of service. He remembers running 450 miles across the state of Nevada in five days along Highway 50 to raise money for a scholarship fund in the name of classmate John Garcia; Garcia passed away from meningitis. He ran with three high school friends, Scott Kirkish, Tyler Daly, and Jon Beuscher; they raised enough money to give out two $1,000-scholarships for deserving Del Oro grads. The following summer, the team ran roughly the same distance across Oregon to raise a few thousand dollars for the Firefighters Burn Institute. “I am a firm believer that God has blessed each one of us with certain talents in this life to help one another. Each one of us has talents that will benefit our neighbors if we develop those talents and share them with others,” said Johnson, whose main goal is to raise at least $1,500 for the Wounded Warrior Project. The Wounded Warrior Project raises awareness and enlists public aid for the needs of injured service members, and provides unique, direct programs to do such. Those interested in supporting Johnson’s cause can visit his personal fundraising page at www.ericwjohnson.blogspot.com and click the large orange square button in the upper-right hand side. All donations are directed to the Wounded Warrior Project.