Junior Aren Johnson has put together a strong season for the No. 22-ranked UC San Diego men's cross country team. The Carlsbad native finished first overall in the University of San Diego Invitational on Sept. 16, and later helped lead the Tritons to a second-place team finish at the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 23. We caught up with Johnson ahead of Saturday's 25th annual Triton Classic to discuss his early success, his high-school experience and his admiration for Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Q: What are your thoughts on the team’s season so far?
Johnson: We’ve had a really strong season. Our pack time has really shortened up and we’re really close together. At the (Roy Griak Invitational), it was the first time I’ve been running in the top pack, looked around, and saw four other teammates with me. We’ve got a really strong team this year.
Q: How gratifying was it to finish first individually at the USD Invitational?
Johnson: It was painful, but definitely worth it. Stanford was an amazing team to run against. They were very professional and had great times. It gave me an awesome opportunity to hold on to them, then out-kick them. It felt great.
Q: How did it feel to finish second as a team at the Roy Griak Invitational?
Johnson: We had our eyes on at least finishing second, because we finished second last season, too. We lost two really strong runners to graduation, but we weren’t worried about that because we knew we have a lot of fast people who are packed together. Our goal was just to go out there and run our race-plan well and claim another second or first.
Q: What do you enjoy most about competing in cross country?
Johnson: I think it’s what I get out of it personally. It makes you realize how strong you can actually become and how much hard work can help you. Every time I run a cross country race, it gives me more motivation to better myself. I see what I can do and I see what happens when you put your mind to something. The reward is amazing.
Q: What was it like attending high school at Army & Navy Academy in Carlsbad?
Johnson: I had a different high school experience than most people going to an all-boys military school. But it’s right along the coast, so I had ocean views for all my classes. It was very regimented like being in the military, but for academics. Instead of being trained for battle, we’re trained to excel in the classroom. It was a military school, but also a college prep school, so that was the focus. The school has an outstanding college acceptance rate.
Q: What is the best part about attending UC San Diego?
Johnson: The location is awesome. I love my team and I like the size of our campus. I kind of feel like it’s my own city. I like coming here and knowing this is all something I’m a part of. You hear about all the stuff UC San Diego does, and it’s cool to know you’re a part of that. I go to a school that is trying to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease and has created stealth capabilities for fighters. Being a part of that is really cool.
Q: If you could go anywhere for vacation, where would you go?
Johnson: Norway, I’ve wanted to go there for a while. I’m Scandinavian and we have a family reunion there every year, but it always happens during finals week in the spring, so I’ve never been able to go. I love the forest and snow, so I want to check it out.
Q: Who’s a celebrity you would like to meet:
Johnson: Elon Musk. He’d be an amazing person to meet. He has so many things in his mind, I’d like to take a glimpse at it and see the way he thinks. What makes him be able to do the things he does?
Q: Who is your favorite athlete?
Johnson: Marathon runner Meb Keflezighi. He actually practices at Mission Bay so we see him working out. He inspires me.
Q: Watersports or hiking?
Q: Burgers or taco shop?
Q: Favorite music artist?
Johnson: Hans Zimmer
Q: Favorite video game?
Q: Favorite movie?
Q: Favorite fruit?
Q: Thoughts on the upcoming Triton Classic?
Johnson: It’s personal (laughs). Normally times are really hard to compare in cross country because courses are different. The Triton Classic is the one course we have that you can compare (times) to all the other years. We'll really be looking to cut down our times. It’s a difficult course, maybe one of the most difficult. Luckily, we have the home-field advantage. We run in those trees all the time. A lot of us are looking to do well and get some personal-best (times). It’s the one time we have a lot of fans along the trail because it's our home race. It’s the coolest thing ever. We’re going to show everyone what we can do on our home turf.
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