Michelle Johannsen, pictured here running the Missoula Marathon in July, plans to run across the country this summer with 4K For Cancer to benefit the Ulman Foundation. Johannsen is a 2010 Austin High School graduate and a senior at Winona State University. -- Photo provided
Michelle Johannsen, pictured here running the Missoula Marathon in July, plans to run across the country this summer with 4K For Cancer to benefit the Ulman Foundation. Johannsen is a 2010 Austin High School graduate and a senior at Winona State University. -- Photo provided

Coast to coast for cancer: AHS grad readies for 4,000-mile team run this summer

Published 10:43am Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Michelle Johannsen knows every runner has been the target of someone sarcastically yelling “run, Forrest, run” when out on the road. But, the 2010 Austin High School graduate is excited to do her best Forrest Gump impression next June.

Johannssen is getting ready to run across the country from San Francisco to Baltimore as part of a team of about 30 college-aged runners to benefit the Ulman Foundation over 42 days next summer.

“This is a chance to actually be Forrest Gump and run from coast to coast,” Johannsen said, referring to the 1994 film that made the line “run, Forrest, run” famous.

After running two marathons, Johannsen was looking online for unique runs when she came across the 4K For Cancer. She assumed it was a 4,000-meter race like she’d run in high school, but she soon realized it was actually a 4,000 mile run. After reading up on the run and the Ulman Foundation, Johannsen decided she’d give it a shot.

“I’m addicted to running, and if I can use that as a tool to help other people that’s just awesome,” Johannsen said.

After an application and a few interviews, Johannsen was accepted to the team.

Johannsen won’t run the entire 4,000 miles. The team splits the running load like a relay, running in about 2-mile increments, so each runner covers about 8 to 13 miles a day and the team covers about 95 miles a day. Runners will be driven the rest of the way.

“It’s kind of a big adventure, a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said.

Johannsen is excited to help the Ulman Foundation, which is a cancer support group for young adults with cancer. The group also offers scholarships for people with cancer to attend college.

“I’m just really excited to go on this run and get people’s attention,” she said.

This is only the second time 4K For Cancer is undertaking the 42-day run across the country, but it has organized many bike trips in the past. Much of the group’s room and boarding on the trip comes through donations, so Johannsen said they’ll spend many nights on cots at YMCAs.

“We’re kind of roughing it while we’re out there,” she said, adding that means more money can go to the cause.

Johannsen wasn’t a runner at a young age; in fact, she remembers dreading running the timed mile at Neveln Elementary school.

“I hated the timed mile. … It was the worst day of the school year,” she said.

In high school, Johannsen was a cheerleader and had to warm up by running a lap before practice. Other cheerleaders told her she was a good runner and helped convince her to go out for track her sophomore year. She joined the cross country team her senior year and was hooked.

During her freshman year of college, she ran her first of two marathons and continued running cross country for Winona State for two years, but suffered from multiple injuries.

Johannsen, a senior at Winona State studying cellular and molecular biology, ran the Missoula Marathon in Montana, and she got to run the final 8 miles with former Olympian Jeff Galloway, who is an author and marathon enthusiast Johannsen looks up to. She bumped into him on the run and left her 5-hour pace group to run with Galloway, and she talked with Galloway’s wife, Barbara, a biology major, about genetics on the last leg of the run. She had her picture taken with Galloway after the run.

Johannsen isn’t training for this summer’s run yet. First, she’s training for the 30-mile American Birkebeiner Cross Country Ski race on Feb. 22, 2014, in Wisconsin.

Once that’s done, she’ll start training for her cross-country trek by doing many runs that she described as relaxed and conversational runs, she can handle about 8 miles a day.

Despite her love for running, Johannsen said she’s not a fast person or a sprinter, but she has an endurance speed where she can go forever.

“I’m not a fast person,” she said. “I’ve got about two speeds.”

Johannsen isn’t intimidated by the magnitude of the cross country run, but she admits she’s worried about injuries, especially after learning how frustrating injuries can be during her cross country career.

“That’s the biggest thing that I’m nervous about, just making sure I’m healthy and injury free,” she said.

Johannsen needs to raise at least $4,500 for the run by May, and she’s raised $790 so far. Her goal is $6,000. To donate or track her progress, check out http://4kforcancer.org/profiles/michelle-johannsen/. She also started a blog to track her trip at http://www.runner-4-life.com/. Donations can be made online or checks can be made to an address listed on the website. She said people don’t need to donate large sums, as she’d be happy if people donated even a dollar.

“Any dollar amount helps,” she said.

After college, Johannsen plans to attend graduate school to study health and human performance with application in exercise science. Johannsen’s father and grandparents still live in Austin.


Sign in to Comment | Need help commenting? Click here

Editor's Picks