Running LA to NYC: Paul Johnson Targets Transcontinental Record for Mental Health


, by Fabienne Lang

Photography courtesy of: Paul Johnson

In a feat that tests the limits of human endurance, Paul Johnson is embarking on a monumental journey to break the Transcontinental Run record while championing mental health awareness.

“My only job is to eat, run, and sleep. And probably complain a lot too,” Paul Johnson jests, a playful glint in his eye. You wouldn't guess he's talking about his upcoming Herculean task – running the length of the continental United States on the Transcontinental Run.

Come March 1st, from the sunny shores of Santa Monica, California, Paul will embark on a journey that makes Forrest Gump's cross-country jog look like a leisurely stroll. His mission? Conquer the Transcontinental Run, covering 74 miles / 120 kilometers each day for 40 consecutive days, until he reaches the iconic glow of Times Square in New York City. And no, this isn't just any run; Paul's eyes are set on rewriting history, aiming to beat Pete Kostelnick’s 42-day record officially set back in 2016.

Let's put this in perspective: this is the equivalent of running nearly three marathons a day, every single day, for over a month. That's a total of 3,000 miles / 4,828 kilometers of pure endurance and grit.

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However, Paul sees the world record as his "side quest."

His main mission is to rally support and awareness around mental health for active and past members of the military. He’s chosen to fundraise for the organization Team Red, White and Blue, which is considered one of the “leading veteran health and wellness charities here in the States,” explains Paul, who proudly represents them as an ambassador.

Photography courtesy of: Paul Johnson

But this journey isn't just about raising awareness; it's also personal. As a Naval Officer currently serving in the Navy, Paul knows first-hand the silent battles within the hearts and minds of those who've served and still serve today. “I have, and I'm still dealing with, a lot of issues in terms of anxiety, depression, and sleep issues,” he shares candidly.

“It's not an isolated thing. A lot of my friends and a lot of my sailors all deal and still deal with a lot of similar issues,” he continues. “And the number one coping mechanism for most people for something like that is alcohol or drugs or something similar. Using drugs gets us immediately kicked out of the Navy, so alcohol is usually the preferred choice.”

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After relying on drinking as a makeshift life raft in the sea of stress, Paul found his beacon of hope in a rather unexpected place: by signing up to the 2022 Marine Corps Marathon. “When I started doing the marathon training with my friend, I thought: ‘Wow, I can't be hungover, otherwise, I can't really run that well the next day,’” he explains his turning point.

He realized “running was much more long term and beneficial [than drinking] and made me feel better overall, and so that’s what got me back into running.” As an avid sportsman from a young age, he was finding his feet again, so to speak.

Paul and his friend tackled the Marine Corps Marathon with gusto, and when the finish line loomed into view, they didn't just cross it; they smashed their sub-three-hour goal, punching their tickets to the prestigious Boston Marathon in one swift stride.

It's about sharing this journey, getting people to get up and moving, be physically active, embracing the physical and mental side that comes from an activity like running.

Paul has Boston in his sights right after he conquers the Transcontinental Run. “I have to finish the ‘Transcon’ before April 15 this year because I'm registered for Boston,” he says chuckling. Why settle for one epic challenge when you can have two?

Since that pivotal marathon training session back in 2022, Paul has reached new heights with his running. From conquering ultra-races like the UTMB in Chamonix to gearing up for his monumental Transcontinental Run, it's clear that his positive mindset knows no bounds – especially considering he's still a rookie in the ultra-distance scene, having dipped his toes in it for the first time just last April.

But don't let his rookie status fool you; Paul's training regime for his upcoming challenge is anything but novice. From the crack of dawn starts the relentless mileage, and he's been putting in the hard yards since November 1st, 2023.

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“I did 100 plus mile (160 km) weeks for about a month. And then we pushed up to 130 - 150 miles (209 – 240 km). And then 170-ish miles (273 km), and then we've done 200- or 300-mile (321 - 482-km) weeks now. We're doing a little bit of a dip right now, and then next week will probably still be around like that 170-mile (273 km), frame. And then we're rolling into the start of the run, so the body's feeling good,” explains Paul. We’re exhausted just hearing about his schedule.

As for his daily grind? “Typically, I get up at 3am, and I’m running by 3:30 or 4am. I do anywhere from 10 to 20 miles (16 – 32 km) before work. I'll go to the gym three times a week for an hour, before work as well. And then I'll run another 10 to 30 miles (16 – 48 km) in the evening. The weekends, I'll do back-to-back long runs. I'll run 40 miles (64 km) each day on Saturday and Sunday, and then we'll roll into the new week and that's pretty much been my life for the past four months,” he chuckles.

Photography courtesy of: Paul Johnson

It's a schedule that would make even the most hardened athlete break into a cold sweat, but for Paul, it's all part of the game. Call it dedication, call it madness – either way, it's clear that his military training has paid off.

With a committed support crew of four joining him on his cross-country adventure, Paul's Transcontinental Run is far from a solo endeavor. "We'll have live tracking set up on the site, so anyone can come run with us for a bit," he explains.

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It’s clear Paul is eager to inspire others to lace up their shoes and join him. "It's about more than just running," he explains earnestly. "It's about sharing this journey, getting people to get up and moving, be physically active, embracing the physical and mental side that comes from an activity like running. And then trying to support team Red, White and Blue and the work they do.”

As for Paul’s most anticipated moment on the road? His eyes light up at the thought of cresting the Rockies in New Mexico. "It's definitely going to feel good, especially knowing that it's pretty much downhill all the way to the East Coast from there, relatively speaking,” he says.

Paul’s Transcontinental Run is clearly more than about breaking records. As he laces up his shoes and embarks on this epic journey, he's not just running; he's blazing a trail of hope, one step at a time.

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