IN IT FOR THE LONG RUN: Mondays are tough for Johanna Spangler, a junior biochemistry major from Gettysburg, PA. During cross country season, her Monday schedule looks like this:
- 6:45 am Wake up, followed by an “easy” 45-minute run that covers 5-6 miles
- 8:00 am Organic Chemistry
- 9:00 – 10:00 am Breakfast
- 10:00 am Genomics
- 11:00 am – 1:30 pm Lunch / Homework
- 1:30 – 5:30 pm Genomics Lab
- 5:30 – 7:00 pm Another “easy” 45-minute run covering 5-6 miles. Then dinner.
- 7:00 – 10:00 pm Physics Lab
“It’s good that I have this schedule at the beginning of the week, because then it’s done,” Spangler laughs. “It is a stressful Monday for me because every moment of the day is accounted for.”
With this type of resolve, discipline, work ethic, and time-management skills – all necessary to be successful in both athletics and academics – it’s no wonder that Spangler was able to burst onto the women’s cross country scene at Vassar like none other before her. In 2008, she became the first freshman in school history to qualify for the NCAA Division III National Championships.
With a time of 22:25 in the 6K race, Spangler finished 93rd out of 273 runners. She finished 11th among freshmen and 12th among all runners from the Atlantic Region, two spots ahead of her 14th-place finish at the regional meet that qualified her for the National Championships.
Such a debut could not have been predicted. She started running “reluctantly” in high school because she had a friend on the team and has only been running competitively since her junior year. “I didn’t have any expectations when I began running,” Spangler explains. “The racing got me nervous, but it also got me hooked.”
As a freshman at Vassar, she finished in the top five in over half the races she entered, including the Vassar Invitational, the Liberty League Championships, and the Seven Sisters Championships. She was named the Liberty League Rookie of the Year, All-ECAC after a second place finish in the race, and All-Atlantic Region.
“When I look back on my freshman year, everything is a big blur,” Spangler says. “It was an unreal experience. I wasn’t expecting much, so anything that came along was unbelievable. It was an awesome ride, and I ran during the season on a wave of emotions. I don’t think it really hit me until last year when I didn’t make it to Nationals. It made me recognize what an accomplishment it was.”
By mortal standards, Spangler’s sophomore cross country season was amazing. She finished first in four races, including the Vassar Invitational, Seven Sisters Championships, and the ECAC Championships – all amazing accomplishments – but the coveted goal of qualifying for the NCAA Championships for a second time eluded her when she finished 21st in the Atlantic Region meet. Spangler was in contention until the last 800 meters and fell nine seconds shy of her second straight NCAA meet. “When I look back on the season, it was better overall,” Spangler explains. “But my performance at Regionals wasn’t good enough that day, and that’s what cross country is all about – how you compete on a given day.”
Her focus this season: A return to the NCAA Championships. “I am not sure I like to make that goal known, but there’s no point in telling myself I can’t,” Spangler says.
“Johanna is a very deliberate and focused runner,” said head coach James McCowan. “She has excellent stamina, and it seems like the longer and more challenging the race, the better she gets. I’ve seen her rise to the challenge and perform exceptionally well time and time again. Whether it was Nationals as a freshman and running an NCAA mark or stepping on the track at Penn Relays with some of the best distance runners in the nation on any level, she has a love of the sport that can transcend her doubts.”
Spangler rarely misses a day of training, crazy enough to run in two-and-a-half feet of snow following a winter blizzard, but wise enough to run in the early morning during summer’s heat and humidity. Treadmills are never an option. A runner of discipline and routine, Spangler has a simple answer for her training regime: “Winning never gets old, it’s fun,” she laughs. Mondays notwithstanding.