“My junior year I was looking to race more competitively. I started running with Alfredo and running longer distances, so Trapp said joining the cross-country team would help me in track as well.”
— Johnny Landa, a Moffat County High School senior, about deciding to compete in track and cross-country his junior year.
Johnny Landa never would have guessed what started out as a challenge would develop into a passion
Two years ago as a sophomore, Landa said friend and running partner Alfredo Lebron made fun of him saying he wouldn’t be able to make it on the Moffat County High School track and field team.
Not one to back down, Landa signed up to run.
“Alfredo was giving me crap saying I should join,” Landa said. “I decided to just so I could beat him. It hasn’t happened, but things worked out.”
In his first year on the team, Landa qualified for the Class 4A state meet in the 3,200-meter run, taking 14th with a time of 10 minutes, 14.66 seconds.
“I just went into the season thinking I would give my best and just have a good time,” Landa said. “Being able to compete at state that year was unexpected. I was only running for placement and getting better, but I ended up one of the top runners in the state.”
While Lebron did beat Landa at state, taking seventh in the same race that year, Landa’s performance earned him a new full-time spring sport as well as double duty in the fall.
Landa played for the MCHS boys varsity soccer team his first two years of high school, but said after running track his sophomore year, head coach Todd Trapp wanted him to join the cross-country team.
“My junior year I was looking to race more competitively,” he said. “I started running with Alfredo and running longer distances, so Trapp said joining the cross-country team would help me in track as well.”
Now, as a senior, Landa has moved away from what made him initially successful in the 3,200, but repurposed his talents into the 400-meter dash and the 800- and 1,600-meter runs.
Running the 400 compared to the 1,600, Landa said, requires different styles of running, but nonetheless, both help each other.
“In the mile, you have to have endurance with some speed at the end, but the 400 is all speed with endurance to keep up the speed,” he said. “If I can do well at the 400, I have a pace I can use on the last lap of the mile, while running the mile helps build endurance for the 400.”
Landa said running track may take less physical skill than sports like soccer, football and basketball, but your body has to be in the top condition and you have to be mentally prepared for each race.
Pacing, he said, is one of the key factors in doing well and to avoid falling behind.
“You have to have perfect form when you run and you have to run smart, because you can’t take off at sprint in a longer race,” he said. “I always try to find someone that is around the same speed and pace off them for the first 800 meters and then pick up the next 400 before sprinting the last 400.
“It takes a lot to know how to pace during a race, but even at the end I make sure I have enough to try and catch the people in front of me.”
Landa is currently ranked 22nd in the 800 and 31st in the 1,600 in the state, with the top 18 qualifying for the state meet in May.
And while he is within a few seconds of moving up into the top 18 in both events, it is the 4-by-400- and 4-by-800-meter relays where he has the best chance of state gold.
Running alongside Lebron and fellow seniors Miguel Molina and Rene Molina in the 4-by-800-meter relay and Lebron, Miguel and junior Erik Silva in the 4-by-400-meter relay, Landa has helped both teams post top-10 times.
The 4-by-400-meter relay is ranked sixth with a time of 3:29.97 while the 4-by-800-meter relay is ranked fourth at 4:42.19.
Landa said he enjoys competing individually, but being part of the relays is something special.
“Last year at state, the 4-by-800-meter relay took fifth with all juniors,” he said. “The team that won also took fifth as all juniors the year before. So it was encouraging to know with all four of us returning, we could give it our all and push for first place.”
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