Surface Warfare Officer Attempts to Break World Record, Running from Los Angeles to New York in 40 Days

Navy Lt. Paul Johnson is set to begin his 3,000-mile run from Los Angeles to New York City on Friday.
Navy Lt. Paul Johnson, an active-duty surface warfare officer, is set to begin his 3,000-mile run from Los Angeles to New York City on Friday. (Photo courtesy of Paul Johnson)

The song "Everytime We Touch" by Cascada has about 142 beats per minute, which puts it slightly below the 150 to 170 steps per minute of your average recreational runner.

For Navy Lt. Paul Johnson, the song makes him feel like he can run through a brick wall and will be a featured track on one of his many playlists as he steps off Friday on his attempted record-breaking run across the continental U.S.

The active-duty surface warfare officer will begin his 3,000-mile run from Los Angeles to New York City on Friday, a feat he hopes to accomplish in 40 days -- two days faster than the current time recognized by Guinness World Records. Running at an average mile pace of 10 to 12 minutes, Johnson aims to run 75 miles per day, putting in about 13 to 15 hours of running.

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"I really want to do it for how much running has done for me in terms of dealing with mental health issues and having just really dived into running the past 18 months," Johnson said. "It's a pretty ridiculous challenge, but we think that we might be able to give it a shot."

The current record is held by ultrarunner Pete Kostelnick, whom Johnson watched run through the Pennsylvania State University campus while he was a student there.

"I knew I wanted to run across the U.S. at some point, after I had seen Pete Kostelnick run in 2016 past State College there on his way to set the world record," Johnson said. Kostelnick's run took 42 days, 6 hours, and 30 minutes. Fewer than 400 people have ever officially attempted the run.

Johnson, currently stationed out of Newport, Rhode Island, commissioned in 2018 and spent the first three years of his career on a ship out of Rota, Spain. His service abroad took a toll on his mental health, and by the time he'd rotated back to the U.S., Johnson began to take stock of his unhealthy relationship with alcohol, consistent sleep issues, and bouts of anxiety and depression.

A friend and Marine Corps officer asked whether he wanted to run the Marine Corps Marathon with him, and Johnson has been running religiously ever since.

In preparation, he has run more than 6,500 miles in the last year. He's completed 100-mile races and a 39-hour run, and spends about 40 hours a week running.

"It's a full-time job," he said, adding that he's grateful for his command's support and the sheer amount of leave he had available to burn. As for fuel, Johnson said he lives off of near-nightly pints of ice cream and pizza, for the cheesy goodness that gives it a great "price-to-calorie ratio."

"In training, I'm doing about 7,000 to 8,000 calories a day. And once this run starts, I'll need probably 13,000 to 15,000 a day," he said. "We're in a realm of, 'I solely just need to get energy into my body in order to sustain the efforts I'm doing.' And so it's just [about] eating everything I can."

Throughout the run, Johnson will be fundraising for Team Red, White & Blue, a nonprofit group focused on veteran mental health and fitness. He's raised around $19,000, as of Feb. 29, and wants to raise $1 million while on the road.

"He's just been an absolutely amazing advocate," said Margaret Britten, Team RWB's director of marketing. "He's just been supportive every step of the way, so we're so proud to kind of support him in this."

The goal of Team RWB is to keep veterans from falling prey to the "loneliness epidemic" through exercise and camaraderie by giving them a team to lean on and grow healthier with, offering virtual and in-person workouts and challenges. On the road, Johnson's own team will include his mom, a small media crew, an Air Force reservist and physical therapist, a Marine veteran crew chief, and a few other friends.

Veterans and other runners are encouraged to join him along the way, Johnson said. People can follow his path through his website, Instagram and Team RWB's app.

Despite the daunting feat in front of him, Johnson said the results of his training keep him from being too worried about failure.

"I'm not an elite athlete," he said. "But I know how to run far, I know how to run long, I know how my body responds to it. ... It really comes down to that I don't have to run as fast, I just have to be very consistent and deliberate with it."

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