Jonathan Ferguson  nearing the finish line at the Parks Half Marathon. Photo: Dan Reichmann

Jonathan Ferguson nearing the finish line at the Parks Half Marathon. Photo: Dan Reichmann

Tall, sinewy, spectacled and pretty darn fast, Jonathan Ferguson has a direct gaze, matter of fact delivery, and an impressive running resume, but he shrugs off the suggestion that he’s intense.  A former Division I swimmer at the University of Maryland who transitioned to running after college, Jonathan may have a “take it easy” button, but he doesn’t seem to have located it yet.

As a swimmer, he focused on freestyle and butterfly, but he’d swim every event.  His coaches liked him in distance but he pushed to take over the shorter races.  As a runner, his favorite distance is the 5k.  A marathon was an absolute no, never.  Like most reasonable people, it seemed like too much.

“I guess I was just really intimidated to it and didn’t think my body could hold up to long distance training,” he said.

But then, back in 2011, a co-worker who wasn’t going to be able to run Marine Corps offered him her bib.  Already running high mileage and competing frequently in shorter races, he decided to give it a shot.  That was 2011, the last time he ran the Marine Corps Marathon.  He finished in 3:00:17, and blames trying to do the math in his head on the fly for not breaking the three hour mark.

In 2012 he completed the Baltimore Marathon in, again, seconds over three hours.  Then, last year, he was training for Marine Corps last year when a stress fracture sidelined him.  Not having had to deal with an injury like that before, he was disappointed and anxious to return to training.  After taking time off, getting back to his routine to the point when he finally felt strong and pain free was a major milestone. Coming into this year’s race, he feels more confident than ever, and is looking forward to the race.

“My training has been pretty much ideal I’m really pretty excited. I want to get out there and see what I can do,” he said.

Jonathan’s goal for this year’s Marine Corps Marathon is a 2:50 – hopefully putting him well under the three hour mark, with a cushion to qualify for Boston in 2016.  Jonathan is shooting for Boston in 2016, and one of the reasons he wants a cushion is that he doesn’t want to run a marathon next year.  He and his wife are expecting their first child in February, which will surely change his training.  How will he train for the next one?  He isn’t sure.

“I know have to be a little more flexible, I just don’t know I’ll to work it out yet,” he said.

He’ll probably figure out a way – when he was training for his first marathon as a graduate student in Pittsburgh while working full time and going to school full time, he found himself fitting in runs when all his other obligations had been met – frequently starting training runs as late as midnight.

A relatively low-tech runner in the era where you can link your sneakers, watch, and heart rate monitor to your phone, Jonathan runs with a watch that tells you the time of day.  He doesn’t train with music or any other distraction, thinking it would make him slow down during training.   He uses the combination of that and his own internal clock and exertion meter to pace himself.

His Marine Corps strategy is to hold back until he gets through five mile in Georgetown, and then, basically, go all out from there.  Jonathan know the theory behind negative splits, but it doesn’t suit his racing personality.  He says that he feels most comfortable when he’s aggressive from the beginning.  He thinks this harkens back to his swimming days.

“I never wanted to end up feeling at the end of the race like I had too much left.” He said, though he doesn’t always feel like it’s the best strategy: “I’m not crazy about it, I try to hold a reasonable pace.  I’ve gotten into some trouble in the past with the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. It was my first fairly big race and I went out way too fast and the second half was really painful.”

His training plan is pretty straightforward.  There aren’t a lot of complex algorithms or speed work to distance ratios.  He basically runs, a lot, in and around his Greenbelt neighborhood.  He averages 65 miles per week, with a tempo run and four twenty-milers.  His long runs often consist of repeat loops around his neighborhood.

Since completing his Master’s in Public Policy (on top of a law degree), Jonathan has returned to the D.C. Metro area, which he loves, but he does miss the competition and camaraderie of his old running club in Pittsburgh, the Pharaoh Hounds.  Though he’s met up with some of the area running groups, he hasn’t yet found a local club that fits in with  his commute and schedule.

After managing to train for a marathon while working and going to school full time, coming back from a difficult injury with a long recovery, and managing the demands of a rigorous training schedule with work, commute, and family, there’s no doubt that Jonathan Ferguson has the tenacity required to meet his goal for this year’s Marine Corps Marathon.  After that?  He really wants to do the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler in under an hour.  He’ll be focusing on shorter races as he takes on his new challenge as “Dad.”