By Dan McWilliams
Knoxville Catholic High School graduate Joanna Thompson placed 10th in the women’s division of the Boston Marathon on April 16, and she said she thinks her time could have been better had the weather been more cooperative.
“It was about 38 degrees and raining sideways,” she said. “We had a headwind for the whole way, 20 mph, with gusts up to 30.”
Miss Thompson finished the Boston route in a time of 2 hours, 48 minutes, 31 seconds (the winning time was 2:39:54).
“Honestly, I think if the conditions had been good, I would have run significantly faster and gotten the A standard for the Olympic Trials,” she said. “As it was, I’d only run one other marathon previously, and that was two years ago, and it was actually at the Olympic Trials. It was incredibly hot, and I imploded, so this was a 6-minute PR [personal record] for me, so I can’t complain too much. Marathoning’s funny that way.”
The A standard for the trials is 2 hours, 37 minutes, for women, and the B standard is 2:45, Miss Thompson said.
“The A standard would allow you, if you came in the top three at the trials, to go on to the Olympic Games,” she said, adding that her goal is to be on the 2020 Olympic team.
“I think anybody who’s running at the elite level would be lying if they didn’t say that their ultimate goal is the Olympic Games,” she said. “As of right now, my primary goal is just to qualify for the trials and make it there. Once I’m in the trials I want to obviously compete as hard as I can, and if that ends up being top three, that would be a dream come true, and if not I’ll try again in 2024.”
Her Boston prize money was $4,200 for 10th place.
“This is my full-time job right now, so being able to earn a little bit of a bonus was a bigger deal than having the bragging rights,” said Miss Thompson, who is also an alum of St. John Neumann School in Farragut.
Her first career run was a 5K in 2007 at Cherokee Boulevard in Knoxville, an all-comers meet at which she placed 48th.
“I would say that I never started out in this sport expecting to reach this level,” she said. “Obviously, I just wanted to do the best that I could at any given race or any given practice. Because of that I haven’t gotten discouraged easily. I just try to come at every race as a new experience and a fun experience and just really enjoy what I’m doing, no matter how I end up finishing, so I was thrilled with 48th place.”
Miss Thompson’s parents, Joe and Debby Thompson of All Saints Parish in Knoxville, are both runners and are her inspirations in the sport, she said.
“Absolutely. My mom actually ran in college at East Tennessee State University.”
Miss Thompson won the Class AAA cross country title in her senior year at KCHS in fall 2010 and placed second as a junior, but her biggest running honor in high school was a 10th-place finish at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championship in California. That run earned her All-American honors.
In college at North Carolina State, she finished 11th nationally in the 10K track event and 32nd nationally in cross country, which won her All-American status again.
Miss Thompson currently lives in Blowing Rock, N.C., and works with Zap Fitness.
“We’re a nonprofit organization. It’s based in Blowing Rock,” she said. “What Zap does is it’s partly an Olympic development center for professional distance runners. We have 10 athletes on our roster. We live there full time and train and we get food and housing and health insurance paid for. We receive a small monthly stipend. We have a contract with Reebok and with another nutritional company called Generation UCAN, and they provide us with recovery drinks and with shoes and apparel and some travel.
“We go all over the country and all over the world and compete in different events and ultimately have the goal of making the world championships or the Olympics. In the summer we also host running camps. We have retreats for adults and then we also have some colleges who come in and use our facility. We have high school teams. Catholic actually sent up a team last summer, which was really cool to see. We do a lot of the grunt work for that, like keeping the yard mowed, scrubbing out the toilets, and helping serve food, that kind of thing. Never a dull moment.”
What does the future hold for Miss Thompson?
“That’s a good question,” she said. “I’ll be running another marathon this fall. Not sure which one yet, maybe New York, maybe Frankfurt, maybe Osaka. I’m hoping that my next marathon will be at that pace (2:37). The soonest I can do that is probably Chicago, but I think I’m probably going to take a little bit of time this summer to focus on some shorter road races and be able to compete in the 20K championships or the 10K championships.”
Miss Thompson’s agent is Ray Flynn, a parishioner of St. Mary in Johnson City who formerly served on the board of the St. Mary’s Legacy Foundation. Mr. Flynn was at the Boston Marathon to greet Miss Thompson after she finished.
“He actually represents me and several other members of my team, multiple Olympians,” she said. “Ray’s great. He’s a good family friend of ours. My mom went to ETSU, so they’ve known each other since college. He’s been just an incredible supporter throughout my career.”