They say you can’t run from your problems, but for ultramarathoner and Navy Lt. Paul Johnson, running is the perfect escape.

“Running gives me a chance to turn off my brain and not think about a lot of the things that are bothering me day to day,” Johnson told Military Times. “It’s almost like a meditation to me, a chance to relax and reflect.”

And over the next 40 days, the 28-year-old surface warfare officer will have plenty of time to do just that as he attempts a mad dash from Los Angeles to New York City to break the world record for cross-country running. He begins on March 1.

But Johnson is not just racing for to win the world record title. He’s also aiming to bring awareness to military mental health issues and fundraise $1 million for the veteran service organization Team Red, White and Blue.

To complete the challenge, Johnson will need to do roughly 75 miles each day. And although he has his apprehensions, he’s also looking forward to the challenge.

“We’re always afraid to jump into the unknown without knowing how things will go,” he said. “This challenge is the epitome of knowing that failure is almost guaranteed, but here we are still attempting it because we are going to work through all of the challenges thrown our way and just maybe, we come out on the other side better for it.”

Johnson was inspired by current record holder Pete Kostelnick, who did 72 miles a day in 2016. While Johnson was attending Penn State, Kostelnick passed through the campus on his route. Johnson began training for the so-called “transcon” when he began a shore tour in January 2023.

“As I got back into running for the Marine Corps Marathon, the thought of the transcon run came back, but I just didn’t have time to do something like that on sea duty,” he said.

He’s done four official races, and his training consisted of 40-mile runs on the weekends.

“One of the toughest things about what we do in the military is losing the tight knit connections and communities that are formed by service,” he said. “Even still active duty, I struggle with those feelings of isolation at times with a different duty station or the way I am experiencing some issues with my anxiety and depression.”

Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.

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