If Glenwood long distance runner Johnny Fuller has any questions about what it takes to win a gold medal at the state track meet, he need look no further than Ram assistant coach Todd Peverill.
Peverill knows a thing or two about state gold medals. As a gangly, long-haired senior at Waterloo East in 1979, Peverill blistered the Drake Stadium Track to a state-meet record of 4:13.65 in the 1,600-meters. It’s a record that stands to this day.
Fuller, a sophomore, and already a two-time state qualifier in both the 1,600 and 3,200-meters after Friday’s districts at Winterset, has his eyes set on being the school’s second straight long distance double medal-winner after Alden Wignall placed fifth in both events last year.
Fuller has battled Council Bluff Thomas Jefferson’s Kyle Blue for southwest Iowa supremacy in the 1,600 and 3,200 most of the season. His 4:37.76-best in the mile this season ranks him 14th in the state in Class 3A and third in District 8.
Peverill was himself a three-time state qualifier in the mile for the Trojans and later ran for Northern Iowa. He doesn’t recall all the details of that race 30 years ago, but, he does remember sitting back in second place for most of the first 1,400-meters controlling the pace, he said, before his final kick at the 200-meter mark.
“I usually liked to kick at the 300 (meter) mark but my coaches were yelling at me to wait so I waited until the 200 and I took off,” Peverill said. “It was probably the fastest 200 I’ve ever ran in my life. I ended up winning by over six seconds I think.”
Peverill had little time to savor the record because he had to get ready to run the 4x400-meter relay a half-hour later. Peverill and his teammates did okay in that race too, winning a gold medal in a state meet record time that stood for a few years, he said. He didn’t even realize his state meet record was still standing in the mile until he came to Glenwood as head boys cross country coach and an assistant on the track team in 1993.
“We were up at state and some of the kids said ‘Hey, you got a state meet record,’ and I said ‘Nah.’ But then they showed it to me. It took me 14 years to realize I had a state meet record. Now every time we go they say ‘It’s going to fall today.’ I’ve been waiting. I’ll happen one of these years.”
Peverill said Fuller, with his “long stride” running style and his hyper-competitiveness, is probably ahead of where he was a sophomore.
“He’s one of those runners you hate to run against,” said Peverill. “His stride length is huge and his heal lift is high. He’s got a real different stride length than I had and those runners just drove me nuts to compete against. But he’s getting stronger and progressing very well. He’s already run as fast as I did as a sophomore.”
It’s a running style, like his competiveness, that just came natural to the 5-foot-10 Fuller from an early age. He turned to running after a pair of broken arms in seventh and eighth grade sidelined him from football. It was a tough decision to give up football, he said but one he or his coaches haven’t regretted.
“Even in practice its like I know I don?t always have to win but I just can’t slack or drop time, it really effects me,” he said.
Glenwood head track coach Mark Starner calls Fuller one of the hardest workers he’s coached in his 14 years as head coach.
“In my 14 years I haven’t seen anybody as young as him as dedicated to getting better and working hard,” said Starner. “He’s just a great kid with great will power.”
Fuller first discovered Peverill’s little discussed 1,600 record midway through his freshman year when some teammates were joking about it with Peverill.
“It was pretty awe inspiring - a 4:13 mile,” Fuller admitted upon first hearing of his coach’s record time. It also made the young freshman realize: this coach doesn’t just know his stuff, he ran this stuff.
“He really knows what he’s talking about. He’s not just one of those coaches that talks about how you do it, he’s an athlete, he’s been there.”
So can Fuller break his coach’s record?
“He has a chance,” Peverill said. “He’s hungry for it and I’m happy to coach him to get there.”
Peverill would actually like nothing more than to see Fuller break his record.
“The greatest thing for me would be to have one of my athletes break it but you know what, I’d still have it. We’re 3A. I was in 4A. So I could have my cake and still eat it. When it goes I’ll be happy. It’s been 30 years, it’s time for it to be broken.”
Peverill said getting past that mental “4:30 barrier” for a mile runner is tough but once he does, anything is possible.
“We discussed it (the record),” said Peverill. “He’s trying to figure out what I did and do the same but we don’t want him to do the exact same thing because we train differently now. It’s good that we talk about it I think. He definitely asks about it, about what my splits were and whatever. And I just tell him keep working toward it.”
Fuller admits he’s grilled his coach about his record run and what it would mean to him to break it. He’s just not willing to call his shot.
“That might be a little ambitious,” Fuller responded when asked if he’ s coming after his coach’s record. “I’ll chase it but I can’t say its my goal yet.”
At least, not yet.