Green Machine: The Fastest Men’s Cross Country Runner in the Big East

December 1, 2017

via Georgetown Sports Information

When Jonathan Green traded in his gray Georgetown uniform for a red United States Track and Field jersey, he was an ocean away from the Hilltop. Green raced for the United States in the Great Edinburgh Cross Country Run against athletes as esteemed as four-time Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah. As the starting gun fired and the runners took off, Green sprinted shoulder-to-shoulder with Farah and other athletes who would go on to race in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“As I was toeing the line, I was like, ‘Damn, [Farah] is about to go this summer and win two gold medals against the best runners in the world,’” said Green, who finished 23rd out of 30 participants in Edinburgh.

Green’s projection came true. Farah won two gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter track races at the 2016 Olympic Games. Meanwhile, Green, a current graduate student-athlete, took NCAA cross-country by a storm, winning the 2017 Big East individual championship and placing 10th in the NCAA championship race. Neither of their successes were surprises.

Challenging the best runners in the world was a natural progression for Green, who began running competitively in the eighth grade. As he developed athletically, he became one of the top cross country and distance track recruits in the country. In high school, Green was a two-time Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships qualifier, a two-time All-State cross-country champion, and a two-time All-State Indoor two-mile champion.

“Out of high school, he was arguably the greatest, or one of the greatest, cross-country runners ever from the state of Massachusetts,” said Brandon Bonsey, Georgetown men’s cross-country head coach and men’s track and field assistant coach.

When Green was considering potential schools to continue his athletic and academic careers, Georgetown was consistently near the top of his list. John Murray, one of his rivals from Massachusetts, ran for Georgetown cross-country and track during Green’s recruitment. His presence helped influence Green’s decision to commit to the Hilltop.

“We ‘competed,’ if you will, in high school, although he was always way far ahead of me,” Green said. “I looked up to him. He came to Georgetown, and I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

While expectations were high for Green entering college, he endured a slow start to his Georgetown athletic career. After sustaining a thigh ligament injury in January of his senior year of high school, he redshirted his entire first year to recover. Green also struggled to adjust to the training regimen of the college game.

“He used to be kind of crazy,” said Scott Carpenter, a fellow graduate student cross-country and track athlete. “He’d run as hard as he could on days that you really weren’t supposed to. I think he’s really matured and realized that he’s actually talented and doesn’t have to run 120 miles per week to do well in races.”

“He has learned how to harness his work ethic a little bit,” Bonsey said. “He works a lot smarter than he used to.”

Green’s hard work began to pay off as he neared full health during his freshman year, and his talent became more evident.

“He was doing a workout with an older guy on the team, Andrew Springer, a multiple-time All-American here, and Jon was staying right with him,” Bonsey said. “I looked at Coach [Pat] Henner, our head coach at the time, and said, ‘Wow, Jon is even better than I thought he was.’”

When Green and the rest of his recruiting class arrived on the Hilltop, the men’s cross-country and track and field teams were forced to adjust their team cultures to account for the invigoration of new talent. The men’s cross-country team hadn’t won the Big East since 2008, but the additions of Green, Carpenter, and Amos Bartelsmeyer in the 2013 recruiting class promised to bring success back to campus. All three had won high school championships in their respective states, contributing a new level of talent to the Georgetown team.

“They came in and had instant success because they’re all really talented,” Bonsey said. “It shook up the team culture a little bit. They were beating the older guys and that took a little bit of time for people to get used to.”

As the younger class matured, the men’s cross-country team as a whole has continued to improve, in large part due to Green’s presence on the roster.

“He is a leader by example for this program, and is really someone that the younger guys look up to,” said Julie Culley, Georgetown’s director of track and field and cross country.

The team finally broke out in 2015, winning the Big East cross-country championship. Green led all Hoyas with a second-place individual finish.

via Georgetown Sports Information

The team then took the Big East title again in 2016, a season when Green was inactive because of injury. With Green back in healthy form, the Hoyas won the conference championship for the third straight time this season. Green won the individual Big East title with a time of 24:27 in the 8K race, pacing the Hoyas to the first men’s cross-country three-peat in the Big East since Providence accomplished the same from 1990-92.

“I actually didn’t even realize it was a three-peat,” Green said. “I pay attention to that stuff, but you also have to forget about it. I remember thinking about it in early September but then putting it in the back of my mind.”

Entering the championship race, the Georgetown team faced stiff competition from talented Villanova and Butler squads, but ultimately came out on top after top-10 finishes from Green, sophomore Reilly Bloomer, and sophomore Nick Wareham.

“Going back to back to back is a really difficult thing to do, because it means that the pieces need to come together on the right day,” Culley said.

Following this season’s Big East championship win, the men’s cross-country team ran at NCAA Mid-Atlantic regionals, a qualifying competition for the country-wide NCAA finals. Green finished in first place and qualified for the NCAA finals as an individual, but Georgetown failed to qualify as a team.

Green and Bonsey had both experienced the NCAA Championship atmosphere before and knew what to expect from the competition. After battling early pain, 20 mile per hour sustained winds, and some of the best collegiate runners in the country, Green finished the race 10th overall in the nation.

“Jon executed his race plan to perfection,” Bonsey said. “It was the most patient and tough race he’s ever run.”

“I told Bonsey right after, it was one of the most painful races of my life,” Green said. “It hurt super early, but that actually encouraged our race plan even more. It went in waves, but it started hurting at 1K and it’s a 10K race.”

The last time Green raced in the NCAA championship in 2015, he was accompanied by the rest of his team, and finished fifth overall as a sophomore. This year, he had to endure the painful race alone.

“The only thing different [about 2017] was not having a team there for the first time,” Green said. “I didn’t think that was going to be as hard as it actually was.”

Throughout his time at Georgetown, the cross-country and track teams have been central to Green’s experience as a student-athlete. According to Green and Carpenter, the presence of the entire squad helps moderate stress levels before important races, as the team’s loose atmosphere keeps everyone level-headed.

“The camaraderie we have together takes the pressure off a little bit and makes it a lot more fun for sure,” Carpenter said.

Another important aspect of the cross-country team’s culture is its collective training. Green explained one frequent workout, a 10-mile “tempo” run on the Canal Road running path toward Maryland. The workout consists of a short warm-up run, followed by five miles up the path and five miles back at a hard pace.

“Doing a tempo alone is absolutely miserable. You’re just alone out there, and it’s not fun at all. And you realize how nice having a team there around you is,” Green said.

While the team serves as practical training partners for workouts and runs, it is also a tight-knit group of friends who like to compete with each other.

“If you came to our practice, you’d probably be surprised at the number of arguments there are or guys kind of talking trash to each other,” Bonsey said. “But at the same time, they love each other and want each other to do well.”

via Georgetown Sports Information

The team atmosphere represents a support system and a source of motivation for Green heading into track season, when he competes in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter distance races. Despite his talent, Green has never scored points at NCAA championships for track, a fact that his coaches and teammates won’t let him forget.

“They make sure I know that I haven’t scored, and that I need to score,” Green said. “It’s again that team atmosphere.”

According to Bonsey, his plan in preparing Green for 2017- 18 focused on translating his achievements in cross-country to similar levels of success in the winter and spring. Green accomplished his goal for the cross-country season: finishing in the top 10 at NCAA finals (although, he would have preferred to top Carpenter’s 10th place result from last season). Entering the school year, however, Green’s main target was always improving his time on the track.

After finishing 16th at the NCAA Indoor Track Championships last season and ranking ninth in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association NCAA Division I John McDonnell Program of the Year Award standings in 2016, Georgetown is primed for another successful season on the track. Green hopes to break his slump and contribute points to this year’s effort.

“We’ve had very successful track teams at NCAAs the past couple of years,” Green said. “Bonsey and I have talked about this, and that is where I want to focus this year, running fast track times and running very well at NCAAs.”

As Green ponders his future after Georgetown, he has several paths to weigh before making his decision. He is currently enrolled in the Sports Industry Management graduate program at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies, and while Green would love to continue his running career, he is also applying to jobs in federal law enforcement. He and his coaches have also petitioned the NCAA for a medical redshirt that would allow him another semester of collegiate competition for the 2018 cross country season if he chooses to return to Georgetown. He is covering all of his bases for potential backup plans, but make no mistake—Green’s ideal outcome is continuing his running career.

“The NCAA doesn’t allow us to talk to agents, so we are very much in the dark until after Outdoors,” Green said. “I would love to keep running. I think if I run well this [track] season, I might have options there.”

“I think Jon has just scratched the surface of how good he can be,” Bonsey said. “I really think he can get a lot better and be one of the top distance runners in the U.S.”

When Green reflects on his experience competing with an Olympic champion at the 2016 Great Edinburgh race, he knows those races are where he belongs.

“It was a cool experience, but it was also kind of eye-opening where you have to realize, yes I was in the race with [Farah], but I also had a [United States] teammate who competed for the win against him and beat him,” Green said. “So, it was one of those things where you realize these guys aren’t untouchable.”

The future looks bright for Green if he chooses to continue to run. He may toe the line with Farah again, and if he does, it’ll be anybody’s race.


Nick Gavio
Nick is the Voice's former editorial board chair. Follow him on Twitter at @nickgavio, where he primarily retweets cute puppy videos.


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