Johnson is an Ironman!
By Blair Stalder
April 1, 2012
He couldn’t eat bananas for about two months after June 27, 2010.
It’s not because he had eaten a rotten banana, or because he found out he was allergic to them that day.
Assistant professor of physical education Britt Johnson couldn’t eat bananas because of the several he devoured while doing the Ironman Triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run, in that order.
“Everybody has their own thing; this happens to be mine,” Johnson said.
In the past, Johnson, who was a runner and swimmer at Albion College in Michigan, has run indoor triathlons, marathons and half Ironmans. However, he had never tried an Ironman Triathlon. Although he’s always wanted to do the race, he didn’t really have the time train for it until he took a teaching job at Missouri Western in the fall of 2009. Johnson was living in Kansas City while his wife was still finishing her tenure in Michigan, so this time away from his family allowed him to train for the race.
“I figured if I’m even going to do it (the Ironman Triathlon), now’s the time.” Johnson said. “I go home to an empty apartment, so I might as well go ride the bike for hours on end.”
Johnson researched several workout plans and decided on one that happened to be around 125 pages long. He summarized it into 10 pages, which totaled to be 36 weeks long.
The first week, he was scheduled to do a 30-minute swim, 50 minutes on the bike and a 35-minute run. Toward the end of his training, it had progressed to where he would have to do 5 hours and 15 minutes on the bike and a 2 hour-45 minute run.
After the weeks of constant training, Johnson felt ready.
Unfortunately on the drive up to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where the race was held, Johnson said he made the mistake of attaching the bike to the back of his car. After about a mile from where he left, he hit a pothole which caused his bike to hang from the vehicle — and drag against the road. The rim was bent, a tire was popped and everything was out of line; luckily he still had about four days before the race and was able to fix his bike.
Johnson used this experience to prepare for any possible mechanical breakdowns during the race by packing extra tires and tools.
Once he arrived to Coeur d’Alene, he set his packs for the race then waited for the next morning.
The race began at 7 a.m. and would ultimately end at midnight, finished or not. Tagged as number 435, Johnson made his way to the 61-degree lake where the race would start.
“It was very scenic; it was nice to be able to look around, and you were in the middle of nowhere…with 2,200 of your best friends,” Johnson said.
Two rows of participants lined up before the water a quarter of a mile long. Johnson was never worried about not finishing the race; he feared more of mechanical issues and accidental injuries.
“I was the farthest person on the right. Literally nobody was on my right, which made me probably swim an extra 100 yards, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want anybody to kick me in the face, and I didn’t want any of those issues,” Johnson.
Johnson’s nose remained unscathed as he pulled out of the water 83rd.
Then he was on to the 112-mile bike ride.
Throughout the bike section, Johnson had to stay optimistic because his legs were sore — very sore. Johnson said his mentality was all positive thoughts, like “I can do this,” “Hey, that 5 hours wasn’t all that bad” and “I have another 20 miles on the bike left to do.”
“One of the best feelings was when I got five miles of the finish of the bike,” Johnson said. “I thought ‘Yes, I’m going to make it’ and then when I actually handed off the bike, I was like ‘All right I’m done, let’s go run.’ Then I took about three steps and thought, ‘I’ll walk a little bit.’”
Johnson’s “little bit” turned into walking for about half a mile before beginning to take a quicker pace, but he pulled through. On the bright side, it was sunny and 75 degrees out; he was enjoying Lake Coeur d’Alene and people watching.
The running consisted of two laps; when Johnson had two hours and about a mile and half to go, he could see the other participants still on their first lap — or eight miles to go.
“The hardest part of the whole race was when I got to that point and saw all their faces,” Johnson said. “They’re just as tired and trying just as hard as I am, but you’re looking at them saying ‘You have no chance, you’re not going to make it.’
“I almost started crying.”
Although he was feeling empathetic, he had to keep moving.
For the triathlon, it’s tradition for people to line up from a half a mile from the finish line and scream and cheer for the participants. There is also a radio announcer who says each name as they finish, and Johnson worked so hard over the last mile to pay attention to where people were to make sure he was the only one crossing the finish line so he could hear his name.
He was near three people who were going about the same pace, but after about three-fourths of a mile left, he turned on what he had left and went ahead about 200 yards and stayed there.
Unfortunately, he was so tired when he finished that he wasn’t able to hear the announcer exclaim “Britt Johnson, you’re an Ironman!”
By that point, however, Johnson was just happy that he finished and beat his goal of 15 hours by 5 minutes and 42 seconds. He finished 118th in his age group and 738th overall.
He was so exhausted that he couldn’t even lift his very light bag that carried his clothes. He was given free Dominos Pizza and received about a 20-minute massage afterward, compliments of the triathlon committee. Later he needed help getting into the shower.
But Johnson recovered quickly; he said he felt fine the next day.
Since then, he has been able to teach his PED classes about physical activity and nutrition through his experiences. While he is still teaching at Western, he also continues to run, swim and bike when he can.
Although Johnson enjoyed the Ironman Triathlon as a whole, he probably won’t do it again because he is more family-oriented now that they live with him. But he is planning to run an ultra-marathon in November.
“Knowing how difficult the day actually was, if I can do that, what can’t I do?”