October 2016 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Mastering the Science & Technology of Triathlon as a Ticket to Kona
By Christine McKnight
Kristofer Johnson likes to challenge himself. He has a self-contained drive that’s propelled him in three years from his first sprint triathlon to the pinnacle of the sport, the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on Oct. 8. Kris attributes his success to just staying focused on steady improvements. He’s also brought his technology background to bear on his mastery of the triathlon.
“The science and technology behind it is actually a big portion of the sport that I enjoy,” he said. “There is so much to it and so much to learn that it keeps things fresh. You have the combination of the three sports, plus how technology changes every aspect of the sport, and then you also need to understand how the body changes physically as you train through the years.”
A former mountain biker, Kris purchased his first carbon fiber road bike in 2012, with the goals of improving his fitness and going faster. Then he took some swim lessons and decided, “I’m going to try a triathlon.”
His first race was the Hudson Crossing Triathlon in 2013. “After that, I got the bug, and I realized that any distance is possible.” He completed his first half-iron distance race, HITS Hunter Mountain, in the fall of 2013, and raced his first Ironman, Lake Placid, in 2014, where he finished in 10:21 on a day when the normal two-loop swim was shortened to one loop because of thunderstorms. “It was the equivalent of about an 11-hour day, but it was tough because there was thunder, lightning and hail, and I spent the first hour of the bike shivering. I was just happy to finish because of the cold, and I knew I could improve on that,” Kris recalled.
In 2015, he tackled Ironman Coeur D’Alene. It was 107 degrees, one of the warmest Ironmans on record, and Kris finished strongly in 11:01, even as the overall field experienced a huge dropout rate. That set the stage for a 10:05 finish this year at Lake Placid, where he earned a Kona berth in the 40-45 age group with a beautifully executed race-day plan. He was fifth out of 443 competitors in his age group, which, as the largest, offered four Kona slots and one roll down berth. He happily accepted the roll down.
It’s been something of a meteoric rise for Kris, a modest guy who puts it down to a combination of careful research and preparation, steadily improving fitness, embrace of technology, smart nutrition, a strong support team, and a bit of luck.
“Any IM race requires preparation months in advance. I regularly adjust my training schedule to accommodate work/life changes. I make nutrition a priority, try to be well rested for key sessions, and listen to my body,” said Kris, who is a member of the Saratoga Triathlon Club. “For IMLP I was a little undertrained, which is precisely how you want to feel for this event. Based on early season races, I had an idea of where my limits were and from that I generated a race and nutrition plan.”
Kris creates his own training plans, typically beginning six months from his “A” race. Significantly, he has had no major injuries.
As an endurance athlete, Kris takes nutrition seriously. He keeps a log of what works and what doesn’t during workouts and racing. “Every race will have a different set of conditions, and you’ll need to make adjustments – for example, in hot weather, increase your water and mineral intake,” he said. As the season progresses, he said, athletes should find that their in-race caloric needs drop as fitness increases.
“I enjoy the science and technology of triathlon,” he said. “There is a lot to learn. I enjoy the research and filtering out the nonsense.”
Kris, who grew up in Bellingham, Wash., relocated to the Capital District in 1999 for work. A lifetime cyclist, he balances training and work by adjusting his training schedule, and traveling with running shoes at all times. Rest days are often incorporated into long work or travel days.
Having an enthusiastic team behind him has also proven invaluable, even if some of them live on the other side of the country. Joining Kris in Kona will be his mother, Sharonne Johnson of Bellingham; his sister Heather Christensen and friends Tim and Sandra Stewart, all from Spokane, Wash.; and Kris’s “better half,” Courtney Gelish of Saratoga Springs.
“I am so lucky to have a family, friends and loved ones who are willing to travel and support me,” he said. “We visit some great places, and the vacations tend to be a bit ‘healthier’ than past years.”
Looking ahead to next year, Kris plans to focus on the 70.3, or half iron, distance, with the goal of qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, Tenn., next September.
At Kona, Kris will be mixing it up with some of the world’s greatest athletes on a course notorious for brutal heat and winds. He’s up for it. His goals: to enjoy the day, to finish, and to finish well, hopefully, in under 10 hours – in that order.
The most challenging part of being a triathlete, especially an Ironman? Balancing the training with the rest of life. That, and the 3am alarm on race day.
Christine McKnight (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a triathlete who lives in Wilton.
Post Kona update from Kris…
I’m home from a successful visit to The Big Island... Thank you and great job on this month’s Athlete Profile! I am absolutely honored to be in this publication... So well written and presented, thank you!
The Ironman World Championship race was more difficult than anticipated. I did not feel acclimated to the intense heat and was a bit slower than anticipated, but what an incredible day! The week ahead of the race was a lot of fun with my family, I met many athletes and their families, including many of the past Ironman champions.
Race Summary – Swim: 1:19:45, Bike 5:31:19 and Run 3:44:29 for an Overall time of 10:47:49. This was 168th in my 40-44 age group and 950 of 2,400 overall – a very competitive race!
Thanks again... Cheers!