Finding Inspiration Together With...Kristen Johnson, Boston Marathon Finisher
Whoever said you can't have it all has never met Kristen Johnson. This woman trained for and completed her first Boston Marathon at just six months postpartum with her second child, while working full time, and managing her blog , "Baby 2 Boston," which chronicles her journey. An inspiration for mothers, runners, and women in general, Kristen recently not only qualified for her second Boston Marathon in February at the Rock n Roll Marathon in New Orleans, she placed third overall in the female category with an almost unheard of 15 minute PR. How does this super woman (who has been dubbed,"the gazelle," for her speed) do it al--especially in regards to keeping up her training during a pandemic? Determination, dedication....and good old fashioned hard work.
Have you always been a runner? No, I was a dancer--I actually hated running. But my dad ran several marathons so, I grew up watching him run every week and I started after college. I've been at it about seven years now.
How do you go from "hating to run," to setting your sights on the Boston Marathon?
Boston is an opportunity given only to the fast---and I've always wanted to be fast. Plus, that race is so highly regarded, and there's so much energy around what it signifies to the running community. All of the world's greats have run the race. The idea of being part of it was infectious.
It was a long and sometimes heartbreaking journey for you---how did you get there?
When I finished my first full in 3:59, I didn't really know anything about pace or time goals-- I just wanted to cover the distance. The following year I reduced my time to 3:47 and I realized that I could probably get to the 3:35 Boston qualifying time, so I set a goal and trained hard. When the day came, I missed qualifying by just three minutes and I was devastated--but I was also 10 weeks pregnant so I listened to my body and slowed down. After that third race, I took a break, focused on my family and being a new mom. At 10 months postpartum I started training again using free plans I found on the internet and in Runner's World Magazine. My sole focus was to Boston qualify this fourth time around, and I did with a time of 3:29:57.
You have a popular blog, "Baby2Boston." How did that start?
So after qualifying for Boston, two things happened: First, I realized that just because I qualified didn't mean I'd be accepted and second, if I wanted to have my children close in age, I needed to have my second baby before the race. I got pregnant and started the Instagram blog because I realized I was in a unique position because if I actually got in I would be freshly postpartum. I wanted to not only share this story, but also show people what it takes to be a marathoner. I was nervous about starting "Baby2Boston," because it was so far out of my comfort zone. I had some content ideas but wasn't sure what would happen long term. Worst case scenario I thought, no one would read it and I could just shut it down.
Obviously that didn't happen-lol!
No! Almost immediately I was connecting with "mother runners" from all over the country--women just like me who were running races pregnant or postpartum. It really changed my life and opened many doors. I joined running communities and groups including Oiselle Volee, a female powered running brand and community, which has allowed me to connect with other local female runners. We do group runs together, which is good for training and for the soul, plus I learn more about the sport from them. I was also able to connect with runners (and mothers) who were running Boston 2019 and then meet up with them in real life. Running is now a community to me and everyone has been so supportive of me and my goals. In fact, I'm not all that unique anymore.
Your first Boston Marathon didn't go exactly how you'd imagined thanks to leg cramps that forced you to walk part of the route. What did you learn?
The biggest lesson I learned is that progress isn't linear. I was facing an uphill battle on Boston race day being just six months postpartum. I was breastfeeding, so I wasn't sleeping through the night, I had just returned to my full time job a few months earlier, and I had a lot going on at the time. But for me, Boston was always the celebration race-- and it proved to be just that. People line the historic course from start to finish and cheer you on the entire way. Was I upset about my time and my cramping a day or two later? Yes. But that's the thing about marathoning. Those setbacks keep the fire lit.
You recently qualified for the 2021 Boston Marathon with an impressive 3:14:25 at the New Orleans Rock n Roll Marathon in February. What is your training plan and how do you stay motivated, especially during this pandemic?
This pandemic has been very stressful--even in terms of my running. At first, my mind would be filled with negative thoughts that I literally couldn't outrun. But as we are settling into our new "normal" routine, I think I've turned a corner. Marathon training is about repetition and some days you have to get up and go when you don't feel like it. It's a process that builds on itself and we all have good days and bad days. I have a coach and a training plan so I just get out there and do what I need to do because I've got big goals, and that's the path to get there.
How do you juggle a full time job, two kids, and training?
Well, it’s not easy. I run most days around 5:15 or 5:30 a.m. so I can fit it into my schedule and be back before the kids get up around 6:30 a.m. I also try to get in bed right after them around 9:30 or 10 p.m. which makes it tough to have any personal down time. Long runs on the weekend during marathon season take a lot of time, so it’s true that running marathons is really a full family effort. I rely on my husband and family for help.
How does your active lifestyle help you beyond the physical benefits? I think it's super important to stay physically active and show my kids what it takes to achieve your goals and have fun along the way. It makes me feel good physically and mentally so I keep doing it but in addition to my me time, it symbolizes hard work, having goals that are bigger than myself, and achievement. I prove to myself every day that I'm capable of so much.