Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Jen Johnson - BAM Mom. Fast Mom!

Jen Johnson is well-known on the local scene... for starters, she and her husband Wes are the celebrity couple behind BAM, a team that is producing fast athletes and breakthrough performances in droves. 

Secondly, Jen herself is one of those fast athletes, having punched her ticket to Kona and winning the Echo Olympic last week (as two of many examples). Among other things, here she talks about what makes BAM tick and the insanity that was this year's Ironman Texas.

Thanks for the time, Jen, and best of luck to you and the entire BAM FAM!

Can you give us a quick history of BAM, up to where you’re at today?

Wes has been coaching full-time for 8 years now. He has always coached and ran training camps along with other programs since that time. It wasn’t until about 4-5 years ago that we identified ourselves as Balanced Art Multisport (BAM). An athlete living in San Fransisco that Wes coached at the time actually helped us come up with the name. We felt it really embodied our training and coaching philosophy. It’s an ART— there is no cookie cutter plan but real coaching takes thought and personalization. It is also learning to balance the 3 disciplines along with nutrition and recovery. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and where and when to spend your time on each. However, it is also about balancing training with work, family life, and other stressors. It is about becoming a balanced athlete all around.

With our growth we now have an entire team of coaches and specialists working with our athletes.

What’s the vision for BAM going forward?

Our vision is to continue growing in the right kind of way. We want athletes and coaches to be a part of this team that contribute to the amazing atmosphere and family feel that we have created. We look at everyone on the team as human beings rather than just athletes. We care about every single one of them and we want to keep that even as we grow and get bigger. We have always been careful about growing too quickly to a point that we are not ready for it. We want to create an environment of success where everyone can succeed if they put in the work. Every year we get closer and closer to creating that perfect environment for success. We still have a ways to go to get where we want to be but it's all coming together year by year.

What’s the most fun/rewarding aspect and least fun/challenging aspect of helping run BAM for you personally?

I love the friendships and relationships I have made. It is rewarding to work together and accomplish things together as the BAM FAM. Everyone is supportive of each other and it creates a great training environment, which I feel is important since we spend a huge amount of our time with each other. Training should be fun!

The most challenging aspect is the time. This job never stops and isn’t a 9-5 hour day. Our busiest hours are when others aren’t at work so that is early mornings, evenings, and weekends. It definitely requires balance to make it work for our family.

Who’s on the BAM podium (can name more than that if you want) for M.I.T. – Most Improved Triathletes over the past 1-2 years?

Everyone has improved!! If they weren’t improving then we wouldn’t be doing our job right :) Such a tough question. We are full of very different people and lots of different personalities— it makes it fun!

Megan Foley & Skye Moench
For those of us not entirely in the know, who are your dangerous young bucks who compete at Elite nationals, etc? Where did you guys find all this young talent?

Probably the one person you don’t know about is Megan Foley. She races on the PRO ITU circuit so isn’t seen on the local scene much. She has been racing PRO for over a year now and a lot of people don’t know about her because she doesn’t race Ironman events. Short course isn’t well followed or known about in Utah but they are some fast incredible athletes.

The youth elites are: Evan Santo, Tucker Hathaway, Trinity Schimbeck, Ty Perkins, and Ryan Rummens. We also have the #2 junior athlete from Chile moving here to be a part of our team next week. He is 16 years old but should be making a name for himself on the local scene this upcoming year. Most of them are involved with high school swimming and cross country/track as well. We also run a kids camp all summer long for youth as young as 8, which allows us to identify and develop fast talent from a young age.

What’s your athletic background and how did you get into triathlon?

I grew up dancing through middle school but didn’t play any sports growing up. Actually, people from high school see me what I do now and are quite surprised since I was no athlete before.

I started casually running with roommates in college and ran my first marathon shortly after graduating from BYU. I quickly realized through injuries that the amount of running marathon training required wasn’t for me. As a graduation gift I received some money and put that towards buying my first road bike. That following spring I registered for the Boise 70.3 and got my start in triathlon. I signed up with a friend, who ended up being the one to set Wes and I up on our first date!

Ironman Texas was quite the day… give us a quick synopsis from your perspective, and how were you able to handle all that chaos and punch your ticket to Kona?

Texas was a whirlwind and it's hard to process my thoughts and emotions on the day. I started the race very calm and with the goal of qualifying for Kona. I knew based on my training and past race results that it was a real possibility and a realistic goal if I could put together a good race. Texas had many changes the weeks and just days before the race.

The bike course wasn’t released until a few weeks before and then was shortened due to the flooding taking place in the area. 2 days before, the swim course was changed and it went from being a single transition area to two separate locations. The new bike course also added in 85+ turns, which is very uncommon for an IM race. This of course was nerve racking but I took control of the situation and spent an afternoon practicing cornering and turns in a parking lot with Precision Bike fit coach Jeff Sherrod. I went into race day confident in my ability to handle the turns in aero and figured we were all doing the same race and nothing we could do about the changes.

Race day was of course hot and humid. The heat really started to get to me on the 2nd (of 3) lap of the run. It wasn’t until my 3rd lap that the cloud cover came in and it started to cool off. Then the rain… It turned into a strong wind and hail. It was so hard to run against the wind. It was like everything was fighting against your body moving forward and the hail pelting our bodies really hurt. There was also water blowing up off the canal and we were left running in inches of standing water. Honestly, it was crazy and all I could think about was my daughter and hoping she was okay. I wasn’t surprised at all that they made us stop. Really with the lightning and crazy storm it wasn’t safe for us to be out there and I did think it was crazy we were out there for as long as we were. The poor volunteers and spectators as well. The run aid stations were completely blown over and there was no support for the runners. I was at mile 26 when I diverted from the run into a parking garage and told the race was stopped. I didn’t know what to think at this point. Was the day over? Would I be able to say I finished even though I had .2 miles left? What about Kona? What had I worked so hard for? Was my daughter able to find shelter? Was the storm going to get worse?

heading to Kona, along with Tracy Campbell
At one point I didn’t even care about the race anymore. I just wanted to be safe and hold my baby and find Wes. I honestly felt like we were in a natural disaster. Standing in the cold and shivering was so hard on my body but when they told us we could go back out on the course I sprinted. Being stopped in the garage only allowed for several of the girls who weren’t far behind me to catch up. We were all in the garage together and left the garage together. I sprinted that last 1/4 mile and was one of the first to cross the finish line after they announced the race had resumed. Everything at the finish line had blown over. There wasn’t a single spectator. No Mike Riley announcing you were an Ironman. It was just me and a desolate scene. I crossed the finish line almost in shock. There was a single volunteer there and she came out from under an umbrella, put a medal around my neck and asked if I was okay. All I could say back to her was “I don’t know.” With 3 miles to go I had seen Wes and he had told me my mom and Jayda were at the finish line waiting for me. And none of that happened. It was definitely a mix of emotions.

Did you put a lot of pressure and expectations on yourself to qualify or did it come naturally? Are you stressed or pretty carefree thinking about October?

Honestly I really had no pressure or expectations. I went into race day focused on my own race plan. Of course Wes and I talked about the possibility of Kona this year but it wasn’t until my performance in Oceanside 70.3 that I really made it a goal and realized the potential I had. I felt like more of the pressure was on Wes. I had 100% commitment to my training plan and just did what he said. No pressure right!? :) It took a lot of me trusting the process every day, especially on those hard days.

I am definitely carefree about October! It’s my celebratory race.

Rank the three disciplines from your strongest to weakest. Also, what were some of the keys that led to such a major accomplishment (especially not very long after having a baby!).

I think I am pretty equal in all 3! That’s what makes me a triathlete right :) But if you were to ask Wes he would say I am strongest on the bike. Then probably the run with swim being my weakest. (Although I do consider myself a strong and confident swimmer).

The biggest difference in my training this year was my recovery. I made my easy days very easy and my hard days hard! That and I took a nap almost every single day!! It worked great to have my husband Wes as my coach cause often times the communication between athlete and coach is what holds people back. He was able to see my training and how I was responding and recovering from those workouts on a daily basis. I become very good at listening to my body and knowing when to pull things back or dial it down.

I attribute most of my improvement this year to my dedication to recovery but as far as key training— I would say it was attending 4 training camps this winter. 100% focus on training and recovery with no distractions for weeks at a time. This past winter we trained in San Diego, Tucson, and St George. While at home I would bike 3-4x a week on the Computrainer, attend Masters swimming, and would do my easy recovery runs on Dr. Tom Fletcher’s Anti-Gravity treadmill. Like I said— easy days easy, and the only way I could keep my run milage higher without risking injury.

Your husband, the infamous Wes, is built like Michael Phelps. How can normal people get faster in the water?

Consistency. Swimming often. I always tell people that it is better for them to swim 4x a week for 30 min than 2x a week for an hour. Have your stroke looked at. Work on your technique but mostly it just takes hours and hours in the pool.

Podium for favorite venues/races in Utah?

Oh…I love them all!!! Utah is so amazingly beautiful and we are lucky to have so many great races almost every single weekend. Get out and race!! Racing is what gives you experience and makes you a better triathlete. You can train day after day but you don’t learn to race unless you race.

Learn more about BAM here

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