Saturday, May 18, 2019

Coming of Age: Interview with Dan Johnston

Dan Johnston is a young gun who's been on a meteoric rise since doing his first triathlon (an Ironman!) in 2016. He took 4th overall at last year's State Championships and was the fastest local age grouper at St. George 70.3 two weeks ago.

Thanks for the time, Dan!

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

Growing up my parents put my siblings and me in almost every sport imaginable. By high school we each had one sport that we focused on and mine was tennis. In college I really missed being involved in a competitive sport and a year before I graduated me and a couple of friends decided on a whim to try an Ironman (2015 Ironman Lake Tahoe). We were a little clueless on how to train but knew we needed to be swimming, biking, and running a lot leading up to the race! I ended up getting injured 2 weeks before the race in a bike crash and was unable to race but I found another friend to do the Coeur d’Alene Ironman with in 2016. After that I was hooked! I ended up joining the Salt Lake Triathlon Club (SLTC) after the Coeur d’Alene race and then started doing local races beginning with Icebreaker in 2017

Remind us, are you from Alabama originally? If so, what originally brought you to Utah and do you think you’ll stay around a while?

Yes, I was born in Alabama and moved around the Southeast growing up (military family). When my dad retired from the Army we moved to Utah my junior year of high school (2009). I really like Utah and have no plans of moving. It is such a great state for outdoor activities and I would like to think it has one of the best triathlon communities in the country between the various tri clubs, triathlon race organizers, and multitude of triathletes within the state.

We’re pretty sure you were the first Utah amateur at St. George 70.3 (Swim 29, Bike 2:18, Run 1:37 for 4:32 overall). You knocked 43 min off your time from 2018… how did you pull off such massive improvement?

I think the biggest reason for my improvement from 2018 to 2019 has been having a great coach. Since 2017 Rory Duckworth has been coaching me and he has the experience to understand what it takes to improve and get faster as a triathlete. If I had been training on my own without a coach I would not have had the improvements I have seen, specifically from the St. George 2018 race to the 2019 race. In addition to the coaching, being involved with SLTC has allowed me to meet tons of people to train and race with so it keeps the sport fun and enjoyable.

Our spotters indicated you looked like you were laying it all out there, in a world of hurt like a true warrior. How would you summarize the day?

The day started out with some uncertainty as I was going in with a nagging leg issue for the month leading up to it. It only affected me on the run so I was hopeful the race day adrenaline would take over and I could run without any pain. For the swim my time was roughly where it typically is, and knowing my run might be affected by my leg I decided about 5 miles into the bike to not hold anything back and really race the bike segment hard without trying to “save” anything for the run.

Getting into T2 I was pretty gassed but within the first mile of the run I could tell my leg wasn’t going to be a problem, and also that I was still able to hold a decent pace. The final 3 miles of the run were tough; unfortunately, I took one energy gel too many around mile 11 of the run and ended up throwing up 3 times! Overall, race day exceeded my expectations and reminded me why I love the St. George race between the difficulty of the course, amazing scenery, and huge turnout the Utah triathlon community has at it.

You’ve had a few long-course races in the past where you’ve thrown down a sizzling swim and bike, then struggled a bit on the run. What lessons have you learned from past races (ie nutrition, pacing, training, etc)?

In previous races I have gone out way too hard for the first couple of miles on the run for my run fitness level, and it has really negatively affected my pace for the remainder 70% of the run. I’d like to think after doing a few long distance races I am better at pacing the first half of the run segment so I don’t drastically drop off pace wise for the second half. Additionally, I recently switched up my race nutrition on the bike from solids to liquids which has seemed to really help with how I feel starting the run and limiting leg cramps on the run which has been my Achilles heel in the past. 

Dan, Rory and Kate Westra @ Oceanside

You’ve shown a lot of talent from sprint to Ironman... for example, 4th overall and 1st in your AG at the State Champs last year (Brineman Olympic in 2018, this year's State Champs host is Salem). What do you feel is your best & worst distance?

My best distance is probably the half or full Ironman distance and my worst is the sprint distance. Though the sprint distance is the shortest distance/time wise, it can be one of the toughest because you are really suffering the entire time. For half and full Ironman races, the effort is not as much of a “death zone” compared to racing a sprint distance triathlon. 

Dan at last year's State Champs race, the Brineman Olympic

What else is on your schedule for 2019?

Echo Olympic, Jordanelle Olympic, Brineman Olympic, and Ironman Arizona

What are your thoughts on the St. George news & changes… will you be throwing your hat in the ring for the full Ironman St. George in 2020?

I am extremely excited by it! I have already signed up for IMSTG 2020 and cannot wait for the race. Since I was not involved in triathlon back when they last had it in 2012, I have only heard stories from people that did it and I think it is so cool that we finally have the full back in Utah. I think most people were hoping we would either get the full again or the Ironman 70.3 World Championships but no one was really expecting we would get both.

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2016, Dan's first tri

What’s your podium for favorite local races and why?

First Brineman late season race so temperatures are perfect and the bike course rides on the causeway which is beautiful. Second Jordanelle best lake in Utah for an open water swim in my opinion and has a unique run course that is not completely flat so is a fun challenge. Third – Ice Breaker great way to kick off the year and this was my first Utah triathlon so I’ll always enjoy going to it whether it is to spectate or race.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Thanks for the time and everything that Utah Tri Buzz does to promote triathlon in Utah. I think Utah Tri Buzz is great for Utah triathlon and also adds a fun dynamic to races as well as the triathlon scene.


Below are links to all the races in the 2019 Championship Series:

Below are links to all Challenger Races:

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