In just a few years, Collingwood, Ontario’s Claudia Johnston has become one of Canada’s top age group triathletes. She posted a convincing age-category win at Ironman France-Nice in 2009 and followed that up with an oh-so-close-to-the-podium finish at the Ford Ironman World Championship where she finished sixth in the women’s 35 to 39 age category.
TMC: Can you tell me a bit about your family? How many kids do you have (I believe it’s five) and how old are they?
CJ: Yes, we have five children. Our youngest is three-year-old Arden, Dea, who is five, Warren, six, Maverick, 12 and Anya, who is 13.
TMC: Do you work outside the home?
CJ: I work and volunteer some hours at the YMCA. In the Winter I am a ski instructor. I do lots of volunteer work – my latest project is running a Kids of Steel program at Nottawa Public School. Getting kids and families active is one of my most important goals.
TMC: How do you manage to balance family life and training?
CJ: I try to involve our children as much as possible. When I run, for instance, two can go in the stroller and the rest of them can ride their bikes. In the summer I will get up at 5 am to ride so, if I have a long training day, I can be done at a decent hour and do things with my family together. I have also learnt to ask my husband for help. He is an amazing support. I think letting him take care of the kids allowed him to grow closer to them.
TMC: How much training do you do? Can you outline a typical training week?
CJ: I train more than I did in the past right now. I am so grateful to be trained by Barrie Shepley (Personal Best) and to work with the C3 High Performance Team. It makes a huge difference to have a coach and a team to support you.
Mondays and Fridays I teach spinning, those are typically my biking and swimming days, then Tuesdays I have my two little girls with me, so I run that day. I also swim and then I go to the school to train with the kids there. We usually work on core and strength that day, so it is perfect for me, too. The longer workouts are on normally on weekends. My favourite is to bike up and down the Niagara Escarpment and to run on the Bruce Trail. I love hills.
TMC: How did you get into the sport?
CJ: When my second child, Maverick, was born, I decided to feel better about myself again. With my first two kids born only 18 months apart, it is easy to lose yourself. I joined a gym and I realized that I enjoyed running the best. I also didn’t have a car then, so I would run and bike everywhere with the kids in the trailer. My first husband and I split up for various reasons – running became my biggest stress relief. That is how I got into ultra running. When the kids spent the weekend with my ex-husband, I would run for hours on trails. I still love running hours on the Bruce Trail. There used to be a triathlon here in Collingwood, so I decided to sign up, but only for the duathlon. I didn’t know how to swim freestyle. I did my first race on a Canadian Tire bike. I knew I wanted to do the swim, too, so I started to swim. In my first Triathlon, I almost drowned. I was really close to being pulled out of the water. Then I met my husband Owen and we had three more kids together, so I was pregnant all the time, but I always stayed fairly active throughout. There was not much time for anything – I was either nursing, changing diapers, or simply very pregnant, but running was my one thing I never gave up. (I remember running the day before our youngest was born).
I really got into the sport three years ago, after my fifth child was born. I think it all started with my postpartum depression. Working out made me feel much better. Also, I wanted to show that although I was a mom of five, I could still achieve high goals. I started to train more specifically for triathlon. It was amazing how quickly my body responded to the training. Mentally I became such a happy person again and, therefore, I was able to be a great role model and mom to my kids.
TMC: What was your sports background growing up?
CJ: I first was in ballet for eight years. I danced four times a week for about two to three hours at a time. It was one of the toughest things I ever did. Along with that, I rode horses and, when I turned 13, I got into showjumping and dropped dancing. I often rode my bike to the stables (15km), rode the horses and then rode my bike back home. Of course, being Swiss, I ski a lot. (Mostly downhill, but some cross country) Then there was all the hiking we did in the Swiss Alps. I am very grateful to my parents for exposing me to all these sports.
TMC: Are any of your children budding triathletes?
CJ: All our children like to swim, bike and run, so they will probably all have a go at it. (Of course, the two boys will try to make the NHL first.)
TMC: What do your family and friends think of your triathlon exploits?
CJ: My husband Owen provides lots of support of me. All my family is right behind me. I couldn’t do Ironman without their help. When I went to France and Hawaii, I had to ask Owen’s sisters if they would babysit the kids. They did, and there was nothing better for me than to know that they were in good hands! All of my family lives in Switzerland. My parents have supported me over the phone and, of course, financially. (When you have five children there is not much money left for your own exploits) My mom worries a lot – she thinks all that training can’t be good for me. When I was racing in France, she was very worried about the bike portion. I feel bad when she worries.
My children are excited about me racing and it seems to inspire them. They are all great little athletes. I know that they are learning right now that to achieve your dream and goals takes hard work and passion.