Chris Johnson finished his first triathlon last June, covering the Ironman 70.3 Boise course in 7 hours, 16 minutes, 37 seconds. A year prior, he was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day and drinking a fifth of liquor every other day.
Johnson, a 31-year-old Nampa resident, will compete in the annual 70.3-mile event Saturday for the second time, with eyes on a better finish after fully submersing himself in the triathlon world.
In addition to 60 hours of work a week, Johnson has trained two hours a day, six days a week, for the last seven months. He's found a new addiction after his former vices weren't exactly beneficial.
"It got pretty bad - work, school, bar, repeat - I knew people wanted to say something, but just couldn't," Johnson said. "I think the Ironman at first was something to get me into shape, and also it was the one thing that could take me away from what I wasn't able to get over before."
Johnson will celebrate his second anniversary with his wife, Jen, on Monday.
He said getting married sparked a turnaround in his lifestyle, giving up drinking a month before his wedding. He gave up smoking the day he signed up for that first Ironman event.
"It started as kind of a new way to approach physical fitness, but it's gone way beyond that," Johnson said. " turned out you can't be a smoker and do triathlons."
An avid rock climber, Johnson got into mountaineering in recent years, going as far as to attempting to break speed ascent records. He said there was not much of a training regimen for the sport, and he initially thought a triathlon would help. It has instead become his sport of choice.
"I put away all my climbing gear," Johnson said. " I'm looking forward to getting back to it, but not until I do a full (140-mile) Ironman."
Once he does a full Ironman, Johnson hopes he will be fit enough to climb Mount Everest solo and without oxygen, a very rare feat (only 3 percent of Everest summits are done without supplemental oxygen).
From "an elite climber with a tummy" to being near 200 pounds with just 6.1 percent body fat, the training has changed Johnson, who is running 7-minute miles after averaging 12:25 per mile at least year's Ironman event.
"He's not just a guy that wanted to go out and try - he's got such a desire to learn," running coach Brian Baker said. "That addictive personality is a great fit for the triathlon."
When he was 17 and attending Skyview High, Johnson quickly became addicted to meth, and a potential jail term was avoided when he entered the Navy. During his three-and-a-half years in the service, Johnson helped seize massive drug shipments.
"It's kind of crazy the stuff that would've put me in jail was what got me medals," he said.
Baker and Johnson both noted that stories similar to Johnson's are not uncommon in triathlons given the life changes associated with the sport. And Johnson hopes his tale can help others that are or were in his situation.
"I don't think it's too crazy a story, but if I can have someone that was like me and see this can be done, that would mean a lot," Johnson said.
NEW FINISH FOR IRONMAN
After placing the finish line in BoDo since the race's inception in 2008, the Ironman 70.3 Boise will finish at the western end of Julia Davis Park on Saturday.
The move was made for a few reasons - one, the finish closed parts of busy Myrtle and Front streets, to the dismay of non-race fans. Two, the Boise Centre, previously the home base for the triathlon, is unavailable this weekend. Race planners had hoped to move the finish onto Capitol Boulevard, but the Saint Al's Capitol Classic is being held on the street Saturday.
"It'll be a bit of a compromise, and it might be a one-year deal, but we won't be tying up major roads for six hours, and we still have a downtown finish," co-director Mike Cooley said.
For more information about Saturday's race, check out the event's website.
OHNO IN BOISE? OH YES
Eight-time Winter Olympic medalist Apolo Anton Ohno, one of the most decorated speedskaters in history, will compete in his first triathlon Saturday in the Ironman 70.3 Boise. Ohno is hoping to qualify for the 140.6-mile Ironman in Hawaii in October.
Ohno is coached by Craig Alexander, a three-time Ironman world champion and two-time Ironman 70.3 Boise champion. He will compete in Saturday's event for the first time since winning it in 2010. Bevan Docherty, the men's champion last year, will not return, but 2011 champion Ben Hoffman is expected to compete. Defending women's champion Liz Lyles is in Saturday's field, as is Boise pro Erin Green (fourth last year).