Meet Jesika Johnson - Triathlete Mum of the Month!
It's funny how motherhood can bring people together. I first met Jesika on Instagram while we were both pregnant with our second babies. She quickly earned my respect with her dedication to maintaining a fit pregnancy while also caring for her toddler! We both love running and triathlon, as well as the Pacific Northwest, and the craziness that is being a mother to two little babies!!
I'm impressed every week with Jesika's dedication to triathlon and being a mom. She is not only inspiring, but an incredible example of a motivated athlete who works hard to successfully balance fitness and motherhood!
“There are no limits to what you can accomplish, except the limits you place on your own thinking.” -Brian Tracy
Hi guys! My name is Jesika Johnson and I live in the great Pacific Northwest! I feel so honored to be asked to give you all a little glimpse into why I Tri and how being a mama to 2 under 2 plays a role in that.
I grew up trying out all kinds of sports. With very athletically accomplished parents in gymnastics and track & field, it was never a question of what I would do, but what I would fall in love with. At the age of 7 I fell in love with club swimming. It was a quick and fast love story. I could not get enough of the water and I thrived at the thought of racing and improving...even at a young age. Swimming also gave me a steady sense of community thru all the moves we made due to my dad being in the Air Force. In 6th grade my dad retired and we ended up in the beautiful PNW where I’ve been ever since.
As I got into high school my commitment to swimming grew. I swam 6-7 days a week in a Nationally recognized program, won state titles, & competed in National meets. I was recruited by many schools and accepted a full scholarship to the University of Arkansas. About 3 months into Freshman year I started to experience a lot of back issues. I was a breaststroker and training that stroke over and over again sometimes twice a day. My body was not used to doing that much of one stroke and was revolting. Numerous doctors appointments, PT, and MRIs later everyone agreed that my body needed a break. No swimming for at least 6 months and then limited swimming from there on out with no more breaststroke. With that decision, my college swimming career was over.
It was during this time that my dad mentioned triathlon. I always had a fascination with triathlon and watching them on TV...especially the Ironman World Championships in Kona. The suggestion by my dad just went in one ear and out the other at that time. I was really against the idea of trying to swim again still and did not own a bike. I was in love with running and how simple it was. It was a change I needed at the time after years of staring at the bottom of the pool for hours each day. It would not be until 7 years later, when I met my husband, that I entertained the idea of triathlons again. My husband Nick is a very accomplished Triathlete and he was very persuasive.
My first year of racing triathlon was 2014 and I raced with an old bike I had that was a tank. I tackled two local triathlons (a Sprint & Olympic) here in Washington and had so much fun! The sense of community and how friendly everyone was fueled me. I got a triathlon bike for Christmas that year and haven’t looked back since.
Nick and I got married on January 1, 2016 and immediately knew we wanted to start a family. It did not take long to get pregnant, but unfortunately I miscarried at 8 weeks and also found out that I had two large cysts the size of oranges on my right ovary. I had surgery for both and they ended up removing my right ovary and Fallopian tube. It was a blow to our trying to get pregnant, but it was comforting to know that I still had triathlon and running as an outlet for myself. The surgery was in June that year and I raced a few triathlons later that summer.
If you’ve ever struggled to get pregnant, you know that having things to take your mind off of the process is key...Triathlon was that for me.
A few months later January 2017 rolled around. We ended up pregnant that month with the help of clomid and progesterone. My doctor put me on restrictions from high impact activities, so for my entire pregnancy I was only allowed to walk, swim, bike, and lift weights...no running. I consistently walked 2-4 miles almost every day of my pregnancy with our two pups and mixed in swimming, indoor cycling and weights. It was hard not to be able to run and I cried more than a handful of times to my husband about it because I missed the release it provided me pre pregnancy. In September 2017 we welcomed our first daughter Mae. She is a ball of energy and so much fun!
2 weeks after Mae was born we boarded a plane to Kona, Hawaii. While I was pregnant my husband raced and qualified for the Ironman World Championships 2017. It was so fun seeing him chase his triathlon dreams. If I am honest, I was really jealous of everyone racing. Witnessing the pinnacle of our sport fueled my desires for my own postpartum triathlon comeback.
At 4 weeks I got cleared to start back with my normal activities. I took it easy, but always kept my triathlon goals in sight. I signed up for Victoria 70.3 for June 2018. I would be 8 months postpartum. Training involved a lot of early mornings and doubles some days during naps to get it all in, but I did not want to sacrifice time with my daughter or husband. When race day came I had so much fun and recorded a personal best for the 70.3 distance.
Riding the post race high, I signed up for Ironman CDA 70.3 in Idaho three weeks later. Probably not the smartest decision, but it was another fun race with a challenging bike and hot run. I was a little slower than in Victoria, but racing two 70.3 races at 8 months postpartum filled me with so much pride.
I loved having Mae on the course and seeing her at the finish. I know she won’t remember these races, but hopefully pictures will remind her how determined her mama was and that hard work pays off no matter what stage of life your in.
Flash forward to August 2018 and I raced a local sprint and came in first. My first triathlon win ever and at 10 months postpartum! I could not believe it!
A week or so after the race, I was feeling extra tired and attributed it to all the long training I had done earlier in the summer. A week later after resting a bunch, I still could not shake the feeling, so I took a pregnancy test just to rule out the possibility and to my surprise I was pregnant again! Our doctor had told us that I’d likely have to go back on clomid and progesterone again to get pregnant. So to get pregnant naturally was a bit of a shock, but in a good way.
For my second pregnancy I switched to a midwife and she was all about me keeping up with my swim, bike, and run training. Doing these helped me thru the almost 20 weeks of morning/all day sickness. I was able to continue to do all three until about 32 weeks. At this point, I switched from running to walking until delivery. The last 4 weeks of my pregnancy were awful, but continuing to move and sweat a bit made me feel more normal and kept me mentally sane. I think that staying active thru both pregnancies really help with labor, delivery and recovery.
Our second little girl Cora arrive at the end of April 2019. She is a sweet little lady and super smiley!
During my pregnancy, I signed up for two triathlons and a running race. Having goals postpartum really helps me stay motivated.
I started back working out easy around 3-4 weeks this second time around and did not start running until 6 weeks vs. 4 weeks the first time. I definitely gave myself a lot more grace this second postpartum journey. 2 under 2 is a lot more challenging than just one.
My first race came at 9 weeks. It was a 5K on the 4th of July. I ran it with my husband and was able to pull off a sub 21 on just shy of 3 weeks of easy running. It was not easy. I felt like death about 2 miles into the race, but it also felt so good to be back in the racing game!
I tackled my first postpartum triathlon at 16 weeks postpartum. It was terrifying and so fun all wrapped into one! I ended up finishing 3rd overall with a personal best on the bike by over 3 minutes! All those early morning trainer rides were paying off! I am tackling one more sprint triathlon this season before focusing on some run races (10Ks & half marathons) and then transitioning into a 14 week build cycle and the another 14 week training cycle for Victoria 70.3 in May 2020.
Pregnancy and triathlon have many similar qualities that challenge you mentally and physically. And like every pregnancy and postpartum journey is different, so is every race. I find that there is something so beautiful in knowing that each experience is unique to that experience.
How has recovering from childbirth been the second time around compared to the first?
I had a vacuum and episiotomy with my first delivery and no tearing or interventions with my second delivery. I would say that my first postpartum experience (even recovering with stitches) was smoother than my second. That is probably only because when you add in chasing a toddler and trying to take care of a newborn things get a little crazy.
Do you train with a coach or are you self coached?
I am self coached with lots of input from my husband. I am using Matt Dixon’s (Purplepatchfitness) half Ironman Build & Training plan for 70.3 for Victoria 70.3. My husband and I have been reading his book on training and it’s very insightful and interesting.
What advice do you have for other mamas who would like to either get back to triathlon postpartum, or try triathlon for the first time?
Be flexible and enjoy the process. Every day is different with kids, so being able to adjust your training around that day is key. If you miss a day or workout don’t beat yourself up.
Body image...it's easy to accept the changes from pregnancy at first, but do you have any thoughts about how you feel now compared to pre babies? Or how your journey into motherhood has made you feel about your body? Initially postpartum compared to now?
To be honest I really struggle in this department. After my first baby things just bounced back easy, but the second time around my body has not bounced back as quickly and that has been hard to mentally be okay with. I really have to just keep telling myself to be patient and trust the process. It took 10 months to grow and birth this baby and it might take that long or longer to get to where you want to be. It’s always nice to know that even when I do not feel all that great about how I look my husband still loves and compliments me. These compliments help to drowned out the doubts I sometimes have about what I look like or how I feel about myself.
How have your athletic goals changed since becoming a mom?
I think I am more driven as a mama then before kids. I want to show my girls that they can achieve whatever they put their minds to and that hard work is an important part of life...not just in sport.
How do you balance training and motherhood? What are your challenges?
The only way I can train is if I get up after Cora’s morning feeding around 4am or get in an easy workout during afternoon naptime. I try to fit it all in before the girls get up, but there are times that I am doing weights or yoga and Mae joins in on the fun! She loves to try some of the moves and it makes my mama heart melt!
What has been your biggest challenge since becoming a mom?
I am a very schedule orientated person, so sometimes having to be okay with not having a plan for the day/ being flexible has been something I am learning to be okay with. Embracing the sometimes crazy that is 2 under 2!
What are your goals? Long term vs short term?
My short term goals are to race Boston,to qualify for 70.3 Worlds in 2021 when they are back in the USA (St. George I think), to podium in my next 70.3 race in Victoria 2020 and to go under 5 hrs for the 70.3 in the next two years. Long term goal is to finally tackle a full distance Ironman and qualify for Kona, but the plan is to wait until both girls are in school before that happens.
I feel honored to have been able to share my journey to triathlon and through pregnancy & motherhood!
You can follow Jesika on social media @jjohnson_trirun_86