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Overcoming military PTSD and rocking the Ironman

Lisa Johnson
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Like many, her stint in Afghanistan was emotionally taxing and made Lisa Johnson miserable. But then she found the things that made her feel good. And as she kept at them, she became a triathlete.

In this podcast, we discuss the initial quarantines in Italy and New York—little would we know what would happen in the two weeks since this was recorded.


TAMAR: Hi, everybody. Today I am talking from quarantine at New York and I it’s a crazy day. It is Wednesday, March 4. Usually, I don’t disclose the dates of my podcasts, but I think it’s necessary. We are stuck. My children are home from school, my husband is home because we did come into contact with somebody who has a Coronavirus. And now they’re taking the necessary precautions to keep us isolated for the next couple days, and therefore I am here. But fortunately, there is one thing that I can do when I’m stuck at home. And that is to do a podcast because I am only using my microphone, and I have Lisa Johnson who is here from also another part of the world. She’s in Europe, she will introduce herself shortly, but she will not get infected by whatever virus I might have because she’s that far away. So, thank you for joining me, Lisa.


LISA JOHNSON: Thank you so much for having me. And ironically, I am quartered in a quarantine area as well over here in Italy. Number three in the country for our worldwide epidemic right now.


TAMAR: I always play in my head, the movie Contagion. That seems to be the experience that we have now, this ripple effect, which is insane. And it’s a huge ripple now. It’s crazy, I think we will all be in just two or three weeks, we will all be stuck at home. And that’s just the nature of the beast. So, yeah.


LISA JOHNSON: We kind of felt that way a few weeks ago over here in Italy. And it’s really calmed down because the US is kind of just now getting it. And it’s that panic moment. And the grocery stores are emptying. And the news, social media is going crazy. We had that a couple of weeks ago. And if I can forecast, it will calm down a little bit. We’re all still. I mean, it’s still in the news. It’s still like, hey, stay home don’t travel, all of our flights are being changed and minimized. But I would say give it a couple of weeks and it will calm down a little bit.


TAMAR: Hopefully, about a couple of weeks, maybe a couple of months just because it’s really at the height or not even at the height of the hysterics yet, but definitely happening. We’re climbing up that peak right now. Yeah. So, tell me a little bit about your story. And what brought you to the podcast?


LISA JOHNSON: Well, as you said, Jessica, the previous gal on your podcast is a mutual friend of mine and saw it and I was recommended, hey, you need to get in touch with this girl and share your story. Because I guess I am having an inspiring story. In my opinion, I’m a very average country girl that came from a little town, Ohio. And I recently just competed in the Ironman World Championship in Kona with some of the greatest triathletes in the world. So, I kind of feel like my story is living proof of you don’t have to be superhuman to do superhuman things. You can be just an average girl with some determination.


TAMAR: That’s awesome. So yeah, how did you get from average to amazing triathlete?


LISA JOHNSON: (laughing) Well, maybe I’m not so amazing, but definitely went for the big leagues, because I’m very slow, I’m very back of the pack. But basically, I was in the military and did a couple of tours to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. And when I came back, and I got out, I found myself, it was great PTSD, I never would have expected, the experience would have that kind of impact on me. But I hid in my house, I couldn’t leave my house, I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t take medications; I was having panic attacks and anxiety for anything and everything I did. And really for basically a good year after getting out of the military didn’t do much. And then I knew that I had to move, I had to do something or I was going to end up dead via suicide. And I signed up for a 5k in my small little town which I lived in Mississippi at the time. And so, I went to this 5k and I actually felt good for the first time in a year I felt so good. I didn’t have any anxiety, I felt strong and I thought, wow, if a little 5k run, not that it’s little because it’s huge for many people, if a 5k run can make me feel that great, I want to keep doing it. So, I kept going to the local runs in the area. And I started meeting people and talking to people and getting more and more out of my comfort zone. Eventually, I was invited to go swim with a group of athletes that were training for their first triathlon. So, I met them at a little small lake that we all used to swim in. I taught myself how to swim. They taught me how to swim. I mean, we all say like, sure I can swim, I cannot drown in a pool. But I’ve never for a real legit swim, like Michael Phelps style across a swimming pool. And so, I kind of taught myself how to do that in a lake with alligators, which is kind of fun. That is pretty cool. And then we all went and did this first sprint triathlon. And I remember just as I was doing it, I remember thinking, I have to do something bigger and longer and faster because I feel so good and I want this good feeling to last longer than 45 minutes and an hour. And so, if I do a bigger triathlon, a longer triathlon, I’m going to feel better for longer. And so that’s what I started doing. I instantly knew I wanted to do an Ironman, which is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and a 26.2, which is a marathon run. And I knew I wanted to do it. So, I started training, I basically did that first sprint triathlon which took a little over an hour to the next, I would say two years, I think, over the next two years, and did my first Iron Man in 2012.


TAMAR: That’s crazy. That is overwhelming. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.


LISA JOHNSON: But I need to see and it was huge. But I think the most valuable part of all was that I didn’t even notice physically what I was doing for my body. It was all mental. I was recovering. I was healing from all of the anxiety from the horrible things I’ve been through seeing, talked about, felt the track on and training, the swimming, the biking, the running, having the structure having a goal, it was helping me heal and overcome the PTSD.


TAMAR: Thank you for your service.


LISA JOHNSON: Thank you.


TAMAR: So, tell me a little bit about how you ended up in Italy.


LISA JOHNSON: (laughing) That’s a fun story too. That’s kind of love romance like Hallmark Lifetime movie podcast because that is a story definitely for Hallmark Channel. As I said I was living in Mississippi, which is about two hours from Pensacola, Florida where the Blue Angels train other countries, come there and train and learn how to fly with our Navy guys. So, I was in New York City in Central Park with my mother and my sister, my stepsister and my niece, and an Italian pilot, who was training in Pensacola was also in New York City with his family from Italy. In Central Park, we were all doing one of those pay $20 and they do a tour guide on a bicycle through Central Park. We all were doing one of those. And he thought I was hot. And he started talking to me and of course, I talked to him back I mean, Italian accent. He’s absolutely beautiful. And yeah, our families ended up having lunch after the bike tour. And of course, we friended each other on Facebook and just kept up for the next couple of weeks, two months. Three or four months went by and we finally, since we were so close for only about two hours apart, decided to meet up in Florida. And honestly, I thought it was just kind of going to be like a weekend together. Which I needed at that point in between all my training for Iron Man’s. And I fell in love. I fell head over heels. Basically, after that first weekend, I told my mom, I’m either going to end up completely brokenhearted or I’m going to move to Italy. And within six months he was finished with his training and he said, I don’t see why we should end this. Why don’t you come to Italy with me? So, I did.


TAMAR: That’s crazy. Yeah, yeah, that’s a beautiful story. And you have all the makings of a love story. But it’s nice that you have Central Park in there because Central Park seems to be a reoccurring theme in the podcast here. We were just talking; I just did my most recent one. So, it was last week running around in Central Park or was it yesterday, I don’t even know, I can’t even keep track anymore. But I’ve done quite a few podcasts where we talk about just the benefit of fitness in Central Park and how you can be able to get out and do things. And it’s pretty cool that you did a bike tour in Central Park.


LISA JOHNSON: And at the end, I met the person of my life.


TAMAR: Yeah. And you met the person that was you’re eventually going to spend all the rest of your life with so yeah. Knock on wood. That’s amazing. That’s great. Cool. So how long ago was that?


LISA JOHNSON: That was I’ve been in Italy, actually, today, three year anniversary in Italy.


TAMAR: Wow, that’s so cool. And you’re learning Italian and everything like that?


LISA JOHNSON: Well, if I speak it to you, you say I did when I speak it to Italians, they have a different response.


TAMAR: Well, that’s how I speak Hebrew. So, I guess it’s totally cool.


LISA JOHNSON:  Wow, that’s fantastic. That Hebrew, oh, my gosh, that’s got to be crazy hard.


TAMAR: Well, I grew up going to school learning it. But I also needed to pick it up through Duolingo, the app, Android, and iOS app. And they also have a web app. So, I don’t know how familiar you are with it. It’s all about picking up a new language.

LISA JOHNSON:  So that’s how I learned Italian.


TAMAR: Oh, so there you go. So, I have finished my Hebrew lessons. I just finished it after 500 and x days, 520 something days. And I have moved on to Spanish. And I’ll probably do some languages of my forbears, even though it’s totally irrelevant because nobody speaks it these days. But maybe for translation purposes only, I would probably want to go with Russian and Polish and all that stuff. And maybe Italian, we’ll get there. We’ll see how many more days. There are a lot of languages and Spanish sounds like it’s going to take another three or four years, but we’ll see.


LISA JOHNSON: Yeah, well, once you learn Spanish, Italian is super easy. Italian and Spanish and French are all very, very similar.


TAMAR: Yeah. So, I saw that. And I guess, Yiddish is also an interesting language. And it’s a combination basically, of Hebrew and German. So, that’s another thing that hopefully I’ll pick up, German as well. I don’t know I have aspirations. Who knows? I might just be talking right now. But that’s the thing.


LISA JOHNSON: That’s very impressive. I think anyone that can reach out of that comfort zone to learn another language, whether or not you actually grasp it and become fluent in it, just the point of trying and doing it says a lot about a person.


TAMAR: Yeah, I think I had never been in this way. Like I also went through my own trauma. And as I was trying to pull myself out of it, I tried to adopt certain behaviors and consistent behaviors. Really, that was the important part. So, for me, every day running is a goal of mine. Everyday reading is a goal of mine. And I don’t mention it, because it’s so routine for me. But learning a language is also a goal of mine. It’s something that usually as soon as the clock strikes midnight because that becomes the next day, I’ll open the app. But reading and running are more concentrated efforts because I don’t really have a set time. And therefore, those are my overtly disclosed goals. But learning the language is the kind of thing that I just do. I don’t even think about it anymore.


LISA JOHNSON: Absolutely. But what you said and all that you made such a great point, is something in overcoming trauma, you use running and reading and doing your Duolingo and it becomes so routine. So, you’ve made a fantastic point of having some kind of structured routine, something that you enjoy doing, that becomes such so much of a part of your routine that it’s not even special anymore, is perhaps a path to recovery.


TAMAR: Yeah. I think that it really helps. I think that and hearing your story, I want you to elaborate on your story. I think when you’re in a tough spot, I’m sure you experienced this through your PTSD. That, I guess both of us woke up but we didn’t really have anything to do. To live for I mean, we had people to live for, but we didn’t have any specific. What are we doing for ourselves? How are we nurturing our psyches? How are we nurturing our bodies, we’re not. So having something with just setting a goal to do something is important for me personally, I run not to run a marathon, but to run. It’s very weird. Most people have a “why” that’s a little more defined. Like for example, I want to be able to do a triathlon, I want to be able to do well Initially. It was probably I wanted to do that 5k, maybe I’m wrong, please correct me if I am. But yeah, having this specific, just to be able to do it to feel I was looking at Strava, the app where for those who are unfamiliar, it started as I think a biking app, but now it’s like this. It’s a fitness app. And people use it. It’s a social network of sorts, where you document all of your activities. And they just came out yesterday with a report. Maybe they came out earlier this week. I just noticed that yesterday, they came out with a report that shows why runners run and they asked 25,000 runners, not me for some reason. But they asked 5000 runners, why they run. And really interesting, some people did it because they had, for example, they wanted to improve their body image. I think the majority of the people in Germany, want to improve their body image. Some other people did it for health. And I think that I was actually more. But a lot of people had, I think, a different question. A lot of people just do it because they want to feel accomplished. And I think that’s why I’m doing it. Because it’s huge. It’s huge from where I was before. So yeah, go ahead, share your story about how that transpired.


LISA JOHNSON: Mine is definitely because I felt good. I wanted to feel good. I didn’t want to feel like I was going through the worst of my PTSD because I still feel it to this day, I still have moments of anxiety and panic. And sometimes my mind reverts back to those awful feelings and thoughts. But in the worst of it, when I was becoming an Iron Man, becoming a triathlete coming runner, I just wanted to feel good. If I could run for 30 minutes and have 30 minutes of no anxiety, that was enough. And then I wanted an hour of no anxiety, and then two hours of no anxiety. So obviously, it’s like, okay, well, now I’m running for five hours, I can run a marathon. So, I’m going to go run a marathon and then just repetitively. And like you said, it became a routine, it wasn’t even special anymore. Although it’s very like self-accomplishing and special for me. But it was just such a part of the routine and didn’t think about it anymore. I was either swimming or biking or running. And it was more and more time that I didn’t have to spend feeling like I didn’t want to be alive.


TAMAR: Yeah, that’s great. So let me ask you a question. Did you immediately start feeling good? Was there a certain point either in your training, for example, I don’t know a couple of months into your training, or in how long you had been running that you started feeling good, because I know a lot of runners and they even said that in the Strava survey, that a lot of people tolerate the first mile, and then things start to feel better in their second mile and onward. Did you feel it immediately? Or did you need to kind of just do it for a long period of time, either the duration of your training or that duration of that single run, that you started to feel that? I guess runner’s high that I kind of gleaning from the way you’re describing it.


LISA JOHNSON: Absolutely. So, I mean, I have moments even when I’m training now, and if I’m running or biking and I hate everything, like this doesn’t feel good. Everything hurts. And I don’t even have entire sessions where I just don’t feel good. But I think what got me hooked and what got me from the beginning is I just felt different. It just felt like something it felt like something that was better than what I was feeling. And there were times where it took just a few minutes to get that feeling or it took maybe an hour for me to get warmed up. So, to speak, it definitely made a difference right away. And I hate when I hear that people are running or doing something and they’re suffering through that beginning time. I think maybe their perception of what they’re doing is just a little skewed. Like maybe they’re just using it as a means to an end. Or they’re using it as an excuse for something else. But if you just kind of change your perspective on it, like, I’m doing it for me, I’m staying present, I’m staying in the moment you do everything intentionally, then it’s a feel-good from the moment you start.


TAMAR: Right. So, you did talk about the challenges of how it totally hurts that mind-body connection. And I know you kind of touched upon this, but how do you encourage people who are struggling? Like I felt that same way I run sometimes. And I’m just like, why the heck am I doing this to myself. But then, while I’m running, I tune out of my body. I focus more on, for example, the music that’s in my head, the stuff not the music that’s in my head. I’m usually listening to my Earbuds or my Trekz Air, over the ear, whatever you would call them, headphones, earphones, whatever they are. So, I’m listening to something. And if I focus more on that, and less on the agony, I can pull through, or if I start to think about what’s going on in the real world outside the run, it’s an unnecessary distraction to overcome. I’m not running a triathlon; I’m not running a marathon even. So, the fact that you’re able to do those three things, is totally insane. But at the same time, that’s got to be a lot more brutal than my basic four miles on the road here.


LISA JOHNSON: It is brutal, but maybe it just depends on what you’ve got in your head. Because if I’m really hated, you really have to like yourself to do what we do. Whether you’re running a 5K or a full Ironman, a full marathon, you have to like yourself, because you’re spending however much time it takes you to do inside your own head. So, if you have a day where you don’t like yourself very much, you’re going to have a pretty terrible run, a pretty terrible training session in general. So, I think it’s a matter of you have to like yourself, you have to wake up that morning and say, okay, I’m going to do this, I’m doing it for me. I’m strong, I’m capable. It’s going to make me feel this way. I think that’s what I use to keep me going every day. I mean, there were a lot of times where I just haven’t wanted to or didn’t go out and do it. But I really think it comes down to your mind frame because I’ve had a four-mile run that it’s much more brutal, that I’ve had a 20-mile run, that’s fantastic. I feel like I’m running on sunshine and rainbows. And I’ve had a four-mile run where I hate myself, I hate what I’m doing and everything hurts. So again, it’s kind of your mind frame and your perspective of what you put in your head, and how you feel about yourself.


TAMAR: So ultimately, it comes down to that first step. Because a lot of people I think, who are exhibiting some sense, something that creates depression or anxiety, they’re not necessarily happy in their own head, they’re not necessarily happy with themselves, they probably do not have that much self-love. So, I think for anyone who’s struggling, the hardest thing is just pushing themselves out the door and making sure they do it for the first time and then seeing what happens beyond that. And another thing that I would just say is those who are starting, especially when it comes to running, you don’t necessarily need to make it a sprint. You don’t know they say it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Well, your marathon does not have to be the fast speed at all. Like you could run slow and you could jog. And for me personally, I used to train a lot faster than I do now. But that was hard. It was harder on my heart rate. It was harder in general. And I decided I wanted to start running in the framework of 80 /20 running where 80% of your runs are supposed to be easy and 20% of your runs are supposed to be hard. There’s actually a book on it. And once I did that, it became a lot more enjoyable. It still sucks to some degree, but there’s so much, I don’t think I just want to encourage people not to get discouraged immediately because there are and I’m so glad you said that.


LISA JOHNSON: Also, that’s kind of what I do for a living as I’m running and triathlon coach now. And that’s my forte I guess where my specialty is, I love taking people who think that they can’t do it or beginner starters and turning them into athletes and into someone that they feel good about and feel accomplished. And one of the biggest things that I teach them from the beginning is it does not matter how slow or how fast, I don’t care if you’re walking through the heart of your run, as long as you’re doing it. And I do have athletes that are like, coach, I just can’t today. And I say, okay, let’s take a baby step, get dressed to run, if you don’t feel like going out for a run, get dressed to go run, because that right there is going to improve your confidence like, oh, if I’m dressed to do it, I could do it. Right? Put your shoes on even if you’re like, oh, I have dishes to do, and I have to take and I have to do the food prep, and I need to clean my bathroom and get dressed to go for a ride and see what happens. And that will make all the difference.


TAMAR: Right. It’s part of your intention. So, one of the things that I do when I start to run,   I’ve been following the C to 5k program, now I’m doing C to10K and I always create a video that precedes my run. And then I create a video that finished when I’m finished with my run. Usually the preceding video, it’s all about the intention. Sometimes I’m not necessarily in the right frame of mind, but I already had a goal to do it. But once I create that video, it solidifies that intense intention, it cements it. And I need to do it. And when I’m done, I usually report oh, it was actually pretty bad. Or sometimes oh, it’s actually pretty good. Usually, it’s pretty bad. I’ll report if it’s pretty bad. But five minutes later, they’ll feel really good because that’s really what happens. You don’t necessarily feel so great in the beginning. But once you sit down and you give yourself a few more minutes, it becomes a lot easier. And you start to think oh, it wasn’t so bad after all.


Exactly. And you always feel amazing at the end of a run. Even if you have a terrible run or a terrible training session. In the end, you feel good because it’s over. You will always feel good at the end. Always.


TAMAR: Cool. Yeah. So just out of curiosity, how did you train for those? Three things that you have to do now?


LISA JOHNSON: For the Iron Man?


TAMAR: Yeah. And what is the duration of those trainings?


LISA JOHNSON: Okay, so answering that like a coach professional answer, basic training for an Ironman is a 20 to 30 weeks cycle, depending on your ability level, if I was taking a brand new beginner, I would give them a lot longer. But typically, a person who wants to do an Ironman has done a sprint triathlon or an Olympic or something smaller, and they want to go bigger. And so, I usually do a 30-week training plan. And then someone who has a bit more experience, I start with a 20-week training program. And yeah, it’s six, and sometimes seven days a week of swimming and biking and running in strength training and working on nutrition, and sleeping and balancing life. And being okay with resting when it’s necessary. It’s a lot of juggling. The way that I coach, I believe in balance in all things. So, making sure that the training goes around life versus life going around the training because that’s when you typically will start to fail. Because your kids, your husband, your wife have to be more important than going for a swim or a biker run. So, my big thing is balancing life. And I will usually train an athlete with two to three weeks of pretty intense building, and then take a week of recovery or rest and then two to three weeks of building and then a week of recovery and rest. And then of course right before the race, we’ll go into a taper week where we’re slowly lowering the mileage over about two weeks, and then you peak or you race. But me personally then as an athlete, like coach hat to the side. It’s hard and it gets crazy and you have to work and you have life and I mean, I guess fortunately I don’t have kids yet, something we’re working on, but I didn’t have kids through any of that. So, I didn’t have to worry about that I have an ex-husband and my ex-husband at the time, was military. And so, he was pretty independent. I worked at a running and triathlon store. So basically, for most of my years of training leading up to the World Championship, I was in like, perfect conditions to be able to transfer it off. Now that said, training, also to be a coach, and now getting that other part of life. Like, that’s where I really focus on helping other people balance their lives, so they can accomplish all of these training goals that they want, and still maintain like home family life, organization, structure, Mom, sister, employee, dad, brother, etc. But I don’t lie about any of it like it’s going to be hard training for an Ironman is a full-time job, it’s going to take between 20 and 40 hours a week, like whatever you’re doing already, you’re going to be doing another full-time job on the side, because it’s not just swimming and biking and running, you have all the laundry that comes with it, all the eating and nutrition that comes along with it, making sure you have a certain number of hours of sleep. Because you really do need between seven and nine hours of sleep, you’re going to spend so much time washing dishes and washing clothes and preparing your gear. It really is a full-time job. But it’s doable if you manage your time. Right. And you want it bad enough.


TAMAR: No, that’s crazy. And I intend to do these. I don’t necessarily know if the listeners are so interested in this stuff. But at the same time, I intend to highlight this because a lot of people see in general it’s not only about running, and it’s not only for me might not always be about entrepreneurship, for a lot of people have succeeded and do something pretty amazing. You always see what they’ve accomplished, you don’t necessarily see the journey. So, I think it’s important to highlight that becoming an awesome Ironman athlete and becoming a successful entrepreneur or whatever it might be. It really is a marathon, not a sprint. And it’s a lot longer than 26.2 miles in that case. And for you, it is also because it’s that plus a couple of more things, what there’s so much involved in this particular process. So amazing.


LISA JOHNSON: Absolutely anything on top of that can get very, very emotional. I can promise you that every athlete I’ve worked with, has had at least one complete mental-emotional breakdown. I can’t do this, crying, screaming, quitting. So yeah, on top of everything that you’re doing, like the accomplishment and what’s behind it, on top of everything that you’re doing to get there physically, within your life balancing there’s also this whole big giant emotional thing too because it is way mental and way emotional. In fact, I always share the story. It’s really silly when the first couple, so basically every time I trained for an Iron Man, my first few I’ve done 16 and total. And the first few I always had these really strange cravings and the first Iron Man I ever trade for I craved Oreo cookies. I’m talking like will murder you in the grocery store if you take the last pack. I wanted Oreo cookies. But I also obviously I’m an athlete, I’m health conscious. So even though I can eat an entire sleeve, I would limit myself to three, I ate three Oreo cookies after any big training session or whenever I needed them. So, I came home one day knowing that I had three Oreo cookies left in my package because Oreo cookies apparently come where you can take three at a time and you end up with three. So, I knew I had three in there. I finished this probably 80, 90, 100-mile bike ride. I don’t remember, but I came home, I’m all excited. I opened up my pantry to get my three Oreo cookies and it’s gone.


And so, I kind of like look through the cabinet, like maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I put them somewhere else. And then I opened up the trash can and sure enough, my empty package of Oreo cookies was in there. I melted to the floor in hysterics. I had this ridiculous emotional breakdown crying.


I called my ex-husband and I was like did you eat my Oreo cookie? And he was like, yeah, there only three left. And I was like,  for the love of God.


I had this huge brawl with him screaming and am how dare you, my cookies. And I pretty much laid on the kitchen floor like a three-year-old crying for I don’t know how long because my three Oreo cookies were gone. I just had to go to the store and get some more. But it wasn’t about the Oreo cookies, it was just this huge, emotional, obviously, I was storing things up. And then that one little thing triggered it and I had a meltdown.


TAMAR: I will tell you that I could really identify with that. I would totally do the same thing. I have certainly had this expectation, whether training or not. I mean, I might give you a pass because you’re training but sometimes I’m just like, I want that last cookie. And I come home and it’s gone. And I’m like, are you kidding me? And you’re just like for the love of God. And I would be like, alright, you would need to whip out a shield thing, too, especially with the language you might be using. Now, I haven’t done that in a while. But at the same time, I completely identify with that. And I’m sorry to hear that.


LISA JOHNSON: Right, like you can feel like I’m so sorry. I react through that, to realize that it’s a part of what’s coming like, it takes a huge emotional toll. Mental toll. I mean, training for anything, any kind of fitness, you have these huge moments of doubt. I mean, you also get these huge moments of confidence and gratification. But you do have these huge moments of doubt. And who do I think I am? And I can’t do this and just want to cry on the kitchen floor because you can’t have your cookies.


TAMAR: Yeah, cry over lost cookies and figuratively spilled milk or whatever, however you say. So let me ask you, I consider triathlon training. And I think in your experience running makes you feel great. So, there’s your self-care, but curious to learn a little more about your self-care regimen.


LISA JOHNSON: I would say that in the self-care department recently, I’m afraid that I’m not doing so great. And I think part of it is because I did conquer this huge goal. And I lost sight of what I was saying earlier about doing it because it made me feel good not to use it as a means for an end. And somehow in there, getting to Kona and getting that accomplished, became maybe a means to an end or like a grand finale or like shutting the book and I’m done. And I kind of forgot somewhere in there that, hey, you’re doing this like Kona is just like a little bonus on the side because you’re doing what you love and you’re doing what you enjoy. And so now ever since I did Kona, I did it I got it done. And it was like I’m free of it. And now since then, my motivation has been so low. And now that said I lost my grandmother right after Kona, my grandma died. And so, we had to get through that. And then getting back to Italy. Also like while I was training for Kona, my fiancé and I actually got pregnant and I ended up being ectopic like I was going to have to give up going to Kona, but then I ended up having an ectopic pregnancy. So basically, I lost a baby, I lost my grandma and I finished Kona. So, these three things that were so important to me all kind of disappeared in the same few months. That’s been since October, November, and overcoming that and now I’m back in Italy. It’s been a couple of months, and I’m kind of re-firing my self-care like okay, Lisa, get it together and I go to the gym. I take time to myself, of course, I live in Italy, so I enjoy some red wine. Like you obviously running and reading, doing my Duolingo, practicing my Italian and doing things for myself. I’m like searching and trying to find that new goal like what is my next but most importantly is remembering why I do it all, to begin with, is because when I’m doing it I feel good. It’s less anxiety, no panic. I feel like I can overcome anything when I reach these small achievements that I want.


TAMAR: That sounds amazing. And I think in general, a lot of us have the challenge that we can be derailed by some sort of thing that either we’ve worked so hard, like what happens after a marathon, most people aren’t aiming to do another marathon, they’re going to sit there and they’re going to relax, and then dealing with losses or in whatever way. Emotional loss typically derails us and takes us off the path. It comes down to giving ourselves that ability to process it emotionally, grieve to whatever extent that we can, and then get back right back on the saddle. So, since December 24, 2018, I have made a goal to run. But I wasn’t, I did have something in early 2019, that kind of put me off that path. And I had to reevaluate how I was going to do things, I wasn’t going to run the training the way that I intended, but I was still going to do it in some capacity. So, that’s what I did. So, it’s a matter, I think in terms of maintaining your consistency because you can fall off. And if you’re going to have a goal for doing to do something daily, like for me, at this point, it’s 400 days, or whatever it is. If I miss a day, that’s a streak that I will never get back. So, I know that I have to do it. And if you do it like three times a week, it’s a lot easier, because you could always push it to a different day.


TAMAR:  But when it comes to something that’s a little more daily and consistent, it’s like you have to do it. So, I did it, but I just didn’t do it to the level that I wanted. So, for example, my running, I don’t even know if it was specifically running, I probably did a little bit of a sprint but mostly walking on the treadmill just to say, hey, I am still going to do some sort of fitness activity and break a sweat today in the way that I can mentally handle over something that overdoing the regimen, following the regimen that I might have otherwise done if not for the fact that I was derailed.


LISA JOHNSON: Sure and a really important aspect of self-care is being flexible enough with yourself to make that change, to say, okay, well, I can’t go with the full capacity that I wanted. But I care about myself enough to do what I can in this particular circumstance. Like that’s really valuable for your self-care.


TAMAR: Yeah, yeah. It’s difficult to be flexible yourself when you’re kind of doing something daily, I think in the sense that if you miss a day, you might beat yourself up. So, I will tell you, January 16, 2019. And as you recall, I said that I started running on December 24, 2018. Well, on January 16, 2019, I had surgery, and the doctors like, you can’t run for two weeks. And so, I made sure that I ran right before surgery, which was really early in the morning. But then afterward, I still made sure I got on the treadmill with a little bit of an accelerated pace for maybe 10, 15, 30 seconds, just to say, hey, that I could do it. But I don’t know if I was following medical advice. I’m sure if he was listening to this, he wouldn’t be proud of me. But I knew that I needed to do that. And it was only two weeks in but at the same time, I was so determined to do this, that nothing was going to stop me. And that’s how I’ve been. That’s the mindset I’ve been trying to stick with although yeah, being derailed is difficult. So yeah, losing a day is very difficult, but being flexible within your day. For example, if I’m in a car for 12 hours, which has happened, I will get out at the corner of the road, and I will just make, I don’t even know if it’s the 15th foot sprint, just to say hey, I did because that to me is an accomplishment.

LISA JOHNSON: So that’s perfect.

TAMAR:  Yeah. challenging. It’s definitely not thinking about running 26.2 miles and then doing all that other stuff. biking and swimming. I don’t know if that’ll ever be in my cards. But that’s it’s still amazing to know that people do it and that you’ve kind of given that structure that helps a lot.


TAMAR: So, yeah. Cool. So, wrapping up, I just want to ask you, if you can give advice to your earlier self, what would you tell her?


LISA JOHNSON: I say to her, I would probably tell her start, start now. Like, I wish I would have been doing what I’m doing now back then.


I wish I would have known to be a healthier person, start running. I mean, I don’t know how old you are. But can you imagine if you would have been a runner from high school, how much stronger and faster and better you would be today? I wish that I would have known how important fitness was going to be to me back then. I would have started sooner; I wish I would have met you sooner. So, I could love you longer. I feel that I wish I could have started this sooner. So, I could love it for longer and be stronger and better. And maybe I would never even had to go through PTSD. Maybe that could have been my source of repair from the beginning, instead of being an afterthought and measure for healing. Maybe it could have just been something I turned to like right away. And so yeah, I probably would tell her that my biggest thing is like, hey, start now. Start now.


TAMAR: Yeah, I will tell you that I was sort of athletic in college, I did go to the gym, I could say that I remember going to the gym, but I wasn’t very consistent with it. And I wasn’t able to maintain it after the fact because once you move out of the New York City Colleges and move to New York City, everything gets a lot more expensive. So, there was no gym there. I was thinking about running, but I wasn’t thinking about running it in this way. I had to do that when I was older. For some reason, I don’t think a lot of people do it in their 20s. I  think they really have to start; they really start picking up running in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and some people even in their 60s. I think it’s more of an adult pastime than it is a younger person’s pastime. And maybe that’s the perception that I see people running all the time. I live in New York College, and I see people running all the time. But I don’t I think that’d be just the sports teams. I think it’s an older person’s pastime in the context of the groups that I’m a member of. And I’ve certainly joined a lot of communities for that. Maybe I’m wrong. But I agree with you, I should have started earlier and had intentions to start 2013. I didn’t actually start till 2018, the beginning of 2019.

LISA JOHNSON: Just a couple of years later.

TAMAR: Just a couple of years later, but I always knew that I wanted to, I’ve expressed intent. And that was why I needed to stick with it that many years later I was able to fill those attachments because I was going through a very tough time, years of trauma, years of depression. And I didn’t realize that was what was really holding me back, it was the intention. There was the intention with some invisible resistance there that I didn’t realize what was holding me back. But yeah, I just think in general, it would have been great. If I started earlier, I just never would have thought that it was a possibility. And I don’t have regrets that I started now.


TAMAR: But I am slower. That is because I started now.

LISA JOHNSON:  It gets harder on your body as you get older. And the other thing that I would tell to myself or tell to anyone else, most importantly, to other people, anyone listening, a favorite thing of mine to say is you don’t have to be a superhuman to do these amazing things. Like we see these incredible athletes finishing at top speeds and the champions and that’s who we see in the news and on our social media and reported, but you don’t have to be that superhuman to still do it. You don’t have to win the race to start the race. You don’t have to be a champion. That makes sense. So that’s what I love when just like an average person becomes an athlete,


TAMAR: Right. Yeah, it’s about getting it done. It’s about making sure you actually cross the finish line; it doesn’t matter when you cross the finish line. It’s just a matter of doing it and you will feel so much better. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t realize that. And that’s part of my challenge. Like I was a sprinter and I was always first place. Now I don’t know if I will ever want to be first place, I don’t want to work my body. It would be pretty cool. It would be amazing. I would be in the Guinness Book because I imagine I would get out that would ever happen to me. But yeah, I’m just glad that I’m able to do it at this point. And I think that’s an attitudinal shift that I wouldn’t have ever thought I would ever have. But I’m glad that I do.


TAMAR: Cool.


LISA JOHNSON: Well, it’s been so nice talking to you.

TAMAR: Yeah, likewise.

LISA JOHNSON: See we’re like-minded.

TAMAR: Yeah. I don’t know if I’m going to do triathlon training but I am going to keep in touch on the running side, I suppose as I build up that strength and stamina to do this and in due time, maybe I will work toward 26.2 miles. I will do a marathon one of these days but who knows, I hover. If you’ve listened to other podcasts, you will know that  I’m not consistent because one day is a really nice promising prospect, and most of the time, it’s pretty daunting and I don’t want to do it but I would say oh, I want to see where the intention is coming from. So, keep listening to know, how’s that?

LISA JOHNSON: How did that turn out?

TAMAR: Exactly.

LISA JOHNSON:  I would welcome you and any of your listeners who need either a drill sergeant or a cheerleader, a voice from a coach, you’re more than welcome to reach out to me for a piece of advice or a tip or training recommendation. I’d be happy to offer to get you off the couch doing it, conquering some goals.


TAMAR: Yeah, so tell us where we can find you.


LISA JOHNSON: Well, I blog as well. I blog at Tri Our Adventure as in T, R, I. It’s not all things triathlon, it’s a little bit of everything kind of a mess, just like me, I have a pile of shenanigans. So, it’s an adventure. It’s real life. It’s day-to-day accountability. It’s training. It’s coaching. It’s all things.

TAMAR: Cool.

LISA JOHNSON:  And I’m on Facebook at Tri Our Adventure and I have the blog Tri Our Adventure. And then outside of all that I am, I am Tri Girl as an Iron Man, IMtrigirl on Twitter and Instagram. I’m pretty active on social media, I say it’s always fun. I have a big giant chocolate lab that is beautiful and fun. And I have a beautiful Italian and we travel the world. So, it might just be something fun to keep up with.


TAMAR: Awesome. Well, that’s great. Thank you so much for sharing. And again, thank you so much Lisa, for your time and for your wisdom, and for getting vulnerable and all those things.

LISA JOHNSON:  Yeah, thank you Tamar. I hope you and your family get through this full crisis like quickly and most importantly healthy.


TAMAR: Yes, yes. Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

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