TRINIDAD AND Tobago-based Guyanese distance runner Kelvin Johnson is a one-man army.
Johnson, 41, has competed in hundreds of distance events over the past 25 years in multiple countries in the western hemisphere. He has won several, placed in the top three on numerous occasions and is a renowned and well-respected distance athlete throughout the region.
However, in 2017, Johnson shifted his focus away from marathon (42 kilometres/26.2 miles) events to shorter distance races but still explored his physical capabilities with duathlons.
But when he got wind of last Sunday’s TT International Marathon (TTIM), three weeks prior to the event, Johnson opted to make a quiet return to the circuit, owing to the limited distance events available in TT and around the region.
The seasoned campaigner shook off some pandemic rustiness, trained for three weeks and proved age was just a number as he went on to win the marathon in two hours, 55 minutes and 33 seconds; a healthy three minutes ahead of eventual runner-up, Tobagonian Elvis Turner.
This was his first-ever TTIM victory, having placed third at the 2016 edition. This year, because of pandemic restrictions, general participants were permitted to do their respective distances virtually and upload their times.
Only 40 people, who met certain criteria, were allowed to physically cover the 26.2-mile trek. They however, were not allowed to cover the traditional journey from St Mary’s Junction, Freeport to Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
Instead, these “more experienced” distance athletes utilised the Chaguaramas bicycle path as their course; four laps completing the 26.2 mile trek.
On his return victory, Johnson said, “To complete a marathon is a win by itself. The bicycle path had its challenges; early morning coldness, up and downs and rolling hills. I did a crash programme on this circuit for three weeks.
“I had to make sure all my gears were working properly before I competed. While training, I did the marathon distance all at once. I did not do it at a fast pace because I just wanted to put some time on my legs. I also did some small strength work in between.
“It feels really great to win after so long. I was really happy to just run a race after two years because of covid19. I became a master (over 40) in the pandemic and was eager to see how I ran my first race. But I still feel the same, I’m good,” he said.
Johnson, who lives in Valsayn, works in the construction sector and is a skilled mason, tiler and painter. He did not migrate from Guyana to Trinidad for employment. He migrated because TT had more distance races available.
In 2006, he made a final decision to move to Trinidad, build his construction career and flex his distance running abilities.
Johnson has competed in the United States, Canada, Barbados, Brazil, Suriname and TT to name a few. He has an array of wins under his belt and is Guyana’s current 10,000-metre record-holder.
The endurance athlete set a new Guyana record of 31 minutes and 14:14 seconds at the National Association of Athletics Administrations (NAAATT) Sagicor/NGC National Championships at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo, in June 2013.
He loves travelling to different countries to test his strengths but said TT was also an ideal destination for him, because of the similarities with local cuisine to Guyanese dishes.
“I chose TT as my base because there was more competition here and the food is very close to Guyana’s. I’m very sceptical with food. Eating is one of the reasons why I didn’t stay abroad.
“I don’t use vitamins and tablets, only natural foods I consume. I don’t use dairy products, very little flour, consume very little meat; more fish, no macaroni or pasta either.
“I could have even completed the TTIM in a lower time because it felt so natural. Before I reached age 40, I changed up a lot of things with my diet and I felt like my body was flowing differently,” he added.
Johnson firmly believes his change in diet is the key element to maintaining his competitive consistency as he grows older.
As much as top-brass international athletes boost their physical strength and endurance by use of vitamins and other dietary supplements, Johnson stands by his way of consuming more natural foods to fuel his many distances.
“I don’t get sick. You cannot properly use supplements now because there’s always a new one coming out ‘which is better’. So you’re always changing what you’re putting into your body.
“Your body is a system and you have to know it. You don’t have to go to doctors all the time to tell you what’s happening with you. If you’re doing the same thing every day, you can look back and see what went wrong and when,” he said.
Looking ahead to the 2022 season, Johnson is happy for the Ministry of Sport and Community Development’s lift on outdoor sport events. He anticipates a bumper year of competition since race organisers are also eager to resume.
Having started the year with a strong performance, after five years away from marathon distances, Johnson is looking forward to a plethora of 10-kilometre races, 5k, half-marathons and other distance events.
Throughout the pandemic, he has been doing a lot of cycling and is also gearing up for a couple duathlons this year.
“My goal is to always compete. I have a solid base, strength from small, good muscle mass and can hold my own for a long period of time. I am so comfortable.
“I’m pleased to see that the two years away from distance running has not changed my form. I’m proof that 40 is just a number. I have no injuries and urge people not to use supplements.
“I believe that whatever you’re doing, if it’s working for you, you must be able to use it all the time. I just live life every day like everybody else,” he closed.
Johnson has a daughter in Guyana and regularly travels home to visit her, family members and friends.