“When I finished it was only blood all over my foot,” Kelvin Johnson said as he recalled his first ever marathon.
At that time, Johnson, now 38, was only 16 years old.
He had not only completed the 26.2-mile course, with an eleventh place finish, in a time of 3 hours and 11 minutes but he did it all while barefooted.
Looking back, Johnson’s introduction to competitive running sounds like a scene from a comedy. “It was kind of a coincidence,” Johnson said with his thick Guyanese accent as we sat on a bench under a downs tree at his main training ground these days; the Aranguez Savannah.
Johnson, then a schoolboy in Guyana, got in trouble and when the teacher wanted to discipline him he decided to run. The teacher, a long-distance runner, gave chase. “He wanted to catch me to beat me, but he couldn’t catch me and I had him running around the school until he bun out,” Johnson said.
So, the teacher instead of disciplining Johnson offered him a deal. The teacher told Johnson to register for an upcoming 10k in lieu of punishment.
Not only did Johnson win that, his first race, he also beat the national junior champion in the process.
Johnson said his success was due to the endurance training drills his coach used to have the team doing when he was a national footballer.
And it was while playing football days after his 10k victory that Johnson made the decision to register for the marathon. “We were playing football one Sunday morning and we saw these guys running. Where we live is about five miles from Georgetown where the marathon finishes, so we saw these guys running and my brothers and them said ‘you run all around this football field like it is nothing, the pace they going at I know you have more pace than that’,” Johnson said.
The race Johnson saw in progress was a half-marathon.
The marathon was two weeks away and the teacher who registered him for the 10k registered him for the longer race.
“I didn’t know a marathon was how many miles, all I knew was the pace they were running at (in the half marathon) I could run better than that, but remember that was the dying stage of the race where everyone is tired,” Johnson said.
When Johnson boarded the bus 3.30 a.m for the marathon and he saw the how long the ride was, that is when he realised the task he had before him.
He however was undaunted. “I never back down,” he said.
Johnson led the marathon for about half the race before he eventually finished it in eleventh place.
Now, more than 20 years later, Johnson is still running. He however, no longer runs barefooted.
While his start was comical, Johnson takes his running very seriously.
When we sat down to speak, Johnson was preparing to leave the country to head to Suriname for the Srefidensi Marathon.
He won that marathon in 2010 and the five-foot trophy that he won in that race is his favourite award for running. He clocked a time of 2 hours 39 minutes in that race.
“Winning a marathon is always good because some people’s goal is just to participate in a marathon,” Johnson said.
In his 20 years as a runner Johnson believes he has run approximately 18 marathons in all.
His best time was in Trinidad and Tobago in 2006 when he clocked 2 hours 36 minutes.
Johnson’s annual running calendar consists of an average of close to 40 races of varying distances.
Of the hundreds of races Johnson would have run around the world since that first 10k one stands out as his most memorable.
That race was a 5k at Wall Street in Manhattan when out of 15,000 runners he placed third.
“That was a real big moment, my happiest moment in running,” he said.
A 1,500m race he ran at York University in Canada as a junior also stands out in his mind. On the day of the race Johnson’s flight was delayed and he reached the university while the junior event was going on. He was given the opportunity to compete in the senior race.
Johnson won that race.
In October 2017 in Trinidad and Tobago, Johnson won the RBC 15k in a time of 51 minutes 41 seconds.
While some athletes have rituals, they must go through before they compete, for Johnson the only thing he must do is stretch and warm-up.
“When I don’t get to warm up and stretch I’m sour. I like to be upfront, distance running is not running from the back, when anything happens to you in the back there is no room for error, when you are in front and something happens you could slow down catch a breath and go again because (the person in the back) still has to bridge a gap, but when you are in the back it is only the back you could be in if anything happens,” Johnson said.
And although he competes to win and tries to always be at the front of the pack, Johnson says he has respect for those who are not.
“If you could do a marathon full respect, you see the slower runners I would say they are the better ones because doing five and six hours on your legs that is not easy. You have to give those people full respect because they accomplished their goal, finishing a marathon is a big thing, luckily I always say any marathon I’m going into I say I want to finish because you could be running normal and shut down just like that,” he said.
Johnson believes once you can run a marathon you can overcome any obstacle.
“I told myself the marathon is one of the hardest things in any sport, once you can do a marathon you can do anything this is why I ride bicycle, I swim, I do everything because I say none is harder than a marathon, so I don’t back down from anything,” Johnson said.
With the mindset that he can do anything, Johnson continues to look for new athletic challenges and is hoping to compete in more multi-sport events.
Article by: The Sporty Pen