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Johnston gearing up for second annual Possum Town Triathlon


Adam Minichino


The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.


All the talk lived up to the hype. 


A year ago, Ricky Johnston heard Brad Atkins and other local residents talk about sprint triathlons and how fun it was to compete in them. Johnston never had an opportunity to get involved in one, but he couldn't help but be persuaded to participate in the inaugural Possum Town Triathlon. 


"I didn't know what to expect," said Johnston, 38, who moved to Columbus in 2009. "I had been running and I swam as a kid, but I never had done all three in the same day like that, so I wasn't sure how one was going to affect the other. I wasn't sure how I would do a 5-K after being on the bike for 17 miles." 


Now Johnston wants all of the fitness enthusiasts, runners, cyclists, swimmers -- you name it -- to follow his lead and meet him Saturday at the Columbus Lake at the Lock and Dam off Wilkins Wise Road in Columbus for a little exercise. 


Fresh off a fifth-place finish in the men's 35- to 39-year-old age group, Johnston will be back in action at 7 a.m. for the second annual Possum Town Triathlon. 


The USA Triathlon-sponsored race will be nearly the same as last year's event. Competitors of all ages will compete in a 600-yard swim, a 17-mile bike ride, and a 3.3-mile run. The event is open to individuals and to relay teams.  


A year ago, 117 competitors started and finished. This year, Atkins said a few changes and additions have been made. The biggest difference is the swimming portion of the triathlon has been moved in an attempt to avoid stumps underwater that some participants encountered. By moving the swimming course, Atkins said the transition area -- where athletes change out of their swimming clothing and get into their cycling gear -- also has been moved. But Atkins said the cycling and running courses remain the same, and can be seen at the race's website:  


Registration is $65 for individuals and $120 for relay teams. Registration is available online until 8 a.m. Friday. There is no race-day registration. Interested participants can register from 3-7 p.m. Friday at the race site when race packets are handed out. Race packets also will be distributed from 5:30-6:45 a.m. Saturday. 


Johnston, who is originally from Vicksburg, picked up running about seven years ago. At the time, he said he had been going to the gym to stay in shape when a friend came to visit him in Miami, where he was living. That friend just happened to be competing in a half marathon, so Johnston decided he would do it, too.  


"It was an exhilarating experience," Johnston said. "After I ran the first half marathon I got hooked after that." 


Johnston admitted he didn't do a whole lot of training last year for the Possum Town Triathlon. He said he felt in good shape thanks to a solid base of running and cross-training. He said he purchased a bike a few weeks before the sprint triathlon to get a feel for it and to help prepare him for his first experience. He said he was pleased with his time of 1 hour, 32 minutes, 19 seconds, even if the feeling he had at the finish didn't match the one he felt after completing a marathon. Johnston has finished the Miami Marathon twice and completed two or three half marathons in that city. He also has finished the New York City Marathon and competed in a number of local distance-running events. He said his current training is preparing him for the New York City Marathon on Nov. 3. 


"I really had a great experience with (the sprint triathlon)," Johnston said. "Biking was my weakest leg, but given my limited amount of training I was pleased with it. The swim was different being out in the lake, but I was real pleased with my swim." 


Johnston feels he is in similar shape as last year and encourages everyone to get involved, even if they haven't competed. A year ago, he said he found plenty of training guides and suggestions for competing in a sprint triathlon on the Internet and used them to have a wonderful experience. This year, he hopes to do even better. He also hopes the second Possum Town Triathlon is bigger than the first. 


"I am really excited about Brad putting forth the effort to put this on," Johnston said. "Any race is going to have some hiccups logistically, but they put it together very well and it flowed together smoothly. The transition areas were well put together, and I think the support was good, too. In addition to creating an opportunity for locals, it drew people from out of the area who otherwise might not visit Columbus. 


"Even if they haven't done a triathlon, they don't have to be intimidated by it a bit. While it is a demanding event, I would give it a try. The goal is to finish the first time when you try things like this. I would tell someone who is on the edge that they don't have to worry if they have the best equipment or the best bike and to give it a shot because I think people will be surprised how much they would enjoy it."


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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